Arlington, VA

The race to see who will be the next Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and Falls Church has generated its share of fireworks, but the issue of campaign finance may ignite even more.

Incumbent Theo Stamos and challenger Parisa Dehghani-Tafti have already clashed over Tafti’s criticism of Stamos’ handling of cash bail and prosecution for some first-time marijuana-related offenses. Tafti also drew heat from county public-safety groups and her opponent for a campaign mailer they said mislabeled a fatal, officer-involved shooting as “police brutality.”

Recent filings shared by the non-profit Virginia Public Access Project have illuminated a new flash point: money from political action committees (PACs).

PACs are political organizations that donate money to campaigns on behalf of individuals or groups. Several have donated to Arlington state Senate and Delegate candidates, but few have donated to local races.

Only one of the Commonwealth’s Attorney candidates has received PAC money, according to VPAP. Tafti accepted research and polling services worth $51,235 from Justice and Public Safety, a PAC funded by George Soros. The billionaire philanthropist has donated to several progressive candidates nationwide.

The donation makes up about half of the $108,355 the Democratic challenger fundraised between January and March. After spending $76,179 of that money, Tafti’s campaign ended March with $50,202 in its coffers.

Another PAC that donated to Tafti’s campaign was the Justice Forward Virginia PAC, which advocates for criminal justice reform. The PAC is led in part by Brad Haywood, Arlington’s chief public defender and vocal critic of Stamos. The committee donated $600 to Tafti’s campaign.

Senior Assistant Public Defender Allison Carpenter also donated $50 to Tafti’s campaign. Carpenter was one of signatories of a letter released last month blasting Stamos for overcharging crimes, among other issues.

Stamos previously told ARLnow the donations from the letter’s signatories prove it was a “political hit job.”

In addition, Tafti last year received $600 from the Alexandria-based Brass Ovaries PAC, which funds female Democratic candidates in local races and hosted a fundraiser for Arlington candidates last September.

In a statement, Tafti told ARLnow:

In our first filing, I outraised the incumbent almost 6 to 1 with all individual donations, most of which were small amounts from local residents. I have since earned the support of numerous local organizations — including unions, activist groups, the Arlington Education Association, and civil rights organizations — that represent thousands of Arlington and City of Falls Church residents. They support me because they recognize that our community is lagging behind on criminal justice reform and that we need a Commonwealth’s Attorney who represents our values. Only after our campaign had significant grassroots support, and extensive research into my opponent’s record opposing reform at every turn, did Justice and Public Safety PAC offer its support. Reform doesn’t always come easy, and I welcome the support of individuals and organizations, especially an organization backed by one of the world’s foremost promoters of democratic values, that want to help our community live up to its ideals.

In contrast, Stamos’ campaign has collected no PAC money so far this year, according to VPAP.

“I have grassroots support and I think that speaks to the depth and breadth of my support in the community,” Stamos said, when asked whether she intentionally eschewed PAC money.

Several groups have come out in favor of Stamos, including 50 local attorneys who signed a letter in support earlier this year. One of them, Arlington divorce lawyer James Korman, donated $625 to her campaign during this quarter.

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Morning Notes

Post-Amazon Real Estate Boom in N. Va. — “After an anemic first quarter, Northern Virginia’s home-sales market blossomed last month, with prices on the rise and sales at their highest April mark since the pre-recession boom of more than a decade ago.” [InsideNova]

Northbound GW Parkway Partially Reopens — “One of two northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway reopened Tuesday after a 10-foot-deep sinkhole appeared in the road Friday. But officials warned that future lane closures are planned on both sides of the parkway as long-term repairs continue.” [Washington Post]

More Endorsements for Stamos, Tafti — In the heated race for Commonwealth’s Attorney, incumbent Theo Stamos and Democratic primary challenger Parisa Dehghani-Tafti have picked up some new endorsements. Arlington Sheriff Beth Arthur and former county treasurer Frank O’Leary have endorsed Stamos. School Board member Nancy Van Doren, meanwhile, has endorsed Tafti.

