Arlington, VA

A cotton plant growing at Campbell Elementary School drew criticism online today, but Arlington Public Schools said allegations that staff were going to make kids “pick cotton” was a misunderstanding.

“At no time, never, was the school going to have students pick cotton,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

Catherine Ashby, the Director of Communications for APS, tells ARLnow that a teacher planted cotton seeds in pots as an experiment to see how they would grow. Social media posts about the experiment from the teacher prompted objections from other educators.

“She tweeted about her experiment and what she was growing, and that’s what got other staff members upset about what she was doing,” said Ashby.

Community members started talking online about the incident after an email circulated from Campbell Principal Maureen Nesselrode, who called a staff meeting to discuss what to do with the plant. Bellavia said the plant was destroyed after the meeting.

“Once they realized staff had concerns about the prospects of this they decided to remove the plants,” Ashby said of yesterday’s meeting with the principal. “End of story.”

One Twitter user, who said her name was R. Jones, shared a screenshot of the email. She told ARLnow that a school staff member had forwarded it to her and they were both “angry and offended” about the racial undertones of a teacher planting cotton.

“What do y’all think? Is this okay or offensive?” asked Jones on Twitter.

In the email, Nesselrode asked that “anyone who would like to discuss the prospect of planting cotton seeds” join the Tuesday afternoon meeting “so we can address various viewpoints and come to a mutual understanding.”

Bellavia and Ashby said that Jones had drawn the wrong assumptions about the planting.

Campbell’s curriculum has a hands-on learning focus that includes a Wetlands Learning Lab as well as a greenhouse, and a garden.

Photo via Kimberly Vardeman/Flickr

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The County Board is poised to pass a controversial incentive package for Amazon this Saturday, which could help bring tens of thousands of jobs and millions in added property taxes to Arlington County, at the cost of tens of millions in tax subsidies for one of the world’s largest companies.

The Board is scheduled to vote on the multi-million dollar incentive package during their regularly-scheduled Saturday meeting, which is Amazon’s last hurdle to clear before beginning development on their new headquarters slated to start construction in 2021.

The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Bozman Government Center in Courthouse, however, the Amazon part of discussion isn’t scheduled to start until after 1 p.m., per an agenda summary and the hearing is expected to be dogged with public protest from critics opposing Amazon.

The county’s incentive package was first publicly released earlier this month and features a 15-year, estimated $23 million incentive given to Amazon if the tech-and-retail giant meets office space occupancy goals over several years. The company would need to fill 60,000 square feet of office space starting in June of 2020 and meet benchmarks towards occupying 6 million square feet by 2035.

The incentive is funded from a portion of the increases in hotel tax revenue that officials predict from Amazon’s “HQ2” moving to the region.

The incentive package up for a vote Saturday also includes plans to spend $28 million over a period of 10 years to update infrastructure around the proposed headquarters, in addition to the state’s multi-million-dollar contribution. That money will be pulled from a portion of the increase in commercial property tax revenue in the Crystal City area that results from Amazon’s arrival.

The county also offered to at least try to fulfill Amazon’s request for an on-site helicopter pad on-site despite residents’ ongoing complaints of existing helicopter noise and the region’s strictly-enforced no-fly zone.

Amazon announced it selected Arlington as the site for its second headquarters in November, promising to bring at least 25,000 jobs and occupy 6,056,000 million square feet of commercial space in the Crystal City and Pentagon City areas, which have experienced high vacancy rates for the last 15 years.

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said in February the expected number of Amazon jobs is now higher because the company cancelled its other headquarter plans in New York City.

The incentives have drawn persistent criticism from activists who believe the county shouldn’t be giving any incentives to a company run by the world’s richest man — and who fear its relocation to Arlington will exacerbate the county’s affordable hosing shortage. Critics have also raised red flags about a portion of the agreement that gives Amazon advance notice of FOIA requests.

On Friday, local activist coalition “For Us, Not Amazon” announced a noon protest outside the county government steps on Saturday before the vote.

“While the County tries to ignore us, For Us, Not Amazon has been doing the real community engagement, knocking doors, listening to community members’ concerns and it’s time to make sure Arlington County officials listen to every one of us before this sham gets voted on,” the description of the rally reads.

The head of Arlington’s Chamber of Commerce argued the package was a “good deal” for the county in a Thursday op-ed on ARLnow, writing that “focusing on the Transient Occupancy Tax means that taxes on Arlington residents and businesses will not fund these incentives and that Amazon will receive these payments only if our hoteliers grow their businesses too.”

