Ahead of his own tough re-election bid, independent County Board member John Vihstadt says he plans to support Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) this fall, spurning Republican nominee Corey Stewart.
Vihstadt, the first non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999, has long defied easy political characterizations. He won office in 2014 with the backing of both the county’s GOP and Green Party, earned the endorsement of several elected Democrats and has donated to Republicans and Democrats alike over the years.
Now, he’s opting to endorse one Democrat even as another, Matt de Ferranti, challenges him for re-election this fall.
By contrast, Corey Stewart sows fear, resentment and division among Virginians everywhere he goes. While I don't always agree with Senator Tim Kaine, he has my vote on November 6. (3/3)
— John Vihstadt (@voteforvihstadt) July 18, 2018
Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and the former head of President Donald Trump’s Virginia campaign, has frequently managed to stoke controversy throughout his lengthy political career. He earned national attention for pushing policies targeting undocumented immigrants around Prince William, embraced the Confederate flag during his unsuccessful run for governor last year and courted the support of white nationalists, though he has frequently disavowed any charges of racism leveled against him.
Since earning his party’s Senate nomination in June, Stewart has even attracted condemnations from some fellow Republicans. Accordingly, when he was informed of Vihstadt’s decision by ARLnow, Kaine was not overly surprised to hear the news.
“I have an opponent who, he’ll pick as many fights with Republicans as he’ll pick with Democrats,” Kaine said during a campaign stop in Ballston. “There may be a lot of Republicans who feel like he’s pushing them away, and I’m going to be proud to have anyone’s support.”
Stewart, however, says he’s never even heard of Vihstadt, and quickly dismissed his criticisms.
“A lot of the establishment crowd have more in common with Tim Kaine than they do with me,” Stewart said. “They don’t have anything in common with me, because they don’t want much to change in Washington. It’s all very chummy… I’d rather lose all those establishment types and pick up the working class voters. That’s a good trade, to me.”
Yet Jill Caiazzo, the chair of the county’s Democratic Committee, pointed out Vihstadt declined to back Kaine in 2016 when he was on the ticket as Hillary Clinton’s running mate — Vihstadt put out a statement after the election saying that “all four party nominees on the Virginia ballot for president fell short of what our nation deserved — and needed in 2016.” She sees Vihstadt’s decision as “further evidence that voters who previously considered third party candidates are voting Democratic in the Trump era.”
“These voters will send a strong message in 2018 that the extreme Trump-GOP agenda is bad for Virginia and bad for Arlington,” Caiazzo wrote in an email. “We expect that a majority of Arlington voters will vote for Democrats up and down the ballot this November, including Democrat Matt de Ferranti for County Board.”
Political scientists have indeed speculated in recent weeks that Stewart could hurt the party’s other nominees down the ballot, should Republican voters stay home. Several Republican members of Congress have already declined to campaign with Stewart, and while Vihstadt might not be wholly dependent on GOP voters, he too could fall victim to a wave election for Democrats made all the larger by Stewart’s shortcomings.
Stewart doesn’t think much of that idea — “It’s bull,” he says.
“I’m going to be a lot more competitive and a lot stronger this fall than people think,” Stewart said. “Tim Kaine is the sort of old, elite Democrat that people are tired of. There’s a change going on in Washington, and it’s being led by President Trump.”
For his part, de Ferranti doesn’t believe Vihstadt’s public support for Kaine will make a difference by the time November arrives. He sees backing Kaine over Stewart as a “low bar” for anyone to clear, given his dim view of Stewart’s politics.
“Everybody should vote for Tim Kaine, who is a phenomenal leader, and against someone who is clearly racist,” de Ferranti said.
The Board has been mulling the possibility of stripping Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s name from the school ever since last summer’s violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville sparked a national conversation about Confederate symbols, but members asked school system staff to develop a more detailed policy framework to guide the naming of all buildings first.
Arlington Public Schools officials delivered that proposed change to the Board last night, and members are now set to take action on it by this coming Thursday (June 7).
“We said we’d seek to adopt naming criteria that reflect our values and allow us to judge every potential school name with objectivity,” said School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “We have kept these promises… and we’re in a good place. I really like what you’ve brought us. I think it’s going to be a model as other school communities grapple with this issue.”
The new policy, drafted over the course of the last nine months or so, is principally designed to guide Board members as they select new names for the bevy of new school facilities set to open in the coming the years.
