Arlington, VA

The upcoming election is setting up to be one for the record books in Arlington.

We’re around the halfway point between the start of early voting in September and Election Day on Nov. 3. Yet as of last night, 39,202 mail-in and early ballots had already been cast in Arlington, according to election officials.

That already exceeds the 37,869 mail-in and early ballots during the entire 2016 presidential general election.

“We’ve never seen volumes this high,” Gretchen Reinemeyer, Arlington’s Director of Elections, told ARLnow this morning. The ballots cast so far represent about 24% of active voters, she noted.

“In 2016, we received a total of 10,922 Mail Ballots and 26,947 voted early,” Reinemeyer said. “As of last night, we have received 20,852 Mail Ballots and 18,350 have voted early.”

The total number of votes cast in Arlington in the 2016 presidential general election was 121,339, a record that seems likely to fall this year given interest in the race and population growth in the county.

Arlington opened a new early voting location this year, in the former Wells Fargo bank (2200 Clarendon Blvd) near county government headquarters in Courthouse, in order to accommodate social distancing and long outdoor lines — which came to fruition on the first day of early voting. Four community centers will also open for early voting next Saturday, Oct. 17.

Yesterday the county also unveiled a secure, 24-hour ballot drop-off box in Courthouse, for those who might be concerned about their ballots being lost or delayed in the mail.

Reinemeyer said any voter who is not already registered should do so soon. Voter registration in Virginia for any given race closes 21 days before the election — in other words, this coming Tuesday for the 2020 general election.

“The most common question we’re getting is from voters who can’t get a DMV appointment,” Reinemeyer said. “You don’t need ID to register. They can drop their application in the mail or our drop box or stop by in person. We’re open Monday.”

As noted on the county elections website, Virginia residents can also register to vote online.

Voters who don’t want to show up to the polls in person, for fear of COVID-19 or otherwise, can request mail-in ballots through Oct. 23.

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(Updated at 2 p.m.) All Metro service between Foggy Bottom and Clarendon has been suspended due to smoke in a Metro tunnel near the Courthouse station.

A large fire department response is on scene in Courthouse, investigating the issue. Riders are being evacuated from the Courthouse station, where a light haze was reported in the platform area.

Firefighters are looking into a possible electrical issue between the Rosslyn and Courthouse stations.

Simultaneously, a possible communications problem in the tunnels has been reported. Firefighters and the fire liaison at Metro’s rail control center are currently communicating on Arlington’s fire department response radio channel, however.

As of 11:30 a.m., about 45 minutes after the first dispatch, firefighters and Metro emergency response personnel were still on scene, trying to determine what, if anything, is on fire. An empty train is being brought in to help with the investigation. Around 12:45 p.m., firefighters were told that the issue is believed to be a burning electrical insulator.

As of 2 p.m., service on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines had been restored, according to Metro.

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(Updated at 11:15 a.m.) Columbia Pike was blocked in both directions between S. Highland Street and Walter Reed Drive Tuesday evening due to a significant police incident.

A police spokeswoman tells ARLnow that three officers were attacked by a combative person inside a business. DCist identified that business as the Virginia ABC store, reporting that police were called after a drunk man stumbled in and started angrily yelling at employees and other customers.

“At approximately 6:25 p.m., police were dispatched to the report of a fight inside a business in the 2900 block of Columbia Pike,” said Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “Arriving officers made contact with the suspect, who was combative and assaulted three officers.”

The officers called for backup, leading to the large emergency response. Nearly a dozen police vehicles and two ambulances could be seen on traffic cameras.

“The officers are being transported to an area hospital with injuries that are considered non-life threatening,” Savage said. “The suspect was taken into custody and is being transported to an area hospital for evaluation.”

The closed portion of Columbia Pike reopened around 7:45 p.m.

On Wednesday morning, ACPD released more information about the incident in its daily crime report.