New Exhibit for Arlington Art Truck — Arlington County’s art truck is debuting a new work today with planned stops in Rosslyn and Clarendon. “In What’s Your Sign?, participants can select free, humorous signs about daily life, consumption and the environment by artist Paul Shortt, or make their own signs that re-think the spaces we encounter every day,” says a description of the project. [East City Art, Facebook]

Nearby: Bikeshare in Falls Church, Fairfax Co. — Capital Bikeshare has launched in the City of Falls Church with 10 new stations. Bikeshare is also planning new stations around the Tysons area in Fairfax County. [City of Falls Church, Tysons Reporter]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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(Updated on 05/13/19) The debate in the Commonwealth’s Attorney race over police brutality has grown into a larger discussion over police accountability.

“My opponent’s reckless use of language seeks to sow distrust in a community that registers some of the highest levels of confidence in law enforcement,” said Theo Stamos, the incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and Falls Church in statement today (Friday.)

Stamos kicked off an election debate this week by requesting Democratic challenger Parisa Dehghani-Tafti explain her recent description of a case as an example of “police brutality” that Stamos declined to prosecute.

“Is your criticism that I failed to prosecute the officer or that I failed to have an another agency review this incident?” Stamos asked her challenger during Wednesday’s debate. “Which was was it?”

The conversation was sparked after several Arlington public safety groups criticized Tafti over a campaign mailer stating Stamos had “refused to prosecute police officers in cases of police brutality.” The mailer cited an instance in which a suspect was shot to death after striking an officer in the face with a metal pipe during a domestic violence call, a shooting that was determined to be justified by an investigation conducted by Stamos’ office.

Tafti said voters want “accountability, transparency, and impartiality” from law enforcement, and questioned Stamos’ investigation of the incident. During Wednesday’s night’s debate, hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100, Tafti responded to Stamos’ question by broadening the discourse.

“This is about impartiality, not about any particular case,” Tafti said. “You don’t want anyone investigating themselves and… the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, which is dependent on police to gather evidence, should not be making unchecked decisions about investigations.”

The challenger said that if elected, she would craft an independent review policy to allow a community review board, Virginia State Police, or a special prosecutor to examine cases of police violence — a policy she says other neighboring jurisdictions have.

“It’s remarkable that my opponent is now disavowing her incendiary mailer and suggesting that this is about bringing in an independent agency to review an officer-involved shooting,” Stamos told ARLnow today (Friday) in a statement.

The prosecutor defended the independence of her office, saying she is “not beholden” to law enforcement but that “Shifting responsibility to some other entity that is not accountable to the voters of this community is the opposite of accountability.”

Earlier today Tafti said in a statement that:

I’m for impartiality. Even though rare in our community, use-of-force incidents require impartial review. I’m also a reformer and any time you run as a reformer you get pushback but pushback means we get to talk about the issues. My opponent has fought reform at every turn. Now she has decided to go negative because it distracts from her record of failing to adequately support victims, including survivors of sexual violence — a record of opposing cash bail reform, opposing voting rights for returning citizens, opposing using diversion instead of incarceration for individuals with mental illness, opposing expungement of minor infractions, opposing civil asset forfeiture reform, and opposing transparency and impartiality. I will continue to focus on these issues in the campaign and once elected because that’s what makes everyone safe.

“A key reason you don’t hear about police shootings or excessive use of force in Arlington is because of our crisis prevention training,” Stamos said during the debate. She noted that 78% of county police have received that training.

