Arlington, VA

In a race upended by the coronavirus pandemic, Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy have emerged on top of a five-candidate field for the Democratic school board endorsement.

Diaz-Torres and Priddy will now advance to the general election, as they seek to fill the two Arlington School Board seats being vacated by Nancy Van Dorn and Tannia Talento. In November they are expected to face Symone Walker, who dropped out of contention for the Democratic endorsement and is instead running as an independent.

(School Board races are officially nonpartisan and parties can only endorse candidates, not nominate them as in a primary.)

Due to the pandemic, the Arlington County Democratic Committee conducted voting by mail, which was deemed “the only safe and reliable option for a large-scale caucus.” Steven Krieger, a candidate in the race who placed a close third, last month publicly criticized the format as inequitable.

“This process presented significant equity challenges to disadvantaged citizens including the poor, English language learning voters as well as voters with disabilities,” he wrote in an op-ed published by Blue Virginia. “The vote-by-mail election for the School Board caucus should serve as a clear reminder that if we fail, even for a moment, to be intentional in fighting inequities in our community, the most vulnerable members of our community will bear the consequences.”

Arlington Democrats, however, said the two-month process was the only one that would allow safe voting in a timely manner.

“This was the first all-mail School Board Endorsement Caucus in the history of the Arlington Democrats, and I am proud to say that our team and the community stepped up to make it a success,” ACDC Chair Jill Caiazzo wrote in an email to members tonight. “More than 5,700 ballots were cast, far exceeding the 1,994 ballots cast in the 2019 in-person School Board Caucus.”

In a press release, the party congratulated the two endorsees.

“The Arlington School Board’s thoughtful stewardship of our schools is a big part of what makes Arlington such an attractive place for both families and businesses,” Arlington Democrats School Board Endorsement Caucus Director Jacki Wilson said. “We congratulate Cristina and David, and thank all five candidates who stepped up to serve their community and sought our endorsement.”

More on the endorsees, from the press release:

Cristina Diaz-Torres is an education policy specialist who began her career as a part-time preschool teacher at a Head Start program, and then worked as a high school math teacher in Las Vegas, where she taught geometry and founded an AP statistics program. After leaving the classroom, Diaz-Torres served as a legislative fellow for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, where she worked on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 2015 federal law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act governing U.S. K-12 public education policy.

David Priddy is an Arlington native, community activist and former business executive. Priddy attended Arlington Public Schools; he and his wife, Melanie, now have two sons who attend local public schools. Priddy serves on numerous education-related councils and committees, including the: Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Equity and Excellence; County Council of PTAs (CCPTA); and the NAACP Education Committee.

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Morning Notes

Ballston Residents Cheer for Healthcare Workers — A video shows residents in Ballston giving healthcare workers and other essential caregivers a round of applause at 8 p.m. last night. [Twitter]

New School Budget Coming Soon — “Arlington Superintendent Cintia Johnson this week will formally outline her plan to reduce spending in the wake of the health and economic crisis. Johnson will report to School Board members on April 16 with an updated budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning in July, supplanting one she had detailed less than two months ago.” [InsideNova]

‘Strong Response’ to School Board Caucus — “Less than a week after announcing a transition to a vote-by-mail process for its School Board candidate endorsement caucus, the Arlington County Democratic Committee (Arlington Dems) has received more than 2,000 ballot requests representing all 54 Arlington voting precincts.” [Press Release]

Former Va. Hospital Center Patient Donates Gowns — “In light of the coronavirus pandemic, a breast cancer survivor decided to donate her colorful hospital gowns to people going through the same thing she did.” [NBC 4]

Local TSA Employee Dies — “A second Transportation Security Administration employee died from coronavirus the same day the agency announced its first worker had died. Alberto Camacho, a branch manager for the TSA’s Acquisition Program Management in Arlington, Virginia, died April 3, according to a TSA news release.” [USA Today]

‘Buy a Neighbor Lunch’ Pilot Program — “Volunteer Arlington… announced today a new initiative to facilitate community support for local families in need of meals called Buy a Neighbor Lunch. The program enables supporters to donate individual meals to be delivered to families in need.” [Volunteer Arlington]

Dog Daycare Owner On Coronavirus Challenges — “We lost over half our business in just three short weeks… Every day puts us more and more at risk of losing everything. I’m not one who backs down from a challenge easily, but the uncertainty of this one is life-crushing and breaking my soul.” [Arlington Magazine]

Photo courtesy Amy Kelly

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A caucus will be held in May to determine the Democratic endorsees for Arlington School Board.

