After a summer lull, politicking in Arlington is back in full swing.
For candidates, the first big stop on the campaign trail was an in-person and virtual forum hosted by the Arlington County Civic Federation, or CivFed, last night (Tuesday).
Democrat and Republican candidates for the state legislature outlined their top social and economic goals, while the four Arlington County Board candidates, meanwhile, were quizzed on more local topics, including government transparency — a key issue for CivFed that roiled the organization earlier this year.
State senate challengers emerge
Two Republicans are challenging Arlington’s two long-time incumbent Democrat state senators: Sophia Moshasha, vying for the 39th District seat against Adam Ebbin, and David Henshaw, going up against Barbara Favola for the 40th District seat.
Last night, the four candidates staked out their party-line positions on center-stage social issues, including abortion, gun violence, public education and crime.
Favola and Ebbin say they are both focused on codifying abortion rights and banning “assault-style” weapons.
Ebbin said his other top priorities “are a state government that fights for Virginians and an economy that works for Virginia, but we need to keep improving our K-12 public education system.”
Both incumbents pointed to their years of experience legislating under Republican and Democrat governors as reasons voters should re-elect them.
“I have always been very pragmatic,” Favola said. “I think I’m one of the more successful lawmakers in terms of gaining bipartisan support for my bills, and actually having my bill signed.”
Both Republicans styled themselves as “political outsiders.” Echoing similar language from GOP Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin during his race and tenure, the candidates called on the state to safeguard the rights of parents to “have a say” in their child’s education. They both also called for increased funding for law enforcement to address crime.
“I am concerned — and a little bit upset — with the direction that our country and our state are going, particularly with regard to education, the high cost of living and crime,” Henshaw said. “Arlington deserves a choice in the election coming up.”
Criticizing Favola’s support of abortion rights, Henshaw said he supports a 15-week abortion ban, with exceptions for the health of the mother as well as rape and incest, as well as lower state taxes.
Moshasha, meanwhile, has made technology and science a marquee issue. Going up against Ebbin, who chairs two senate committees focused on technology, she says she will push for more STEM programs at all educational levels and more policies to attract emerging industries to Virginia.
“I am not a career politician. I focus on the things that we need to move our economy and our community forward,” she said. “I think it’s time to get a fresh voice, a fresh perspective and an innovative mindset with the energy that will get things done on behalf of the greater community.”
Arlington County Board candidates on transparency
The County Board forum began with topics such as police staffing and the office vacancy rate, but heated up during a later question about transparency.
A battle over how to improve public confidence in county government has driven a wedge between two large community organizations in Arlington.
The clash came to a head last night (Wednesday) when delegates to the federation of civic groups voted 75-32 for a resolution, introduced by some former CivFed presidents, that included harsh criticism of county processes.
The NAACP had proposed a milder substitute resolution, focused on improving public engagement.
The tussle is downstream of two shifts in Arlington. The first occurred amid the racial reckoning of 2020, which resulted in CivFed pledging to be more diverse. The second occurred as Missing Middle, the proposal to allow greater density in single-family home neighborhoods, laid bare issues many residents say pervade civic engagement.
“A few years ago, the NAACP joined CivFed in a good faith attempt to assist the organization evolve, transform and grow; however, our organizational mission, vision, and values don’t seem to align well,” NAACP President Mike Hemminger said in an email shared with ARLnow. “We wish the CivFed the very best in the future.”
He said the NAACP has appreciated the chance to engage with members in recent years.
“Our sincere prayer is that your organization will one day accomplish the diversity, equity, inclusion and sense of belonging that so many are craving from leader organizations in the community,” he said.
CivFed President John Ford said he was disappointed to learn of the NAACP’s decision last night, especially after 98% of members voted for its admission to the federation in 2020.
“CivFed and NAACP continue to share many goals, and the many associations and warm, respectful relationships we have built with our NAACP colleagues will endure,” he said in a statement. “We hope they may seek to rejoin us in the future. And I am certain that the two organizations will continue to collaborate in many areas for the benefit of all Arlingtonians.”
While there is one overt reference to Missing Middle, long-standing criticisms of this zoning amendment permeate the text and its 100-plus footnotes, including one resolution.
It urges the County Board to adopt a policy “preventing implementation of plans, policies or projects (new major initiatives or revisions) in the absence of a thorough and data-supported analysis of the potential and cumulative impacts.”