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Morning Notes

Ride Hailing ‘Strike’ Today — “Getting an Uber or a Lyft may be impossible — or take longer and cost more — Wednesday when drivers for both companies plan to strike in major U.S. cities to protest what they say are unfair wages and poor working conditions.” [Washington Post]

APS Poaching Fairfax Teachers — From a candidate for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors: “Today I met a veteran teacher who is leaving FCPS because Arlington County will pay her $12,000 more annually. Meanwhile, all I hear about is how we are fully funding our schools. We still have some catching up to do Fairfax County.” [Twitter]

County Employees Getting Reusable StrawsUpdated at 10:10 a.m. —  “This week is [Public Service Recognition Week], and Arlington County employees will be celebrating with their new, reusable steel straws, distributed… as a thank you for their hard work.” [WDVM]

Another Traffic Enforcement Push in Clarendon — Yesterday Arlington County Police conducted “high-visibility traffic enforcement” at Clarendon Boulevard and N. Danville Street,” reminding drivers to “be [street smart] and yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.” [Twitter]

No State GOP Candidates in Arlington Yet — “Thus far, there have been no nibbles on the line among potential Republican candidates for state legislative seats. The party’s filing deadlines passed on May 2 and 5 for GOP prospects for the 47th and 49th House of Delegates districts and 31st state Senate district without any candidates formally expressing interest.” [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Eric

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(Updated at 1 p.m.) Commonwealth’s Attorney candidate Parisa Dehghani-Tafti is facing calls for an apology after two groups representing police in Arlington County say she “falsely alleged” an incident of police brutality.

The Arlington County Police Department itself is now saying Tafti’s claim in a recent campaign mailer is “inconsistent with the facts.”

“It has come to our attention that recent political mailings and communications have suggested that the agency participates in problematic police practices,” said ACPD in a statement today (Tuesday) about Tafti’s reference to incidents where officers used force and which she claimed were examples of police brutality gone unpunished.

The police department also refuted Tafti’s claims in the mailer that the county’s policies on marijuana offenses disproportionately affect people of color.

Earlier that morning, the Arlington Police Beneficiary Association and the Arlington Coalition of Police issued a rare statement (Tuesday) demanding Tafti apologize for the mailer they said made a “disgraceful and false allegation of police ‘brutality’ leveled at an Arlington County Police officer.”

Tafti is running a campaign for Commonwealth’s Attorney centered on criminal justice reform and has been a vocal critic of incumbent Theo Stamos. Tafti recently mailed a campaign flyer which cited a 2015 officer-involved shooting as an example of a case of “police brutality” that wasn’t prosecuted.

The incident in question involved an officer who shot a 54-year-old man three times on May 19, 2015, during a domestic violence call, after the man struck the officer in the face with a metal bar. An investigation into the incident ruled that the deadly force was justified, and cleared the officer of criminal charges.

“Any insinuation of police brutality surrounding this incident is inconsistent with the facts,” said the ACPD in their statement.

Arlington Police Beneficiary Association Advisor and Past President Matt Martin told ARLnow that the organization “rarely” issues public statements, “but this was important enough that we had to set the record straight.”

In a statement to ARLnow, Tafti responded to the criticism, saying:

As I have spoken to voters throughout the course of this campaign, it is clear that they want accountability, transparency, and impartiality from all of us responsible for the administration of criminal justice, including the Commonwealth Attorney’s office. What was not mentioned in the police statement was that the mother of the victim said he was schizophrenic and possibly off his medications, and that he did not initiate any violence. The mother only spoke Spanish, and the police could not communicate with her. The medical examiner determined her son was killed by a shot to his back. This is the exact fear I have heard from parents of children with serious mental illness and members of our immigrant community throughout Arlington and the City of Falls Church, and is a prime example of why we need a criminal justice reformer in our Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office.

In a case not mentioned by the APBA and the ACP, the current Commonwealth’s Attorney prosecuted a case against a man who was the victim of an assault by a police officer during a traffic stop. In ruling that the man had not provoked the assault by the officer by assaulting him first, the judge said “I hold police officers to a higher standard.”  Voters have told me time and again that they want a Commonwealth’s Attorney they can trust to be impartial and hold everyone accountable. Seventy-two percent of Virginians say they want criminal justice reform, but it has become a standard trope that those opposed to reform accuse reform candidates of being anti-police. I am not anti-police, but pro-accountability and pro-community.