It would recommend putting an emphasis on selecting geographical names with “historic or geographic significance to the Arlington community’s history. But if the Board is to name a school after an individual, that person’s “‘principal legacy’ (i.e. the key activity, advocacy or accomplishment for which the individual is most known)” needs to align with “the APS mission, vision, and core values and beliefs,” according to the proposal.
Yet, under those criteria, APS staff also suggested that the Board would need to rename Washington-Lee, given Lee’s legacy fighting for the Confederacy, which championed slavery.
“A lot of people don’t like change and we know that it’s difficult in all aspects,” said Linda Erdos, APS assistant superintendent for school and community relations and the facilitator of discussions around the naming policy. “But everybody kept saying, ‘Diversity should be on the minds of people, the diversity of the people served.'”
Such a change would certainly not be without controversy — some Washington-Lee alumni have been vocally protesting any change to the school’s name, over concerns that such move would tarnish a fixture of Arlington County. Washington-Lee has used that moniker since it opened in 1925, and some alums urged the Board to put the matter to a public referendum.
“The Arlington voters should make the decision, not five persons,” said Betsy Lockman, a W-L alum.
Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, echoed that call in a press conference ahead of the meeting. Stewart made his opposition to the removal of statues of Confederate generals in Charlottesville a hallmark of his failed bid for governor last year, and he dubbed any consideration of renaming Washington-Lee as an example of “political correctness gone rampant.”
“I guarantee you, the citizens of Arlington County and the alumni think, ‘Leave it alone,'” Stewart said. “The average citizen, including here in Arlington and throughout the country, realizes it’s absolutely ridiculous and a tremendous waste of Arlington County’s resources and the school system’s resources.”
Vice Chair Reid Goldstein wasn’t willing to call for something as unorthodox as a referendum on the issue, but he did, at least, want to see the Board slow down a bit.
“I don’t think one week is enough time to consider this,” Goldstein said. “I would like to hear from the community in a way that is a little bit more balanced than the way that we’ve heard in the past, because, to me, this is a significant issue.”
Yet Board member Tannia Talento pointed out that the proposed policy has already been in the works for months, and would lay out a lengthy process that would focus on Washington-Lee’s name specifically. If adopted, the proposal calls for the Board to convene a committee on the issue, which would issue a recommendation on the school’s name by November. The Board would then vote on the issue in December, with any new name to fully take effect by September 2019.
Accordingly, Kanninen recommended that the Board push ahead and take up the new policy sooner, rather than later.
“We have a clear and rational policy proposal that we’re looking at, and it will chart our path as we proceed to the next steps,” Kanninen said.
Photo via Google Maps
The possibility of Washington-Lee High School being renamed has prompted a Republican U.S. Senate candidate to schedule a press conference outside of tonight’s Arlington School Board meeting.
The School Board is set to discuss proposed revisions to its school naming policy Thursday night. In a presentation, school staff will recommend a series of changes that will help guide Arlington Public Schools as it selects names for a number of new facilities, including the new building in Rosslyn that will house the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs.
But much of the public attention will be focused on a recommendation to start a process that could remove Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s name from Washington-Lee. APS staff says the inclusion of Lee’s name would not meet the revised naming policy, which calls for APS to consider the namesake’s legacy.
“Robert E. Lee’s ‘principal legacy’ (i.e. the key activity, advocacy or accomplishment for which the individual is most known) was as General of the Confederate Army leading forces against the U.S. forces,” the staff presentation says. “This action does not reflect the APS mission, vision, and core values/beliefs.”
Prince William County Board Chairman Corey Stewart, who’s running for U.S. Senate in Virginia and seeking the GOP nomination, is planning a press conference outside the meeting.
In a media advisory, Stewart’s campaign says the press conference will be held at 5:30 p.m., outside the meeting at the Syphax Education Center (2110 Washington Blvd).
Stewart, who has been outspoken in defense of Confederate monuments and names, says he will be joined at the press conference “by concerned Washington-Lee High School alumni.”
The staff presentation notes that APS “received numerous renaming requests [for Washington-Lee] after August 11-12, 2017 events in Charlottesville, Va.” Following the “alt-right” rally and the death of counter-demonstrator Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Stewart issued a statement decrying “Democrats and the media” and the “drive to squelch free speech.”
Photo via Google Maps