The NAACP instead urged the county to invest “more resources in comprehensive planning and developing a more sophisticated, data-driven toolkit for anticipating, addressing, and communicating likely impacts from County policies.”
The original resolution ruffled feathers of other community groups, too, including YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, a group advocating for more housing that has been vocal in the push for Missing Middle housing in Arlington.
In its own statement, the group said an appendix to CivFed’s motion is a “100-page laundry list of personal attacks, vague accusations of dismissiveness by County staff and Board members, unfounded insinuations of conflicts of interest by Advisory Group appointees, plus multiple direct attacks on YIMBYs of Northern Virginia.”
Arlington County is gearing up to make a decision on whether to allow low-rise, multifamily dwellings to be built on lots currently zoned exclusively for single-family homes. Leading up to the decision, the county and local organizations have been holding many discussions about the potential impacts of these changes.
Panelists, who spoke for themselves, couldn’t discuss their “feelings” and would instead have to provide a citation for every fact or projected outcome, co-moderator Nadia Conyers said. Speakers needed to seek common ground and respect areas of disagreement, and could not attribute motives to what other speakers were saying.
The panelists reviewed each other’s presentations to ensure facts were not misrepresented, co-moderator Jackie Snelling said.
“We spent a lot of time planning this discussion, which is a little different from how our normal discussions go,” she said.
Those in favor of Missing Middle said Arlington’s housing shortage requires the county to do something.
Michael Spotts, the founder of Neighborhood Fundamentals, who has researched housing for the last 15 years, said Arlington as it is currently zoned is running out of developable space. Meanwhile, developers are tearing down starter homes to build so-called McMansions, while certain neighborhoods north of Route 50 are essentially off-limits to renters, he said.
“I believe Arlington does need to grow and continue to add new housing,” Spotts said. “Aside from the economics, I don’t believe it’s fair to say certain neighborhoods shouldn’t have to contribute to meeting the growing need for housing.”
While not a panacea for all of the county’s housing concerns, he says the zoning changes would add units, increase ownership opportunities and marginally cut down on sprawl development in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties, which in turn has environmental impacts in Arlington.
He and Eric Berkey, who chairs Arlington’s Housing Commission, said the changes would help undo the lasting effects of last century’s exclusionary and racist zoning policies. After racially restrictive covenants became illegal, Arlington County used economics to segregate Black people by banning the construction of row houses and creating zones for exclusively single-family detached houses.
“Missing Middle can provide opportunities for more families to live in not just the three or four neighborhoods where we have duplexes, but the entirety of the county in the long term,” Berkey said. “Characters make the neighborhood. It’s important for the county to get rid of these exclusionary housing policies and make sure folks can live in the entirety of our community.”
Opponents Anne Bodine, a member of Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, an advocacy group concerned about rapid growth, and Julie Lee, a member of a coalition of 15 civic association presidents opposed to the framework, said more housing is needed, but Arlington does not need to pick up the slack for a region-wide shortage.
“We cannot solve all of the region’s housing issues, but we should set lofty goals, and we must implement a plan that would achieve our desired objective,” Lee said. “The Missing Middle plan does not do that.”
They argued that the zoning changes won’t make it easier for people of color and low- and middle-income earners to buy here, despite assertions to the contrary by the local chapter of the NAACP and others.
“The county says offering a diversity of housing types is a key Missing Middle goal. Why do we need diverse housing types that don’t promote racial and economic diversity?” Bodine said. “A household needs to earn 118% of the area median income to afford the cheapest Missing Middle unit of $416,000. Looking at current Arlington populations, senior, Hispanic and Black median household incomes fall short. It doesn’t mean none of these groups can afford Missing Middle units, but it shows how slim the chances are.”
The Arlington County and School boards would be more competitive and diverse if they were bigger, better-paid and elected via ranked-choice voting, says a group of community leaders and former elected officials.
For about two years, members of the Arlington County Civic Federation Task Force in Government and Election Reform (TiGER) considered how to improve county politics by meeting with community members and hearing from other jurisdictions.
TiGER suggests elections where voters rank candidates by preference, with winners selected over the course of elimination rounds. It recommends expanding the five-member County and School boards to seven, paying them more, and electing three to four members every two years. To increase the boards’ sway in the region, chairs would have two-year terms, with the possibility for a second term.