For Us, Not Amazon’s member organizations knocked on doors earlier this week to gather petition signatures opposing the incentive package.

On Monday, 30 advocacy and community organizations — including the Nauck Civic Association and the Arlington NAACP, among statewide and regional groups — signed a letter requesting the County Board “postpone the vote on incentives and hold public hearings to foster transparency and understanding.”

The Board originally planned for a February public hearing and vote on the incentives but rescheduled to March, citing the need for more community discussions.

Saturday’s vote does not include the state’s $750 million-incentive package to Amazon, which the Virginia General Assembly overwhelmingly approved in January.

This weekend’s Board meeting will also not include ideas county officials pitched Amazon but didn’t officially include in the incentive package — such as suggesting Amazon take advantage of a little-used technology incentive program to potentially save millions in taxes, as first reported by ARLnow.

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(Updated Tuesday at 9:50 a.m.) The head of Arlington’s Democratic Party is urging local activists to “keep the faith” in the wake of the cascade of scandals plaguing top leaders in Richmond.

Jill Caiazzo, the chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, penned an email to the party’s mailing list Sunday (Feb. 10), in the hopes of buoying spirits dampened by recent revelations about Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring.

While any one of the state’s top three elected Democrats could yet resign — Northam and Herring for admitting to wearing blackface as young people, Fairfax over allegations that he sexually assaulted two women — Caiazzo sought to remind party faithful that “the 2017 election was never about one or two individuals.”

She joined the growing calls for Fairfax to step down late last week, after a second woman accused him of rape, and has already demanded that Northam step aside. But, with all 140 state lawmakers and a variety of local offices on the ballot this fall, Caiazzo is urging her committee to work to “have an impact in our own community.”

Her full email to the committee is as follows:

We are all struggling to deal with the disturbing news from Richmond. I have sat down to pen this email to you multiple times over the past week, only to have my sentiments overtaken by the latest news cycle. I do not know how these controversies will end.

ARLINGTON DEMOCRATS’ ROLE IN NAVIGATING THIS CHALLENGE

But as I said at our monthly meeting on Wednesday, I do know that Arlington Democrats have a role to play in moving our community forward through these difficult times. We may not be able to affect the outcomes of the dramas happening in Richmond, but we can have an impact in our own community. We can reject hate and support sexual assault survivors. We can channel our collective anger that issues of racism and sexual assault still plague us into finding positive solutions for the manifestations of these issues in our own community.

We also can remember that the 2017 election was never about one or two individuals. It was about a movement of grassroots activists of all backgrounds and ages rising up to provide a badly needed course correction for our country. The rise of progressive activism was the central victory of the 2017 election. No subsequent controversy, however hurtful, can take that victory away from us. Only we have the power to do that — only we can decide whether we will allow this heartbreak also to break our activist spirit.

TOO MUCH TO ACCOMPLISH TO GIVE UP
To that question, Arlington Democrats, I say NO. I will not allow the failings of individual leaders to dampen my activist spirit. I cannot — there is simply too much work to be done to achieve a fairer, safer and more prosperous Commonwealth. The stakes are too high. As in early 2017, I am once again picking myself up and dusting myself off. Two steps forward, one step back: it’s time for the heart of the Democratic Party — its local activists — to keep moving forward again.

In that spirit, and mindful that Democrats must re-earn the trust of voters and volunteers that has been lost over the past few days, I respectfully invite you to join me at several upcoming events, detailed below. Some are organized by Arlington Democrats; others are community events. Now more than ever, we need both: to lead in our own right, and to meet our neighbors where they are. I hope that you will join me in the struggle to lead our Party, our community, and our Commonwealth forward.

Caiazzo is referring both to previous listening sessions held by activists on both race and sexual assault, and to some upcoming community discussions on the county’s history with Nazism and school desegregation.

Meanwhile, the situation in Richmond remains unsettled.

Arlington Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) made headlines this weekend for threatening to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax if he refused to resign, and circulated a potential resolution to start the process among his Democratic colleagues. But he backed off that threat this morning (Monday), writing in a statement that he is “open to discussions on other avenues” that would allow for a full investigation of the accusations against Fairfax.

Some reports have suggested that Hope faced resistance from within his own party for the move, particularly from members of the Legislative Black Caucus.

The lieutenant governor is still telling reporters that he does not plan to resign, and is currently looking for an FBI investigation into the claims against him — one incident is alleged to have happened in Boston in 2004, the other in North Carolina in 2000.