The association and coalition called for a “full public apology” from the candidate that acknowledged the “officer-involved shooting was lawful.”

The groups also asked public officials who endorsed her campaign to withdraw their support or to issue a statement “condemning her false ‘brutality’ accusation.”

“This officer — who, it should be noted, needed more than 60 stitches to close the wound on his face — used deadly force to protect himself after he was attacked by a man with a metal bar,” said Arlington Police Beneficiary Association President Rich Conigliaro.

“Any assertion that this shooting was anything other than justified is a distortion of the facts,” he added.

“Our officer’s actions that day as he tried to help a victim of domestic abuse were clearly in self-defense,” said Arlington Coalition of Police President Jeff Lubin. “Falsely accusing him of ‘brutality’ is shameful and he and all of Arlington’s police officers deserve an apology.”

Tafti’s mailer also listed another case of alleged police brutality, in which a man said an officer beat him during a 1991 routine traffic stop. The officer was not charged in that case.

Conigliaro and Lubin noted that the officer was not criminally charged and left the department that year to join the Secret Service.

Voters will decide whether Stamos or Tafti become the Democratic candidate for the Arlington and Falls Church prosecutor’s office in the primary election on June 11. Residents who want to vote must register no later than May 12.

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Candidates running for the Virginia State Senate this year have raised hundreds of thousands along the campaign trail — but not from Arlington’s Advanced Towing.

None of the four candidates running for Richmond accepted money from the controversial towing company, according to the most recent campaign finance filings detailing fundraising between January 1 and March 31 as shared by the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).

Incumbent candidate Barbara Favola was recently criticized by challenger Nicole Merlene for allegedly helping to loosen state towing regulations after accepting combined contributions of $7,250 over previous years from Advanced Towing, with an additional $2,500 coming from company owner John O’Neill.

The April finance reports indicate that the incumbent did not accept contributions from Advanced Towing or O’Neill during this fundraising period.

All of Arlington’s candidates are scheduled to release another set of campaign finance reports on June 3.

Residents will head to the polls on June 11 to cast their vote in the primaries. Because all Senate candidates announced so far are Democrats, the primary vote will likely choose the winner of the November 5 general election as well.

Virginians must register to vote at least 30 days before the primaries to vote, and can check in advance which polling location they should use.

Read below for more details about each candidate’s most recent campaign finances.

Sen. Adam Ebbin 

Ebbin has worked in Richmond for the past 15 years — the last seven as a state senator and eight years before that as a state delegate. He told ARLnow that this year his biggest wins in the capitol include legislation on green energy programs and helping colleges offer technical and dual-enrollment options.

Ebbin is running for re-election unopposed in the Democratic primary and currently faces no challengers from any other party.

He started with $101,534 in campaign funds on January 1, according to VPAP’s campaign finance reports. After fundraising $26,190 and spending $12,522, Ebbin reportedly ended the first quarter with $115,201 in funds for the campaign trail.

Ebbin’s campaign accepted 70 contributions during the reported funding period, with the majority of them (37 donors) giving the campaign $100 or less.

His top donation came from Political Action Committee (PAC) Win Virginia ($5,000), which announced this year it was training and funding Democratic candidates to flip the statehouse blue.

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Morning Notes

Merlene Accuses Favola of Sexism — “Normally, Democratic debates in deep-blue Arlington are wonky, congenial, staid, even boring affairs, where the candidates at least pretend to be cordial to each other. And tonight’s 31st State Senate district Democratic debate, between incumbent Sen. Barbara Favola and challenger Nicole Merlene, largely held to that model for the entire debate… until the closing statements, when basically all hell broke loose.” [Blue Virginia, PDF]

Metro Closure This Weekend — “[On] May 4 and 5, Metro will be closed south of Reagan National Airport– six stations in all. Trains will be replaced by free shuttle buses at Braddock Road, King St-Old Town, Eisenhower Ave, Huntington, Van Dorn Street and Franconia-Springfield.” [WUSA 9]