MALICIOUS WOUNDING ON LAW ENFORCEMENT, 2020-09080136, 2900 block of Columbia Pike. At approximately 6:25 p.m. on September 8, police were dispatched to the report of an intoxicated male inside a business who was allegedly acting disorderly after being refused service. Shortly after the initial call, the reporting party updated that the suspect was now fighting with customers inside the business and was threatening employees. Arriving officers located the male suspect outside the business. When officers attempted to handcuff the suspect, he became combative, actively resisted and assaulted three officers. During the struggle, two officers suffered head injuries and one officer was kicked and struck by the suspect. Officers were able to gain control of the suspect and take him into custody. The suspect was not injured. The officers were transported to an area hospital with non-life threatening injuries. As a precaution, the suspect was transported to an area hospital for evaluation. Once medically cleared, Daniel Michael, 45, of No Fixed Address was arrested and charged with Malicious Wounding on Law Enforcement (x2), Assault and Battery on Police, Assault & Battery (x2). He was held on no bond.

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(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools reported technical difficulties with its remote learning platform this morning, on the first day of school.

“We are aware that students are having challenges logging into their classes,” APS said in a School Talk email to families around 9:45 a.m. “We are working to address the issues quickly and appreciate your patience. We apologize for the difficulty families have experienced this morning.”

An APS spokesman described the problems as a “firewall issue.”

“We are aware of a firewall issue that is preventing students from logging into Teams,” Frank Bellavia told ARLnow late Tuesday morning. “As soon as we have resolved the issue, we will provide update to families.”

Numerous parents contacted ARLnow with reports of the tech problems.

“APS first day is a disaster. iPad not connecting to Canvas App. No one is answering the technical assistance line,” said one. “What a way to start the year!”

“Almost everyone couldn’t get in on the school provided iPad,” said a Key Elementary parent. “The teachers had to send out a link to the Teams Meeting which eventually worked.”

As of early Tuesday afternoon, Bellavia said the issues have been resolved. Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán issued the following statement around 2:30 p.m.

We sincerely apologize for the system-wide technical challenges many families experienced today, especially with connecting APS devices to Canvas and Microsoft Teams. The Department of Information Services identified that the primary source of the issue was firewall-related, due to the large volume of traffic trying to access Microsoft Teams at one time. We are deploying a solution now.

We knew there would be a high volume of traffic on the first day of school. We believed we had taken all necessary steps to prepare for this in advance, and unfortunately this morning we discovered an additional adjustment was needed. We are refreshing the firewall servers now. Performance has already improved and should continue to improve through the afternoon. We will continue to monitor this tomorrow and throughout this first week to make adjustments when necessary.

There are no additional steps necessary for families. We encourage you to continue trying to log on and to try restarting your child’s device.

Additionally, the phone number we had set up for technology support was quickly overwhelmed due to the same issue, and we have resolved that issue. Families can continue to access our self-help guides on the website and dial 703-228-2570 for additional support. We are sorry for the issues and understand your frustration as we start the year.

I also want to clarify that we were aware of an issue with Global Protect, brought to our attention late last week, and that issue was resolved over the weekend. We will continue to monitor and support families throughout this week and on an ongoing basis.

APS is starting the school year fully remote, with the hopes of at least partially returning to classrooms later this fall.

Few if any major difficulties were reported in the spring as APS students stayed at home and used remote learning tools to reinforce existing lessons. That contrasted with Fairfax County Public Schools, which attempted to teach new material but experienced a technological meltdown that led to the district’s top technology official stepping down.

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An injured worker was rescued from the 27th floor of a high-rise construction project in Rosslyn this morning.

The fire department responded to The Highlands development site on Wilson Blvd, near N. Pierce Street, shortly after 11 a.m. for a report of a construction worker with a back injury.

Given that the worker was high above ground level, a technical rescue team worked to lower him via a Stokes basket attached to one of the construction project’s tower cranes. A crowd of workers watched from the street, some with phones in hand, as firefighters completed the delicate operation.

Wilson Blvd and N. Pierce Street were closed in the area during the rescue, but have since reopened.

The project, which is nearing completion, is building hundreds of condos and apartments, as well as retail space, in the northern part of the Rosslyn neighborhood, near the new H-B Woodlawn school building.

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The Arlington County Board voted Thursday night to sue President Trump.

The Board directed the County Attorney to join other localities in legal action over the president’s order to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 Census tally that determines Congressional representation.

Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey called the action “clearly illegal and another effort to undermine the Census” prior to the unanimous vote.