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity right now to improve both the electoral and governance systems of the county to ensure that both the County Board and School Board better represent our diverse community as well as promote effective citizen engagement with our county government,” Allan Gajadhar, TiGER chair and immediate past president of CivFed, told the Arlington Committee of 100 last week.
Some of these ideas are already on the table: Early next year, the Arlington County Board could consider ranked-choice voting, which Virginia has allowed since July 2021. Meanwhile, $20,000 raises for County Board members were part of the Fiscal Year 2023 county budget (for the School Board, wages sit at only $25,000 for members and $27,000 for the chair).
Instead, some attendees were interested in bigger changes, including one TiGER ultimately dismissed: district-based representation.
They pressed Gajadhar and another TiGER member, former School Board Chair Tannia Talento, to explain why redistricting won’t work. They asked if Arlington should become a city with a mayor, or if voters should elect the County Manager, who the County Board appoints.
One asked whether chairs should be elected for four-year terms, not chosen by sitting board members to lead for one year. Another expressed interest in setting aside a County Board seat or two for members of non-dominant political parties.
Problems facing Arlington today
TiGER levied heavy criticism of Arlington’s political landscape. It said the County and School boards do not adequately reflect the the county’s racial and ethnic, socioeconomic and viewpoint diversity, in part because Arlington has had five-person boards since 1930, despite the population being eight times larger today.
Elections don’t ensure proportional representation, encourage the most qualified and diverse candidates or provide competitive races in general elections, it said. Primaries and caucuses discourage people from running and voting and prevent federal employees from running.
These critiques are shared by independent County Board candidates and skeptics of how the Arlington County Democratic Party endorses candidates for the non-partisan School Board. Those who lose the caucus in the spring agree not to run unaffiliated in November, making the end result similar to a primary.
For voters, evaluating Arlington County Board candidate views of Missing Middle will look a lot like Goldilocks sampling porridge.
Three familiar names are vying for a seat on the County Board: incumbent Matt de Ferranti and his independent challengers Audrey Clement and Adam Theo, who have both ran for a seat on the Board before — Clement numerous times before.
Now, potential Missing Middle zoning changes are becoming a key battleground for the candidates, as both community support and opposition intensifies. The two-year study is entering a final phase of community discussion before it is slated to go to the Planning Commission and County Board for consideration as early as this year.
County Board, School Board and congressional candidates fielded multiple questions from members of the Arlington County Civic Federation last night (Tuesday) during its annual candidates forum. The Civic Federation previously took up the issue of Missing Middle, passing a resolution saying residents need more negotiating power during upzoning and land-use proposal proceedings.
During Tuesday night’s questioning at the Hazel Auditorium in Virginia Hospital Center, Theo said he is “a huge fan” of Missing Middle because “it’s about not squeezing the middle class anymore, of allowing opportunities, options and housing types.”
Clement reiterated her equally entrenched opposition to it as “a scheme to rezone Arlington’s residential neighborhoods for much higher density multi-family dwellings,” which will keep housing types out of reach for anyone not making six figures.
De Ferranti, meanwhile, says he supports the construction of low-density units up to a point.
“Your input has led me to oppose eight plexes as not being worth the cost,” he added. “Your input has led me to tier the ideas so that the smallest lots would have duplexes and as you get to the largest plots, more density would be allowed.”
None, however, pronounced the county’s community engagement efforts as “just right.”
The Goldilocks principle reappeared when candidates discussed whether to do away with first-past-the-post voting for their seats and replace it with ranked-choice voting (RCV) for County Board elections.
Under this system, which has support from some current Board members and which the county has tested out, voters rank candidates by preference and a winner is selected over the course of many elimination rounds.
Clement, an independent, said it would increase competition in otherwise predictable election cycles. Theo agreed.
“Ranked-choice voting has potential, and I want it now in Arlington County,” he said.
Both independents support the change for general elections, while de Ferranti said he is supportive of it for primaries and more cautious about using it for the general election.
“It’s something I’m supportive of,” de Ferranti said. “There are fair critiques with respect to the simplicity and timeliness — as we just saw in Alaska — of the results.”
The County Board may consider ranked-choice voting before January, de Ferranti said.