The Arlington County Democratic Committee announced the caucus dates and format last week. It will be split between two separate days and at two locations, though caucus goers will only need to show up once:

  • Thursday, May 7 from 7-9 p.m. at Drew Elementary (3500 23rd Street S.)
  • Saturday, May 9 from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. at Washington-Liberty High (1301 N. Stafford Street)

The deadline to file as a candidate is March 2. This year’s School Board election will fill two empty seats. The announced candidates so far include:

  • Cristina Diaz-Torres
  • Steven Krieger
  • Sandy Munnell
  • Dave Priddy
  • Terron Sims
  • Symone Walker

School Board races in Virginia are considered nonpartisan, and candidates technically run as independents, but the Arlington Democrats endorsement caucus serves as a kind of de facto primary.

Separately, the local party announced that that it will hold a primary for the Arlington County Board race on Tuesday, June 9. (The presidential “Super Tuesday” primary in Virginia is happening March 3.)

The general election this year will be hold on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The full press release from the Arlington County Democratic Committee is below, after the jump.

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Morning Notes

Goldstein Fends Off Challenger — “Incumbent School Board Chair Reid Goldstein emerged as the victor Saturday night in the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s [School Board endorsement] caucus… Goldstein received 1,231 votes out of 1,999 ballots counted, or 61.6%… Challenger David Priddy received 763 votes.” [Arlington Democrats]

Car Runs Off Glebe Road Into Ditch — “At 1:54pm Sunday, units were called for a car off the road in 4500 blk of N Glebe Rd. Crews were able to walk 1 patient out with minor injuries. Patient was transported to local hospital while Hazmat team worked to contain leaking fluids. Please watch your speed on the wet roads.” [Twitter]

Del. Hope Not a PAC Man — Del. Patrick Hope (D) has joined a group of Democratic state Senators in announcing “their intention to introduce legislation in the 2020 General Assembly legislative session to limit excessive campaign contributions from influencing Virginia elections.” The proposed bill is in response to a PAC contributing nearly $1 million to the commonwealth’s attorney primaries in Arlington and Fairfax. [Blue Virginia]

New Additions to Amazon HQ2 Job Page — There are now 47 open jobs listed on Amazon’s HQ2 jobs page. Among the positions Amazon is hiring for in Arlington are hardware, system and software development engineers; recruiters; and numerous Alexa-related technical positions. [Amazon]

Middle School Project Running Behind — “It might be a little cramped for the first few months as students settle in at Arlington’s Dorothy Hamm Middle School… County school officials have known for months that the expansion of the school won’t be ready for occupancy when classes begin in September… On its website, the school system now pegs completion of the expansion at next March.” [InsideNova]

Wardian Places Third in Horse Race — “Mike Wardian, 45, of Arlington, Va. did not succeed at outrunning all the horses at the 40th anniversary of Whole Earth Man v. Horse Marathon in Wales yesterday, but he did pretty well nonetheless, placing third among the humans and finishing in 2:34:03.” [Trail Running]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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An Arlington Heights parent is launching a challenge to School Board Chairman Reid Goldstein, arguing that the county school system needs a more transparent, comprehensive planning process to match the county’s persistently rising student enrollment levels.

David Priddy told ARLnow that he’s filed papers to compete in the upcoming caucus to win the Democratic Committee’s endorsement in the race. School Board seats are nominally non-partisan, and candidates don’t run under party labels, but local parties frequently endorse candidates for the Board.