Arlington and Amazon Emails Revealed — “Arlington County officials worked closely with Amazon.com Inc. to present a good public relations strategy in the weeks leading to their passage of the company’s $23 million incentive package, emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show. The emails indicate some county officials were trying to develop a cozy relationship and wanted to help Amazon navigate challenges and smooth over some criticism.” [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington Man Donates Flag Tie to New U.S. Citizen — Arlington resident Marc Johnson was trying to sell a patriotic American flag tie on Ebay after cleaning out his closet, but ended up donating it to the would-be buyer when he learned that the buyer was planning to wear the tie to his swearing-in ceremony to become an American citizen. [Washington Post]

Arlington Sheriff’s Office Turning 150 — “The 150th anniversary of establishment of the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office will be commemorated on May 7 as part of National Correctional Employees Week. The Arlington Sheriff’s Office was established at a time when Arlington (then known as Alexandria County) was being separated from the town (now city) of Alexandria and into its own self-governing locality.” [InsideNova]

History of Harry W. Gray House — “On this day in Arlington history: May 1, 1881 Harry W. Gray and his family move into their house. He and his family took years to build it and it is the only one of its kind for miles… The house remains a sturdy structure, its longevity a testament to Gray’s workmanship.” [Facebook]

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Arlington wants residents to pick the new “I Voted” sticker design for the 2019 elections.

The Arlington County Office of Elections posted on its website five colorful designs vying for your favor, which range from the modern to historically-minded.

Voters have must enter an Arlington address to view the designs, and are then directed to order them from top to least favorite.

The winning design will be featured on the 2019 “I Voted” stickers given to those who cast their ballots in the general election on November 5. (Currently, the county is in the middle of a primary election, which decides the candidates for the November election.)

County election officials partnered with the Arlington Artists Alliance and Arlington Public Library to select the top five designs earlier this month, per the contest announcement.

Images via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Brush Fire in Park Near Columbia Pike — “Firefighters were called to Alcova Park a little after noon today to put out this small fire. No word on cause, but it’s an early season reminder to fully extinguish smoking & BBQ’ing materials before safely discarding them in a metal container & leaving the area.” [Twitter]

‘Walk for the Animals’ Tickets on Sale — “On Saturday, June 8, 2019 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., AWLA invites you to Walk for the Animals and celebrate our 75th anniversary of improving the lives of animals in our community… $35 Early Bird registration until May 1 (includes Walk registration and t-shirt)” [Animal Welfare League of Arlington]

Traffic Enforcement in Clarendon — Arlington County Police conducted “high-visibility pedestrian enforcement at the intersection of N. Highland Street and Washington Boulevard as part of regional @COGStreetSmart campaign” yesterday afternoon. [Twitter, Twitter]

Arlington Resident Wins Lottery — “An Arlington man is $100,000 richer after playing a Cash 5 game he purchased at a store in the Fort Myer Heights neighborhood near Rosslyn recently.” [Patch]

Ebbin, Levine Endorse Parisa — State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) and Del. Mark Levine (D) have endorsed Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Democratic candidate for Commonwealth’s Attorney of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church. They join several other elected officials, including former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and former County Board member Walter Tejada, in endorsing the challenger in the Democratic primary. [Facebook, Blue Virginia]

Stamos’ Recent Endorsements — Earlier this month Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos announced endorsements from Arlington’s firefighter union and county treasurer Carla de la Pava in her bid for reelection, in addition to a litany of endorsements from other elected and former elected officials. [Facebook, Facebook]

Nearby: Aldi Coming to Bailey’s Crossroads — An Aldi grocery store will reportedly be replacing the former Babies R Us store at 5700 Columbia Pike, while a nearby Safeway store is said to be closing. [Annandale Blog]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

Big Trees Fall on Cars — In two separate incidents during Saturday’s windy weather, trees fell on cars near Pentagon City mall and near the corner of Lee Highway and N. Harrison Street. No serious injuries were reported. [Twitter, Twitter]