While expressing support for ranked-choice voting, Clement claimed it would not work in Arlington because of media bias.
“Unfortunately, ranked-choice voting only works in competitive elections, where the media are unbiased and endorse candidates on their merits. That is not how media operate in Arlington,” Clement said. “A continual stream of press releases by and features about those who promote the status quo are published as news, together with biased editorials, all but guaranteeing the defeat of their challengers.”
(ARLnow no longer publishes opinion columns and has never endorsed candidates for office, though the Sun Gazette routinely publishes editorials and letters to the editor.)
“A change I might make is to make sure we have multiple ways for people to engage and we are deliberately transparent as to how all that engagement has factored into the board’s decision making,” said Sutton, who received the endorsement of the Arlington County Democratic Committee after another candidate, Brandon Clark, withdrew from the caucus and then the election entirely.
Rives, meanwhile, said the School Board needs to vote on all “massive decisions,” such as extended school closures or starting a new school.
Sutton and Rives both said a chief concern is addressing student mental health. Both said APS can tighten security at school entrances, while Rives supports reinstating School Resource Officers and Sutton called for clear, consistent emergency communications.
The School Board removed school-based police officers last summer, citing racial disparities in juvenile arrests in Arlington. Following the decision, the Arlington County Police Department said it would be a challenge to staff the program again.
A few weeks is not enough time for Arlington residents to provide informed commentary on a major local issue, according to the Arlington County Civic Federation.
The group is calling for the county to extend the public comment window for the Missing Middle Housing Study’s draft framework until Sept. 30, from the current deadline of Friday, May 27.
The framework calls for properties only zoned for single-family homes to also allow small-scale multifamily housing — from townhomes to 8-plexes, depending on lot size — provided the building is no larger than zoning currently allows for single-family homes.
That could allow more housing types and price points in Arlington, which will otherwise continue to see small homes torn down in favor of large single-family homes, the framework suggests. The study only expects a modest amount of new “missing middle” housing through the change — about 20 properties per year.
The Civic Federation, however, says that this is a major change no matter how many new duplexes, triplexes, etc. are expected to be built in what are now exclusively single-family home neighborhoods.
The federation passed the following resolution on Tuesday by a vote of 90% to 10%.
WHEREAS Arlington County has an established General Land Use Plan (GLUP) that allows for existing single-family residences and high-density, mixed-use development along the high-density, mixed-use corridors;
WHEREAS Arlington County’s Planning web page states, “Planning decisions are informed by extensive research, professional expertise and community input” and “relies on extensive community input. Individual residents can have a say on the decisions that affect their neighborhoods and the County as a whole”;
WHEREAS on April 28, Arlington County released its proposed Phase 2 Missing Middle Housing Framework document, which is the guiding framework that will facilitate the upzoning of these residential zoning districts — R-5, R-6, R-8, R-10, and R-20 — thus authorizing greater housing density in what are currently referred to as “single-family” neighborhoods countywide;
WHEREAS the impact of the Missing Middle Housing framework and its subsequent upzoning will impact not only housing density but also parking, public school enrollment, stormwater management and tree canopy preservation in residential neighborhoods countywide;
WHEREAS the deadline for public comment and feedback for the Missing Middle Housing framework is May 27, 2022, four (4) weeks from the framework’s release to the public;
WHEREAS this is a complex initiative, civic associations and other county organizations will require additional time to notify their own members, study the likely consequences of the upzoning, and develop a membership response in order to provide meaningful feedback to the county; and
WHEREAS four (4) civic associations — Arlington Forest, Boulevard Manor, Bluemont, and Glencarlyn, which represent more than 4,000 households in central Arlington — have already shared their concerns about the inadequacy of the four-week public feedback period for the proposed Phase 2 Missing Middle Housing Framework document;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Arlington County Civic Federation (ACCF) asks the Arlington County Board to immediately request that the County Manager extend the public review period for the Missing Middle Phase 2 concept plan to September 30, 2022 — to make it possible for civic associations and other community organizations to have sufficient time to assist in disseminating Missing Middle Housing Framework materials to their own members, to meet with and pose questions to staff, to analyze and understand the potential impacts on their neighborhoods, and to provide meaningful feedback before the framework is finalized.