Northam also gave some of his first interviews since the scandal broke with the news that a racist photo appeared on his medical school yearbook, saying that he is “not going anywhere” and pledging a renewed focus to racial justice in the remainder of his term.

Herring has been silent, and criticism has been markedly more muted of his conduct, after he voluntarily admitted to wearing blackface once while in college, and apologized.

“I should additionally note that I have not called for the resignation of Attorney General Mark Herring, despite my strong disapproval of his conduct at age 19,” Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) wrote in a Sunday email to constituents. “Herring’s voluntary admission of his blackface representation of a rapper, his lack of racist intent and his profound apology all seem sincere to me.”

However, Levine did note that he is one of just a few voices calling on Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-3rd District) to step down, after reports that he edited a college yearbook that was filled with photos of students in blackface and racial slurs. Norment has denied any knowledge of the photos.

Photo via Facebook

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(Updated at 9:30 p.m.) Arlington Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) now says he’ll introduce articles of impeachment to remove Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax from office on Monday if he doesn’t step down, now that another woman has come forward to accuse the second-most powerful Democrat in the state of sexual assault.

Hope announced the move tonight just a few hours after Meredith Watson accused Fairfax of raping her when the pair attended school together at Duke University in 2000. She wrote in a statement that the details of her assault mirrored those laid out by Vanessa Tyson, who previously said that Fairfax assaulted her in a Boston hotel room in 2004.

Democrats had been hesitant to call for Fairfax to step down since Tyson’s statement, but pressure is now mounting for the lieutenant governor to step aside. Friday night, the state House and Senate Democratic caucuses released a joint statement, urging Fairfax to resign.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a similar statement.

The bulk of Virginia’s congressional delegation has also demanded Fairfax’s resignation, including Arlington Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District).

“Lt. Governor Fairfax has also shown exceptionally poor judgment in his handling of these allegations,” Beyer and Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District), Elaine Luria (D-2nd District), Abigail Spanberger (D-7th District) and Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District) wrote in a statement. “He repeatedly attacked his accuser, he reportedly used vile and degrading language to describe her, he mischaracterized an investigation into the encounter, and he sought to blame others for events in his own past. These actions do not meet the standard to which we hold Virginia’s highest elected officers.”

For now, it would seem Fairfax is resisting pressure to step aside.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has been similarly steadfast in the face of calls to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page, writing an email to state employees today saying he does not plan to step down. The fate of Attorney General Mark Herring (D) is also unclear, after he revealed he wore blackface while in college.

Earlier today, Hope posted a video on Twitter urging Northam and Herring to learn from their experiences, but stopped short of demanding their resignations. He’d previously supported calls for Northam to step down, but was silent on Herring, who he previously endorsed in Herring’s early stages of mounting a campaign for governor in 2021.

Hope said in the video that he believed Fairfax’s first accuser and thought an investigation was necessary.

Around 9 p.m. Friday, Hope held a press conference in front of Arlington Central Library in Virginia Square, laying out his case for the impeachment of Fairfax, should he refuse to resign. The press conference was attended by CNN, CBS, NBC and local D.C. stations.

Photo via Facebook

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County Democrats and local activists are planning a series of community forums to talk through the issues of race and sexual assault that have roiled Virginia politics for the past week.

With all three of the state’s top Democrats — Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring — now mired in scandal, many within the party are searching for a way forward. There’s no telling whether any or all of the group will resign, leading to quite a bit of uncertainty at the top ranks of the party’s leadership.

In the meantime, the county’s Democratic Committee is planning two “listening sessions” covering some of the matters at the heart of the scandals in Richmond.

The first will focus on “racial equity” and will be held tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th Street S.).

The revelation that a racist photo appeared on Northam’s medical school yearbook page, and the governor’s subsequent admission that he once wore blackface, kicked off the current crisis plaguing state government. Herring’s admission yesterday (Wednesday) that he too once donned blackface added further fuel to the political fire.

The next listening session will focus on sexual assault, after a college professor accused Fairfax of assaulting her in Boston in 2004. The lieutenant governor has faced a bit less pressure to resign than Northam, but some have started to ramp up calls that his accuser deserves to be heard.

The event will be held on Sunday (Feb. 10) at 6:30 p.m. at the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street).

A group of local activists also plan to hold a listening session to discuss the Northam controversy and its “implications for those who want to be allies in the fight for racial justice,” according to the event’s Facebook page.