More from an Arlington County press release:

Tonight, the Arlington County Board voted 5-0 to authorize the County Attorney to join the County as a party in legal actions filed against the United States President and others challenging the lawfulness of the President’s July 21, 2020 “Memorandum on Excluding Illegal Aliens from the Apportionment Base Following the 2020 Census.”

The President’s Proposal is Unconstitutional

In Section 2 of the Executive Memo, the President specifically calls ‘to exclude from the apportionment base aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status’. The United States Constitution says the census counts everyone living in the United States — every immigrant, every child, every neighbor, every student, everyone. This action by the President attempts to circumvent a recent decision of the United States Supreme Court and is unconstitutional.

“The Constitution requires an accurate count of our population every 10 years. The information from the Census is a crucial record that helps determine the Federal resources we receive over the next decade and is used for planning and research”, stated County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “We must have an accurate count of everyone living in Arlington and refuse to allow this unlawful effort to scare people and suppress the Census count of our immigrant community. Whether documented or undocumented,  our immigrant residents are valued members of our community.  We are determined that they will be accurately counted.”

Other Damaging Actions

The President is also trying to shorten the Census time frame and end the response collection period before Halloween – even when the U.S. Census Bureau has said it needs through December to ensure a complete and accurate count. In short – the administration is trying to undermine the accuracy and integrity of the 2020 Census and create fear of participation among undocumented immigrants.

Arlington County Residents Benefit from Taking the Census

Arlington receives approximately $50 million in funding based on census data to support transportation, housing, emergency services, free and reduced lunch programs, and more. To date, 71% of Arlington residents have responded to the 2020 Census, but we are still working to increase this number before enumerators start reaching out to households who haven’t been counted yet.

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Update at 7 p.m. — Outages in Arlington are now down to just over 3,000 power customers, according to Dominion’s website. Affected neighborhoods include Pentagon City, the Columbia Pike corridor near Penrose Square, the area around Wakefield High School, Lyon Park, Virginia Square, and Old Glebe.

Earlier: The worst of this afternoon’s severe storm has passed, leaving thousands without power in Arlington in its week.

While rain, lightning and thunder continues, the clean-up is getting underway. Dominion reported more than 10,600 customers without power in Arlington as of 4:30 p.m., with outages scattered throughout the county but concentrated in residential North Arlington.

The storm packed strong winds, with Reagan National Airport recording a 58 mile per hour gust.

Police and firefighters are responding to numerous reports of downed trees and wires, as well as sparking electrical transformers, including at:

  • 13th Street S. in the Douglas Park neighborhood
  • N. Utah Street in Waverly Hills
  • N. Irving Street near Clarendon
  • N. Manchester Street near Wilson Blvd
  • S. Utah Street in Fairlington

The power outages have also resulted in a number of calls for stuck elevators, including in Pentagon City. Multiple people are stuck in elevators in parts of the county, according to scanner traffic.

Among those currently without power: Rocklands BBQ in Virginia Square.

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(Updated at 11:40 a.m.) Arlington’s Lee Highway Alliance, with the county’s blessing, is embarking on a renaming process for Lee Highway.

In a press release this morning, the nonprofit said it will be convening a working group to compile a “shortlist” of new names for Lee Highway, which will be sent to the County Board for consideration. The county is expected to coordinate with neighboring jurisdictions on the name.

Lee Highway, also known as Route 29, is a main east-west commuter route and commercial corridor that runs through residential north Arlington and parts of Rosslyn. It once part of an auto trail that ran from New York City to San Francisco via southern states, in honor of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

“My colleagues and I are glad to see neighborhood leaders as skilled at consensus-building as the Lee Highway Alliance begin this important conversation about our community’s past — and our vision for our shared future,” County Board Katie Cristol said in a press release.

A recent, unscientific ARLnow poll found that 58% of respondents think it’s time to change the name of Lee Highway, while 42% want to keep it.

Last year Jefferson Davis Highway, named after the Confederate president, was renamed Richmond Highway in Arlington.

The full press release is below.

With the Arlington County Board’s support, the Lee Highway Alliance (LHA) is moving forward to re-name Lee Highway. As stated by County Board Member, Katie Cristol: “My colleagues and I are glad to see neighborhood leaders as skilled at consensus-building as the Lee Highway Alliance begin this important conversation about our community’s past – and our vision for our shared future.”