The four civic associations referenced in the resolution noted in an April 25 letter to county officials that “our community associations, like so many others, are inactive during June, July and August,” thus making it difficult to study the issue and engage residents before September.
On the other hand, Arlington has something of a reputation for dragging out its public input and analysis processes, leading 55% of respondents to a 2018 ARLnow poll to say that “elected officials should make quicker decisions based on a streamlined community input process.”
Do you agree with the Civic Federation that residents should be given a few more months to provide their feedback on the draft plan, prior to it being compiled and analyzed by county officials ahead of potential zoning ordinance amendments?
Or should the county just get on with it?
Bus Crash in Front of Hospital — “At approximately 1:52 p.m., police were dispatched to the report of a two vehicle crash involving an ART bus in the 1600 block of N. George Mason Drive. The driver of the other involved vehicle has been transported to the hospital for medical evaluation. Police remain on scene investigating the cause of the crash.” [Twitter]
Civ Fed Proposes Board Changes — “A task force empaneled by the Arlington County Civic Federation has proposed a somewhat radical reconfiguration of County Board and School Board elections… The TiGER proposal, which seeks to expand membership on each body to seven, would have four County Board members and three School Board members elected in a given year, followed by a gap year, followed by three County Board members and four School Board members elected. After another gap year, the process would repeat.” [Sun Gazette]
Free Soccer Programming Pilot — “The Arlington Soccer Association is teaming up with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) to provide free soccer programming. The eight-week pilot program recently kicked off and brings soccer programming to families who live in APAH’s more than 2,000 affordable apartments throughout Arlington County. The programming is offered once a week at local parks and elementary schools for children as young as 3 years old.” [Press Release]
Throwback to Metro Groundbreaking — “We recently rediscovered a scrapbook from the early days of NVTC. June 18, 1971: Ceremonies to mark construction of the Rosslyn Metro station, ‘first in the D.C. suburbs.'” [Twitter]
Buses Gone Wild on I-395 — From Dave Statter: “I’ve shown you lots of amateur drivers trying to navigate I-395S Exit 8C/Route 1. Let’s see how the pros handle it.” [Twitter]
Car vs. Bakery Near Fairlington — “No one was injured after a car smashed through a front window of Great Harvest Bread (1711 Centre Plaza) in Fairlington Centre on Tuesday night (May 10). The incident occurred at around 7 p.m., which is after the bakery is closed.” [ALXnow]
It’s Friday — Overcast throughout the day with some patchy fog. Showers likely, with thunderstorms also possible after 2 p.m. High of 70 and low of 59. Sunrise at 5:59 am and sunset at 8:13 pm. [Weather.gov]
Man Convicted of Crystal City Shooting — “A convicted murderer has been found guilty on four charges for shooting and wounding his ex-girlfriend in her Arlington, Virginia, office in 2019. Mumeet Muhammad forced his way into the woman’s office, in the 1500 block of Crystal Drive in Crystal City, and shot the woman on Aug. 28, 2019. Muhammad also was shot by police.” [WTOP]
Body Found Near Roosevelt Island — “A death investigation was underway Wednesday after a body was found in the Potomac River, D.C. police said. Authorities said the body was found in the water between Teddy Roosevelt Island and the Virginia shoreline under the footbridge pedestrians use to access the island… Officials with knowledge of the investigation said the body was heavily decomposed.” [NBC 4, Twitter]
GW Parkway Chase Leads to Lawsuit — “A D.C. police captain sued the District on Tuesday, alleging he was retaliated against after trying to stop a high-speed pursuit last month that ended with a car overturning on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, causing injuries and bringing rush-hour traffic to a halt.” [Washington Post]
Task Force: Expand County, School Boards — “Increasing the size of the Arlington County Board and School Board by at least two members is among the recommendations of the Arlington County Civic Federation’s task force on local governance, which on April 12 delivered the first of what are expected to be two sets of proposals to be voted on by the organization in June.” [Sun Gazette]
PSA: Steer Clear of River Near Chain Bridge — From D.C. Fire and EMS: “The river knows no boundaries. All this holds true for the District. One slip off the rocks can lead to a fall into a deceptively calm looking river actually laden with treacherous currents and hidden rocks that quickly pull you under. Especially the case around Chain Bridge.” [Twitter]
Lease Change Scores Big Bucks for County — “Arlington County Board members on that date voted 5-0 to support a change in technical aspects of the lease that guides the relationship between the county government, which owns substantial parcels in the Courthouse area, and the developer JBG Smith, which holds ground leases and owns the buildings on some of those very same parcels… By making the changes, which staff say carry little risk to the county government or taxpayers, the Arlington government coffers would receive somewhere in the area of $10 million to $12 million in a one-time payment from JBG Smith.” [Sun Gazette]
ARLnow Article Confuses Chicago Suburbanites — From the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Police Department: “The incident was reported by Virginia news outlets with the headline ‘Barricade situation in Arlington Heights.’ News reports were then shared on social media using the #ArlingtonHeights. We understand this created some confusion and concern for our residents. The Arlington Heights Police Department would like to clarify the above incident occurred in Arlington County, Virginia.” [Facebook]
It’s Thursday — Rain and storms in the afternoon and evening. Southwest wind 11 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 31 mph. High of 76 and low of 59. Sunrise at 6:34 am and sunset at 7:45 pm. [Weather.gov]
(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Arlington has long prided itself on the pathways available to residents to have a say in local policy-making, also known as the “Arlington Way.”