The event will include four panelists, and will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (4444 Arlington Blvd) at 7 p.m. on Friday (Feb. 8).

Photo via Facebook

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Democrats across Virginia have been shocked by yet another scandal today (Wednesday), after Attorney General Mark Herring admitted that he also once donned blackface at a college party.

Herring called a sudden gathering with the General Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus this morning to deliver the news, then released a statement to that effect shortly afterward. Herring said he dressed up in a wig “and brown makeup” in order to imitate a rap artist when he was in college, explaining it was due to a “callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others.”

“It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then,” Herring wrote. “That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt.”

His admission comes as politicians of both parties continue to press Gov. Ralph Northam to resign for similar reasons, after the discovery that a racist photo appeared on the governor’s medical school yearbook page and Northam’s subsequent admission that he once wore blackface rocked the state capitol. The man in line to replace Northam should he step down, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, has become mired in scandal as well since then, as a woman has come forward to accuse Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2004.

The attorney general’s disclosure leaves the state’s top three elected officials in limbo — should all three resign, Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox would be in line to become governor.

Herring said in his statement that he would have “honest conversations and discussions” about whether he’d seek to stay in office, as both Northam and Fairfax have so far sought to do. Herring joined virtually all of the state’s Democrats in calling on Northam to resign soon after the discovery of his yearbook page, but other Democrats have yet to demand that the state’s top lawyer step down with the same speed that they called for Northam’s job.

Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine expressed shock and surprise at the revelation when reporters questioned them about it this afternoon.

Other state lawmakers have yet to comment on Herring’s admission, including Arlington’s delegation or local Democratic committee.

The news could also torpedo Herring’s nascent campaign for governor — he’d already announced plans to run for the top spot in Virginia politics in 2021, and earned the early endorsement of local Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) a few weeks ago. Hope did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Herring’s admission.

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The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Michael Garcia, a Columbia Pike insurance agent who serves as the board chair of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, a local nonprofit that works with homeless individuals in Arlington. A-SPAN is weighing in on the proposed Virginia Hospital Center expansion, which the Arlington Planning Commission and some residents who live near the hospital oppose in its current form.

I am writing in support of the Virginia Hospital Center expansion project. It is my hope that the County Board recognizes the enormous value that VHC brings to this community and approves the project, as soon as possible.

As Board Chair of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN) and a long-time Arlington resident, I see first-hand the consequences of delayed healthcare visits. The homeless clients at the Homeless Services Center frequently suffer from infections, life threatening reactions to untreated chronic illnesses and other medical conditions. That is why we have the Medical Respite and Nursing Services Program at the Homeless Services Center. For most Arlington County citizens, when a doctor says to go home and recuperate, that’s what they do, but what do you do when you have no home? VHC and A-SPAN through our partnership work together to ensure that these homeless individuals and veterans have a safe, compassionate, high-quality environment in which to recuperate.

VHC staff make every effort to assess and treat patients in a holistic way. When homeless patients are discharged from the Hospital to the Medical Respite Program, A-SPAN is part of the follow-up care plan and clients are referred to VHC outpatient services, as appropriate.

I cannot stress enough the value of a new Behavioral Health Center like the one proposed by VHC. Over 70% of homeless veterans and individuals suffer from some form of mental illness and this condition must be treated. We are fortunate that VHC, an Arlington provider that was recently named one of America’s 100 top Hospitals for the third year in a row, is willing to respond to the community’s need for more outpatient mental health services. Moreover, the VHC has indicated that all patients would be welcome at the new Center, regardless of their ability to pay.

The distinction of VHC being named as one of the 100 Top Hospitals in the nation is an honor benefitting all Arlingtonians by providing excellent care to the community. I am confident that this commitment to excellence will extend to the newly proposed Behavioral Health Center services, as well. VHC is a community partner worthy of support and we hope our elected leaders demonstrate this support.