LHA will develop a Working Group of stakeholders including the LHA Community Advisory Committee, civic associations, property owners, and business owners in the corridor. The Working Group will meet over the summer and into the fall, at which time a shortlist of names will be sent to the County Board.

It is presumed that the numbering as US Route 29 will be maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), which is the owner of the highway. Arlington must reach consensus on the name with adjacent jurisdictions. Many years ago, the City of Falls Church re-named their portion of Lee Highway ‘Washington Street.’ Unlike Virginia counties, Virginia cities are not required to get approval from the Commonwealth.

Arlington already has successfully renamed one state highway within its borders. In April of 2019, the Arlington County Board voted unanimously to approve a resolution asking that the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) rename Arlington’s 2.56 mile portion of Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1) to Richmond Highway. Re-naming Lee Highway would follow the same legislative process with the CTB or Virginia General Assembly providing final approval.

LHA is also working with the County and hundreds of stakeholders on Plan Lee Highway, an urban planning project to re-visualize the corridor. The goal is to make it more sustainable, attractive, walkable, welcoming and economically viable for residents and businesses. The comprehensive planning process also includes managing climate change and strengthening environmental safeguards, as well as updating Arlington’s General Land Use Plan (GLUP).

Sandi Chesrown, Vice Chair of Plan Lee Highway and Vice President of LHA, noted:

“We cannot change the history of Virginia. But the names of streets and highways matter and indicate a community’s contemporary values. As we revitalize the corridor and our branding through Plan Lee Highway, together we will look to the future and arrive at a name that better reflects our identity, our aspirations, and our ‘main street’ character.”‘

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(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools would start the new school year a week later than originally planned, and with full time distance learning, under a new plan being proposed by new Superintendent Francisco Durán.

That’s according to a School Talk email just sent to APS families.

Durán says he will present his proposal to the School Board on Thursday. If approved, it would scrap the previous plan to start the fall with a hybrid model that would have most students in classrooms two days per week, while others could opt for online-only classes.

The hybrid model drew criticism from teachers and parents who said there would be no way to ensure the safety of students and school staff. On Monday the Arlington Education Association, which represents APS teachers, released a statement saying that “it is not prudent to re-open schools.”

“We believe, this fall, all learning should continue online from home,” the association said. “This is the only way to keep all educators and students safe and healthy.”

Earlier today, Arlington recorded its highest single-day total of new coronavirus cases since May.

Other parents, however, have called for a full-time return to in-person schooling, saying that online classes would disadvantage low-income students and single-parent households. A recent ARLnow poll found that about 30% of respondents supported five-day-per-week classroom instruction in the fall, while slightly more called for online-only instruction and a plurality preferred the hybrid model.

Under Durán’s new proposal, the school year would start on Sept. 8, rather than Aug. 31, to allow teachers more time to plan for online-only instruction. After the first quarter of the school year, some students may return to classrooms.

“We will continue to monitor the health data in September, with the goal of beginning to transition some students to in-person instruction in early October, which is the mid-point in the first quarter of the school year,” Durán wrote.

Over the weekend Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools released a similar plan, with an online-only start to the school year.

A tipster tells ARLnow that the decision was reached yesterday.

“Rumor has it APS administration and principals met today and agreed to start the first quarter of the school year online only,” the tipster wrote on Monday.

More from the email:

APS Families,

As we continue to see an increase in positive cases for COVID-19 nationwide, over the past several days I have taken time to re-evaluate our plan and path forward. I have met with both County leaders and School Board members to review current health data for Arlington and the state. Yesterday, we reviewed the APS health and safety plan with our Return-to-School Task Force to address concerns we have received from teachers, staff, parents, and the community.

Based on these discussions and our monitoring of local and national trends in COVID-19 cases, I am proposing to the School Board on Thursday night to postpone the start of the academic year to Tuesday, September 8, and begin our school year virtually in the full-time distance learning model for all students. Throughout our planning, the health and safety of our staff and students has been our top priority, and beginning the year with a virtual model allows us to continue to monitor the situation until we are confident it is safe to return.

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(Updated at 10:45 p.m.) Democrat Takis Karantonis will fill the late Erik Gutshall’s former Arlington County Board seat.