But a growing number of county officials, local leaders and civic groups think the tradition, while noble in aim, doesn’t work for everyone. They say it leans too much on affluent retirees and sabotages the county’s equity efforts.
For years, Arlington County has acknowledged that its traditional engagement processes privilege those with the time, resources and connections to invest in discussions about projects, studies and policies. That leaves out a growing segment of the population outside that mold: renters, parents of young kids, people who work non-traditional hours, people without access to reliable and affordable transportation, and those who are not fluent English speakers.
References to the “Arlington Way” arose in a County Board public comment period this summer that ran long due to controversy over the start time of a north Arlington farmers market, which shut out participation from low-income residents there to speak about filthy conditions at the Serrano Apartments. More recently, diversity concerns prompted the Arlington County Civic Federation — which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss local topics — to pass a resolution prioritizing improved community outreach and representation.
Amid this renewed focus, some novel approaches and long-term reforms have been proposed that county and civic leaders and community engagement staff tell ARLnow could widen the Arlington Way.
“Generally speaking, Arlington residents care about the issues that impact them, but do they know about it? How do they get the information?” asks Samia Byrd, Arlington’s Chief Race and Equity Officer. “We take for granted that residents know how to participate in the process.”
Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol reprised the dilemma last week during a conversation about the community oversight board, which is currently seeking members to review cases of alleged police misconduct.
“We’ve been wrestling with… how we properly compensate people for that time and expertise,” Cristol said, as quoted by County Board watcher Stephen Repetski. “Because, frankly, that is… one of the biggest reasons you see our most heavy-hitting community engagement activities tend to rely disproportionately on well-off retirees.”
In a follow-up conversation, she told ARLnow that she’s been thinking about diversity in County Board-appointed commissions.
Six years ago, she believed that the solution would be finding and recruiting new faces at all levels of leadership. Over time, she’s realized the homogeneity of civic leadership is a consequence of how engagement is structured. Night meetings — or even day meetings — at county headquarters disadvantage students, parents and anyone who doesn’t work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., including overworked young professionals.
“It actually was not just about inviting more diverse people to the table, as defined, but maybe the table was defined in a way that made it hard for certain people to sit there,” she said. “There have to be many ways to engage.”
Those involved in county communications tell ARLnow they likewise think about diversity, not in terms of commission composition and structure, but in terms of regular outreach.
Who’s left out?
Assistant County Manager and Director of Communications and Public Engagement Bryna Helfer has been tackling community engagement homogeneity since she was hired in 2016. She and Byrd both say “it’s been a challenge” to reach people who aren’t white, affluent or a retiree, as well as people who don’t already know how to get involved or navigate the county website.
Leaders of a local civic organization admit their membership does not reflect the diversity of Arlington County, but they’re looking to change that.
One of Arlington’s largest community organizations, the Arlington County Civic Federation (CivFed) gives representatives from 85 local groups — including neighborhood civic associations and local advocacy organizations — a non-partisan forum to discuss community topics and provide input on county government and Arlington Public Schools activity.
Generally speaking, however, many delegates are older residents who own homes in North Arlington, and historically, the group has had lower participation from minority groups, younger residents and renters, says CivFed President Allan Gajadhar.