Coworking Space Coming to Courthouse — Courthouse is getting its first coworking space. Industrious, which recently opened a new coworking space in Ballston, is planning on opening a 25,000 square foot space at a recently-built office building at 2311 Wilson Blvd. [Bisnow]

New Arlington Election Director — “Electoral Board members announced April 24 they had selected Gretchen Reinemeyer, currently deputy to Director of Elections Linda Lindberg, to succeed Lindberg starting July 1. Lindberg had announced earlier in the year she planned on retiring from the post she had held since 2003.” [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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(Updated at 3 p.m.) Dozens of local attorneys have signed a blistering letter criticizing the tactics of prosecutors in Arlington.

The letter — signed by criminal defense and civil rights lawyers — comes as Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, the county’s top prosecutor, is engaged in a primary election battle.

The two-page letter is signed by 109 attorneys who say the county treats minorities and people with mental illnesses unfairly. Stamos, however, says its a “political hit job” for her re-election campaign.

A section of the two-page letter, which was sent to ARLnow, reads:

We are concerned that nearly 98% of felony convictions in Arlington are the result of the defendant pleading guilty, exceeding the rate in all local jurisdictions (Alexandria: 91%; Fairfax/Loudoun: 93%) and even in the federal courts (97%). We are concerned that the low incidence of trials in Arlington is mainly due to overcharging and the fear of harsh consequences if a defendant does not accept a plea bargain.

We are concerned that Arlington convicts defendants of felonies at more than twice the rate of neighboring jurisdictions, despite its very low crime rate. We are worried that this reflects a culture of overcriminalization.

The county’s chief public defender, Brad Haywood is one of the signatories. He told ARLnow today (Friday) that, “the policies and practices of the Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office are precisely those that have led our criminal justice system to where it is now: broken and in need of change.”

“Among all Northern Virginia jurisdictions, there is a consensus among defense attorneys that Arlington is the most difficult environment in which to obtain fair results, and the fact that so many attorneys were willing to take a professional risk by putting their names on this letter bears that out,” Haywood said.

“I think I have to say that this effort and the timing of it is nothing more than a political hit job,” Stamos told ARLnow.

Stamos is running for re-election this year and is faced by Democratic challenger, former public defender Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. The two attorneys recently debated about convictions for first-time marijuana possession and other criminal justice hot topics, which have also entered the national political conversation.

“I can’t speak to the rates of felony convictions in other jurisdiction,” Stamos said today in response to the defense bar’s letter. “But a high percent of felony convictions in our District Court is a good thing because it means we’re not indicting cases that we don’t have the evidence to prove.”

The letter also criticizes Stamos for her policy on the discovery process that allows defense attorneys access to their client’s case records before a trial:

We are concerned that the Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s discovery policy, which prohibits the use of technology to obtain copies of police reports and other documents, places unique and arbitrary restrictions on the discovery process, making it needlessly difficult for defense attorneys to be prepared for trial. We believe that real open file discovery would make the process more fair for defendants and make the criminal process much more reliable and efficient.

Stamos has said that the policy relies on manual discovery because that helps protect victims’ privacy and safety. As part of her campaign, Stamos has highlighted the endorsements she’s received from 50 local attorneys.

The letter is not the first time the public defender’s office has criticized the prosecutor for what he says is unjust application of the law. When ARLnow investigated a little-known provision allowing law enforcement to jail “habitual drunkards” in January, Haywood said the county should, “stop pretending we’re making the situation better by locking sick people away so the public can’t see them.”

A few months earlier, he also called Stamos’ cash bail reform “misleading.”

Today, Stamos accused Haywood of circulating the letter because he was “all about defeating” her campaign in the upcoming June primary by supporting Dehghani-Tafti.

Stamos also had words for the other 108 attorneys who signed, saying that “more than half the individual on the list don’t practice law in Arlington with any regularity if at all. And they don’t know me and I don’t them.”

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