Karantonis, an economist and the former director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, captured 62.4% of the vote. He overperformed among absentee ballots, with 71% of the more than 10,000 absentee ballots cast amid the pandemic.

Susan Cunningham, who described herself as a “progressive Independent,” received 32.6% of the vote. A civically-involved professional and mother of two, Cunningham was endorsed in the race by John Vihstadt, the last non-Democrat to win a seat on the County Board.

Republican Bob Cambridge, a former CIA instructor, received 4.8% of the vote.

In all, 19,866 votes were cast — a turnout of 12.6% of the Arlington electorate. That’s below the 22,264 votes tallied in the 2014 special election, in which Vihstadt first won his seat on the Board.

Besides taking place during a pandemic, today’s election was also hampered by a relatively short campaigning period, and an election day just after the Fourth of July. Karantonis won the Democratic nomination in a closed caucus of about 250 local Democratic party insiders, as the party decried not having enough time to organize a broader primary or caucus.

Karantonis’ initial term on the Board will run through Dec. 31, 2021.

In a press release issued by the Arlington County Democratic Committee, Karantonis pledges “true progressive policies and effective leadership.”

“Arlington voters responded overwhelmingly to Takis’ positive, issues-oriented campaign, surmounting the unprecedented challenges posed by the coronavirus to elect an experienced leader to the County Board,” Arlington Democrats Chair Jill Caiazzo said. “Takis will be a leader for all Arlingtonians. He has the expertise and empathy to build on the impressive legacy of Erik Gutshall. We know he’ll serve Arlington well.”

During the campaign, Karantonis touted his status as an immigrant as a reason he’ll be particularly effective during these fraught times for the country. He has been a resident of Arlington for 14 years, currently living with his wife in the Arlington Village neighborhood.

“As an immigrant and a first-time candidate, I did not expect to receive the overwhelming amount of support from Arlingtonians throughout every zip code in our county,” Karantonis said shortly after the election was called. “Our victory is meaningful for two specific reasons: it is the recognition of my many years of civic engagement in Arlington and it serves as a testament to Arlington voters’ expectation of true progressive policies and effective leadership.”

Karantonis previously served as executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, and now directs micro-lending for the Ethiopian Community Development Council, an Arlington-based nonprofit. He serves as vice chair of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, and previously was president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association and board chair of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment (now known as EcoAction Arlington). A native of Greece, Karantonis lived and worked in several European countries before immigrating to the United States. He speaks eight languages.

Cunningham, in a statement, thanked her opponents “for a spirited and hard-fought race” and wished Karantonis well on the County Board.

“Tonight I want to thank each and every voter in Arlington,” Cunningham said. “And I also want to thank my daughters and my husband, along with an incredible army of volunteers, who pulled out all the stops during a pandemic. This was always an uphill battle — not just against my opponents but also against an entrenched one-party system in Arlington… I truly hope we started some important conversations about the perils of one-party rule and the need for greater accountability.”

“I hope all of our elected officials will get serious about transparency, accountability, and improved School-County collaboration,” Cunningham concluded. “I have been deeply honored to meet and talk with so many Arlington residents. I look forward to many more discussions in the future.”

More on the turnout from the county elections office:

File photo

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(Updated at 4:55 p.m.) A large group of demonstrators blocked the outbound 14th Street Bridge between D.C. and Arlington during the evening rush hour.

Protesters were sitting down across the main southbound bridge span, according to D.C. police, but then started marching towards Arlington. The group — said to number in the hundreds — previously marched from the area around the Jefferson Memorial, according to scanner traffic.

Arlington County fire department medics were dispatched to the bridge at the request of Virginia State Police for a report of a protester who is dehydrated.

Drivers should expect delays in the area, though the outbound HOV lanes remained open. Police are on scene monitoring the demonstration.

Public safety watchdog Dave Statter broadcast live video of the protest, which as of 4:35 p.m. appeared to be winding down. Demonstrators, holding signs and flags, could be seen marching back toward D.C. Lanes reopened at 4:50 p.m.

The protest is related to the persecution of an ethnic group in Ethiopia, according to social media posts. It does not appear to be associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.

https://twitter.com/DCPoliceTraffic/status/1280238440207077377

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