This month the group signaled its commitment to better represent the county by adopting a Diversity, Equity Belonging, and Inclusion resolution. It comes amid ongoing efforts at APS and the county to center racial equity and advance the interests of underserved communities.
In implementing the resolution, Gajadhar says CivFed will focus internally on membership and externally on outreach.
“The representation in the CivFed isn’t fully representative of racial and ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of Arlington,” he said. “There’s definitely a lot more work to be done in the delegate base. That’s not just something that’s going to happen over night. The first thing was to declare our intention to do so — now we are slowly taking steps to evaluate [diversity].”
CivFed, which is nearly 100 years old, aims to bring together and amplify the voices of neighborhood civic associations and organizations such as the local branch of the League of Women Voters. More than 300 delegates vote on resolutions for things on which they want to see the County Board and School Board take action.
CivFed has never formally tallied the demographic diversity of its membership, but it’s not a stretch to say a fair number of delegates are older, wealthier retirees, Gajadhar said.
“It’s been mentioned more than once that the delegate population could be more diverse,” Gajadhar said. “We do have a fair amount of representation from the communities you’d expect.”
CivFed is examining how it can include more young people, people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, women and renters in its ranks. It is also looking to diversify who holds leadership positions and how information gets communicated. In addition, the resolution made commitments to giving members multicultural competency training, collecting data on community participation, and holding events that engage diverse communities.
Gajadhar, now in his second term, says diversity and equity have been themes during his presidency. He oversaw the launch of a diversity committee, which put forward the resolution.
After the resolution passed with a 94.4% approval rate earlier this month, CivFed surveyed its members to see how they evaluate the diversity of their groups.
The survey is important, Gajadhar says, because CivFed is only as representative as its constituent organizations and realizing the aims of the resolution depends on whether the member groups are equally committed to the stated goals.
“A lot of people don’t necessarily think of the issues that are identified in the resolution as issues,” he said. “We have to be sensitive to who our membership is. We can’t come in with a very strong, forceful mandate or anything like that… We have to go about it carefully — otherwise it’ll be counterproductive.”
While not all candidates were present, those who were in attendance, regardless of political affiliation, voiced support for rail transit and criminal justice reform while decrying the influence of corporate money in state politics.
Arlington County encompasses parts of four Virginia House districts. Democrats currently occupy all of those seats and have a majority in the General Assembly. That could change this year, since every one of the 100 seats is up for grabs. Early voting starts on Friday (Sept. 17) and voting culminates with Election Day, Nov. 2.
Incumbents are running in three of the districts and are being challenged by Republicans in all of them, as well as an independent in the 49th District.
“I think future plans and, frankly, what’s already underway with respect to rail transit, is important to both quality of life, for our environment, and the economy,” he said.
His challenger, Edward Monroe (R), echoed that support.
“Everybody knows there are too many cars on the road,” he said. “So, any measures we can take that are effective in reducing the amount of traffic, I think, is a great idea.”
Over in the 45th district, Justin “J.D.” Maddox (R) even complimented opponent Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D) for her work to improve transit. Bennett-Parker, the Vice Mayor of Alexandria, defeated incumbent Mark Levine (D) in the June primary for the district, which covers Alexandria and parts of Arlington.
Bennett-Parker, who had a conflicting Alexandria City Council Legislation meeting, submitted a video. Maddox went after her on Alexandria’s crime rates, connecting them to an incident last year in which one of her aides was charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly assaulting a police officer while at a protest.
“I’ve also seen my opponent actually defund the police in the Alexandria City Public Schools,” Maddox said. “And that’s happening at a moment [when] Alexandria is experiencing a 20% increase in violent crime.”
That statistic isn’t completely accurate. So-called “part 1 crimes,” which include violent crimes but also burglary, larceny and auto theft, were up nearly 20% last year. Overall, violent crimes in Alexandria were up 3.3% in 2020.
Hope emphasized speeding up legal marijuana sales, which remain illegal until 2024 even though the state legalized marijuana possession earlier this summer.
“There are some people that are incarcerated because of marijuana,” said Hope, whose district spans from East Falls Church to Courthouse, to Barcroft and part of Columbia Pike. “I want to look at some of the sentencing for those types of crimes that people are sitting in jail for.”