Goldstein announced his re-election bid in early January in the race for the lone Board seat on the ballot this fall. He’s seeking his second term in office after winning the seat in 2015, replacing retiring Board member Abby Raphael.

Democratic Committee Chair Jill Caiazzo says that Goldstein and Priddy were the only candidates to file for the caucus ahead of last night’s deadline. Considering that every School Board member for the last 15 years has won the party’s endorsement before going on to win the general election, the caucus will likely decide the outcome of the race.

Priddy wrote in an email that he’s an Arlington native, and grew up attending Arlington Public Schools. He serves on Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s Advisory Committee on the Elimination of the Achievement Gap and he has two children currently in the county’s school system: one at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and the other will attend Alice West Fleet Elementary School when it opens next year.

He hopes that, as “a product of APS as well as an APS parent,” he’ll have a unique perspective to bring to the job.

“Priddy is running for the School Board because he believes better transparency into School Board decision-making is needed, along with comprehensive planning for growth to enable fiscally-responsible financial investments in both new and renovated educational facilities,” his campaign biography reads. “He is not afraid to directly confront the tough issues – from technology to inclusion to capacity challenges – that Arlington’s schools are currently facing.”

Priddy’s Arlington Heights neighborhood has a bit of a fraught history with the school system, and Goldstein, in particular.

The process of determining how, exactly, the school system will add new space for high schoolers at the Arlington Career Center has frustrated many parents in the neighborhood, who argue that the school shouldn’t open as a high school serving the South Arlington neighborhood unless APS can guarantee it will boast the same amenities as the county’s other comprehensive high schools.

Similarly, the recent redistricting process to divvy up students from nearby elementary schools and send them to Fleet as it opens next year sparked conflict in the community.

Parents at Patrick Henry Elementary School, which will soon become the exclusive home of Drew Model School’s Montessori program, argued that Board members (Goldstein, in particular) repeatedly promised them that the school community would move as one to Fleet. School officials dispute their account, and the Board ended up directing about a fifth of Henry’s student body elsewhere, prompting plenty of hurt feelings.

However, Priddy does not make any direct reference to those controversies in his campaign materials, and he said he will launch his campaign in earnest in mid-March.

Goldstein and Priddy will square off in a three-day, “unassembled” caucus in June.

Democrats hoping to vote in the race can do so on June 4 at Drew Elementary (3500 23rd Street S.) from 7-9 p.m., June 6 at Key Elementary (2300 Key Blvd) from 7-9 p.m. or June 8 at Washington-Liberty High School (1301 N. Stafford Street) from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Anyone hoping to vote in the race will be required to sign a pledge indicating that they are a Democrat and don’t plan to support any other candidate in the race.

Caiazzo stresses that this process is different from a primary, which Virginia law does not allow to decide nominations in School Board races.

Courtesy photo of Priddy, right, file photo of Goldstein, left

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Morning Notes

Arlington Dems Weary of Richmond Scandals — “With a political crisis of unprecedented proportions swirling at the statewide level, Arlington Democrats are reacting at perhaps the only pace available to them – one day, and one step, at a time. ‘We will get through this,’ a visibly weary Jill Caiazzo, chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, said at the organization’s monthly meeting on Feb. 6.” [InsideNova]

Dems to Hold Caucus for School Board — The Arlington County Democratic Committee will hold a “firehouse caucus” over the course of three days in June to determine the party’s endorsement for School Board. [Arlington Democrats]

Sheriff Arthur Running for Reelection — “Arlington Sheriff Beth Arthur on Feb. 7 kicked off a bid for re-election, touting successful partnerships her office has forged with other government agencies and the community at large. ‘I hope that I can count on you,’ Arthur told the Arlington County Democratic Committee as she launched a bid to retain the office she has held for the past 18 years.” [InsideNova]

Arlington’s (Sometimes) Hidden Gems — “In Arlington, we’re lucky to be home to 10 of ‘the oldest federal monuments.’ Those 40 oft-overlooked boundary stones were laid back in 1791 to mark borders of the spanking new District of Columbia.” [Falls Church News-Press]