Sincerely,

Michael Garcia
Board Chair, A-SPAN

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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Morning Notes

Hurricane Florence Update — The Tomb Sentinels at Arlington National Cemetery will remain on guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as they have for 81 years, regardless of what happens with Hurricane Florence. However, according to forecasters, “there is no need to cancel outdoor plans, events, or travel in the Washington region this weekend” due to the hurricane. [Twitter, Capital Weather Gang]

DEA Lease Renewal Is Official — “The Drug Enforcement Administration will remain in its Pentagon City headquarters for at least 15 more years. The General Services Administration announced Wednesday it signed a 511,487 SF lease renewal for the DEA at 600-700 Army Navy Drive, two buildings owned by the California State Teachers Retirement System.” [Bisnow]

Neighbors Still Peeved Over Salt Dome Plan — “This is an emergency caused by rust. I know Neil Young says rust never sleeps but it doesn’t move that fast,” said Michael Hogan, president of the Old Dominion Citizens Association, regarding the “emergency” plan for a temporary salt storage facility next to the deteriorating salt dome near Marymount University. “This is just a terrible land-use decision.” [Washington Post]

Living in Arlington On a $80,000 Salary — Not much of interest happens in this millennial money diary, set in Arlington, but there is this discussion of tea vs. coffee: “I drink my third green tea. I’m trying to drink less coffee, so today I’m trying tea instead, but this is not cutting it. To all those people who say green tea gives them as much energy as coffee — I’m calling shenanigans.” [Refinery 29]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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The Arlington County Fair says it will find a way to remove or cover an image that at least one fairgoer decried as “racist.”

The fairgoer tweeted an image painted on the “Monkey Maze” fun house that depicts a monkey with braids putting on lipstick.

“This is not OK at our county fair,” the man said in a tweet. “Racist caricatures don’t represent our values.”

Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol agreed.

“This is awful,” Cristol tweeted in response. “We’ll connect with the Arlington Fair Board about this vendor.”

Around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the fair followed up with a pledge to take action.

“We appreciate you reaching out us,” the fair said via Twitter. “We are working with our ride vendor to ensure the image is no longer visible.”

Monkey Maze fun houses are used by other traveling carnival companies, though photos posted online show different illustrations on the front of the trailer. A Google search did not turn up any other references to the Monkey Maze and accusations of racism.

The fair runs through Sunday on the grounds of the Thomas Jefferson Community Center (125 S. Old Glebe Road).

Photos courtesy David Rosenblatt (photo illustration by ARLnow.com)

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The Washington-Lee High School renaming process continues to move forward, despite a lawsuit and opposition from many students and alumni.

The School Board is hoping to have a new name ready for the school in time for the opening of the 2019-2020 school year next September, ARLnow has previously reported.

But it will be an uphill battle for school officials, judging by emails we continue to receive from upset alums and other anecdotal reports; Sun Gazette Editor Scott McCaffrey wrote today that he and other staffers at the paper frequently run into W-L alumni, all of whom thus far have expressed opposition to the change.

Last time we did a poll on the subject was five years ago this month, when a name change was still just an idea batted about by letter to the editor writers. At that time, 87.5 percent of respondents said they were against changing the name, agreeing that Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy are “part of our history and… not worth changing the name over.”

Since then, the emergence of an emboldened white nationalist movement and last summer’s deadly rally in Charlottesville have changed the conversation. But is it enough to change opinions on removing Lee’s name from W-L? Let’s find out.

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The issue of children being separated from parents seeking asylum at the U.S. border has prompted both words and actions from Arlington’s members of Congress.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) yesterday signed on as a cosponsor of the Keep Families Together Act — Democratic-backed legislation that would end the family separation policy that has sparked nationwide and even international outrage.

“Donald Trump’s family separation policy is immoral and Congress must put a stop to it,” said Beyer, in a statement. “Treating legal asylum-seekers, many of whom are fleeing violence which endangers their lives, in such a cruel manner is a violation of our country’s values and internationally-accepted agreements on human rights.”

Beyer yesterday also visited two fathers who were separated from their children at the border and being held at a detention center in Maryland. TV cameras were there as Beyer and his wife Megan described a “very emotional, very difficult” discussion with the men.

Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), meanwhile, have written a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, requesting an “immediate response” to a number of questions about the family separations, including:

  • Whether any facilities in Virginia are being used to house children separated from their families
  • The rationale for the “zero tolerance” policy that prompts separations
  • The plan for detention infrastructure to hold asylum seekers
  • Resources for separated children, including medical and mental health services
  • Specific information on the conditions for girls and toddlers
  • Plans for facilitating family reunification

Also yesterday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) recalled four members of the Virginia National Guard from their service on the U.S. border.

There’s more local fallout from the family separation issue. The Methodist church is considering expelling Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a member over his enforcement of the policy and justification of it by citing a Bible verse.

News outlets reported that Sessions is a member of the Clarendon United Methodist Church in Arlington, in addition to a Methodist church in his home state of Alabama.

Photo via @RepDonBeyer

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