How to Walk from Crystal City to DCA — “Reagan National airport is about 1,800 feet from Amazon’s new Crystal City headquarters… that’s not to say it’s an easy stroll: Train tracks, busy roads, and other obstacles separate a walker from DCA. Eventually, a pedestrian bridge could make the journey less fraught, but in the meantime, we gave one route a try.” [Washingtonian]

Lunar New Year Event This Weekend — The Eden Center in Falls Church is holding a Lunar New Year event Sunday “with a lion dance, entertainers, balloon sculptures, face painting and ‘other surprises and giveaways.'” [Tysons Reporter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) announced last week the formation of the Virginia Latino Caucus in the General Assembly.

Lopez, who represents the 49th District in the Virginia House of Delegates, a district that includes swathes of south Arlington, said the bipartisan caucus will initially include Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) and first-term Dels. Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala (both D-Prince William).

“Latinos make up 9 percent of Virginia’s total population,” Lopez said in a statement. “It’s long past time that we have more representation in the General Assembly to reflect that reality. I’m honored to welcome Delegates Guzman and Ayala to the House of Delegates and look forward to working with them to represent Virginia’s Latino community.”

Lopez announced the caucus’ formation on the House floor on Friday, January 12. The caucus is open to all members, regardless of ethnicity.

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Monique O’Grady describes herself as just a “regular Arlington resident.”

But this regular resident just convincingly defeated several candidates, including incumbent James Lander, in the Democratic school board endorsement caucus.

O’Grady, a mother of one current Arlington Public Schools student and two APS graduates (one of whom happens to be a well-known actress), says she wants to make a difference on the school board and help APS navigate its current period of rapid student enrollment growth.

We asked O’Grady about herself, her family and the various issues facing APS in this week’s 26 Square Miles podcast. Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher or TuneIn.p

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Morning Notes

Is Yelp Coming to Rosslyn? — Rosslyn’s 1812 N. Moore Street tower, the future corporate headquarters of Nestlé USA, could also be a destination for review website Yelp. The San Francisco-based company is reportedly considering opening an office in the D.C. area and 1812 N. Moore is on the short list. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman grew up in Arlington. [Washington Business Journal]

Democratic Committee Recommends Primaries — In a move that could be seen as a rebuke of the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s decision to hold a caucus to select a County Board nominee this year, the 8th District Democratic Committee has approved “a resolution saying primaries, not caucuses, should be the main form of nomination of Democratic candidates.” [InsideNova]

County Employee Is ‘Roadeo’ Star — Alexis Zambrano, a long-time county equipment operator, has scored a silver award in a regional “equipment roadeo” competition, sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic American Public Works Association. [Arlington County]

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(Updated 10:25 p.m.) Erik Gutshall and Monique O’Grady were victorious at the Arlington County Democratic Committee caucus, winning the County Board nominee and School Board endorsement, respectively.

The final turnout of 5,972 votes is a record for a Democratic caucus held in the county, beating the previous high of 4,951 in the 1993 caucus for County Board. Voters cast ballots across three days at Francis Scott Key Elementary School on Tuesday, Drew Model School on Thursday and Washington-Lee High School Saturday.

Gutshall earned 3,209 votes to finish ahead of Kim Klingler with 1,416, Vivek Patil with 1,189 and Peter Fallon with 945. O’Grady got 3,441 votes, ahead of seven-year incumbent School Board member James Lander’s 2,336 votes and Maura McMahon’s 965.

“I think Arlington is definitely ready to move forward and make sure that we’re focused on the future,” Gutshall said. “That’s what I ran on, and I look forward to fulfilling everything that we’ve talked about in this campaign.”

O’Grady said she wants to repay her supporters’ faith in the November general election and beyond, if she wins a seat on the School Board.

“I want them to know I’m going to work very hard to follow everything that I’ve laid out in this campaign,” she said. “I’ve heard them, I will continue to listen to them and will continue to work so hard for our students. I will listen to them, I will listen to our students, I will listen to our parents as we continue to try to figure out how to handle some of the issues we’re dealing with in Arlington.”

For Gutshall, who came into the three-day caucus with a slew of endorsements from current and former elected officials, it represents a redemption of sorts after he lost the 2016 primary to Libby Garvey.

Gutshall said despite the defeat, he was determined for his vision to be heard at the highest levels of county government.

“It’s knowing that the future of Arlington matters, and that we are this great progressive success story that I want to see continue,” he said. “I have roots here. I’ve got my business here, I’ve got my family here, this is where I’m meant to be and it’s a great place to be and a great community and I want to make sure we keep moving forward into the future.”

Defeated County Board candidates Klingler and Patil congratulated Gutshall on a positive campaign, and said they were positive about the county’s future direction.

“Hopefully some of my messaging and priorities resonated throughout the campaign, because that’s what’s important to me,” Klingler said. “I hope we will carry those messages forward.”

“What I’m really happy about is the amazing campaign we ran,” Patil said. “I’m very proud of the ideas we brought to the race, the stories we told. I’m going to do this. I said on my first day, if I’m going to lose, it doesn’t matter, because I have actually won a lot of faith and support in the community for our ideas and our vision.”

The high turnout, albeit lower than for primary elections in the past, gave Democratic leaders cause for optimism ahead of June’s primary elections and November’s votes for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General and the House of Delegates.

“Turnout is high and people are excited, so it’s a win for the Democrats,” said School Board vice chair Barbara Kanninen.

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Local Democrats’ decision to choose a County Board nominee by caucus not primary has drawn the ire of some of its younger members.

At the Virginia Young Democrats’ annual convention earlier this month, the Arlington Young Democrats spearheaded a resolution to encourage the use of primary elections in local and statewide races.

The Arlington County Democratic Committee will use a so-called “firehouse primary” to choose a nominee to run to succeed retiring County Board chair Jay Fisette. Four candidates will be on the ballot: Peter Fallon, Erik Gutshall, Kim Klingler and Vivek Patil.

The unassembled caucus, in which any registered voter can show up, fill out a ballot and leave, will be held alongside the School Board caucus on May 9, 11 and 13 at Key Elementary School, Drew Model School and Washington-Lee High School, respectively. Candidates are ranked in order of preference by attendees.

But Maggie Davis, president of the Arlington Young Democrats, said such a system does not help more young voters get involved in the nomination process.

“It is incredibly difficult for a young person likely working multiple jobs with very little flexible free time to access the caucus,” Davis said. “There’s no in-person absentee voting, no absentee voting and the caucus only happens on certain times. And the Thursday night location [Drew Model School] is off the Metro corridor.”

ACDC chair Kip Malinosky said the decision to use a caucus instead of a primary would encourage candidates to move away from negative campaigning, especially as it uses a ranking system.

“The issue is that neither system is perfect,” Malinosky said. “Obviously, we always want to see more people vote and make it easier for people to vote. On the other hand, primaries, especially when it’s just plurality, can be very negative.”

The Arlington Young Democrats introduced their resolution at the national convention to some reluctance from smaller jurisdictions, worried about the financial burden of funding a primary. But Davis said the principle of allowing as many people to vote as possible and all precinct voting stations being open won the day.

“It was generally accepted that we should have more open and transparent electoral processes,” she said.

Davis said the addition of a third day for caucus voting was a good compromise by ACDC, but that the Young Democrats still wish to see some kind of absentee voting introduced to allow as many people as possible to vote if they wish, even if they are absent on polling day.

Malinosky rejected the idea that a caucus allows the local party to who is chosen as the eventual nominee, and emphasized the need for positive campaigning. He added that the use of a caucus this year does not set a precedent for future nominating contests.

“If you look at the literature on political turnout, negative campaigning can really sink political turnout,” he said. “What we want to do as a party to influence it is have positive campaigning. But I don’t think there’s an end-all, be-all perfect answer for caucuses vs. primaries.”

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