(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) Arlington voters seem ready to flood the polls in record numbers on Nov. 6, with early turnout numbers presaging a “blue wave” that could — potentially — wipe independent County Board member John Vihstadt out of office.
New figures compiled by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project show that the county has seen a 114 percent increase in the number of absentee ballots cast through Wednesday (Oct. 17), compared to the same time last year. The county’s surge to 4,236 ballots cast, compared to 1,976 a year ago, mirrors similarly boosts around the state.
While absentee voting can be an imperfect measure of Election Day enthusiasm, the numbers in Arlington are strong enough to convince some observers that the county could see huge turnout levels for the midterm elections. Former county treasurer Frank O’Leary, a close watcher of Arlington elections, projects that the current absentee numbers are robust enough that the county sees as many as 95,000 votes cast next month.
That figure would be higher than what the county might expect in a midterm election with a Senate seat on the ballot, without a heavily Democratic electorate itching to send a message to President Donald Trump. It would be close to 10,000 votes more than the 85,300 people who turned out for last year’s closely watched governor’s race that swept Democrat Ralph Northam into office with a hefty victory.
Given Arlington’s overwhelmingly blue political complexion, O’Leary expects “at greater levels of turnout, the blue tide will become increasingly the determining factor” in down-ballot races. That includes Vihstadt’s contest with Democratic challenger Matt de Ferranti, who is hoping to return the Board to unified Democratic control after Vihstadt won a pair of upset victories back in 2014.
O’Leary notes that turnout in the county was severely depressed six years ago, when Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) very nearly lost to Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrats took a beating nationwide, and he doesn’t expect those conditions to repeat themselves this time around.
The county lacks a competitive race in the 8th Congressional District, but with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine up for re-election against Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, a politician disavowed by members of both parties for his frequent embrace of white nationalists and the Confederate flag, O’Leary expects that “an expanded electorate coupled with an odious opponent will net Tim Kaine more than 80 percent of the Arlington vote.”
While O’Leary notes that Vihstadt benefits from the “advantage of incumbency, name recognition, and the support of a number of prominent Democratic elected office holders and the benefit of a well-organized, highly-focused campaign,” he also expects that some of the galvanizing issues Vihstadt seized on in his 2014 bid — the Columbia Pike streetcar and “million-dollar bus stops” among them — aren’t as relevant this time around. It doesn’t help, either, that Vihstadt will have to contend with “a re-vamped (and equally determined) Democratic Party structure” and “the curse of ‘The Donald.'”
“In the event that total turnout exceeds 88,000 (with 75,000 or more votes cast in the County Board race), [Matt] de Ferranti will defeat John Vihstadt and win election to the County Board,” O’Leary predicted.
“Mr. Vihstadt starts with a proven base of 35,000, de Ferranti, perhaps 27,500. (That totals 62,500.) Thereafter, at greater levels of turnout, the blue tide will become increasingly the determining factor,” he explained.
Of course, Vihstadt has out-fundraised de Ferranti so far, and some Democrats remain concerned that the challenger has done little to separate himself from his opponent. For his part, the independent remains confident that he can once again shock the county’s political establishment this year.
“I was the underdog in 2014 and may be again this year,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “I wasn’t supposed to win in the first place, but Arlingtonians proved that they are sophisticated voters. As I knock on doors across Arlington, people, regardless of partisanship at the federal and state levels, say they value the balance and independence that I bring to local government. I’m confident that my purple tugboat will survive the blue wave.”
Flickr pool photo via wolfkann
During his time in office, O’Leary brought the tax delinquency rate down from 9 percent to less than 1 percent, but somehow managed to win friends in the process.
O’Leary, 74, is retired but still avidly follows and offers predictions about Arlington elections. We talked to him about his time in office, whether names like Jefferson Davis Highway and Washington-Lee High School need to change, his predictions for the upcoming November elections, and why restaurants are among the hardest businesses from which to collect taxes.
Arlington Tops Clinton Vote Margin List — Arlington County, which has the highest percentage of residents with a college degree of any jurisdiction in the U.S. with a population over 50,000, also had the highest increase in vote margin for Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama in 2012. Clinton’s margin of victory in Arlington this year was 20.3 points higher than Obama’s. [Five Thirty Eight]
O’Leary on Clinton’s Victory Margin — Former Arlington County treasurer (and noted local election prognosticator) Frank O’Leary says the increase in the Democratic victory margin in Arlington reflects “a profound belief in government, particularly the federal government as the means of fulfilling the objectives expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution.”
DCA Ranks Poorly for Flight Cancellations — Reagan National Airport is the eighth-worst airport in the country for flight cancellations around the holidays, according to a new set of rankings. [WTOP]
Arlington Seeks Secret Santas — Arlington County is looking for volunteers to “brighten the holiday season for some of Arlington’s most vulnerable residents by taking part in the County’s annual Secret Santa program.” [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Bekah Richards
Two Add’l Endorsements for Gutshall — Democratic County Board Erik Gutshall has picked up two more endorsements. The campaign announced this week that Gutshall was endorsed by Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson and former county treasurer Frank O’Leary. [InsideNova]
Garvey’s Idea for I-66 — In an interview with the urbanist blog Greater Greater Washington, County Board Chair Libby Garvey, who is running for reelection, talked about her belief in more Bus Rapid Transit service as a transit solution and her plans for making Arlington a “great” place to live. Among her ideas: building large decks over I-66 to provide more parkland, more bus parking and to “knit our community back together.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Barley Mac Grand Opening — Barley Mac in Rosslyn is holding its grand opening celebration this weekend: “The party will kick off each night at 8:00 p.m. and go until 2:00 a.m., and we’ll serve [complimentary] passed appetizers and light bites in the bar from 8:00-10:00 p.m.” [Facebook, Rosslyn BID]
Native Species Returning to Arlington — The removal of invasive species from Arlington’s parkland is paying off. A number of plant and animal species once thought to be gone for good have started returning to the county, including certain frogs, otters, foxes and turkeys. The county announced this in a press release with the alliterative headline “Nurtured Nature Nets New Natives.” [Arlington County]
Inexpensive Local Art on Sale — The Arlington Artists Alliance is holding an art show and sale later this month where every work of art is priced at $95 or less. [Patch]
Real Housewives Filming in Clarendon? — An episode of the Real Housewives of Potomac was reportedly being filmed at Oz restaurant in Clarendon last night. The restaurants is owned by cast member Ashley Darby and her husband. [Twitter]
No one, not even the closest of followers, expected Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt to win re-election on Tuesday by as big a margin as he did.
Vihstadt, an independent, became the first non-Democrat elected to the County Board since 1983. But the eye-opener was how he did it: by winning 39 out of 52 Arlington precincts, even though every one of those precincts chose Sen. Mark Warner (D). Vihstadt took almost 56 percent of the vote and received almost 7,500 votes more than Democratic challenger Alan Howze, out of 62,663 votes cast.
In his regular post-election report to the Arlington County Democratic Committee on Wednesday night, former Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary struck a somber tone and said he was surprised by low turnout.
“I woke up this morning and I didn’t feel so good,” he said. “We had a turnout of about 48 percent. That stinks, particularly when you’re expecting a turnout as high as 61 percent. What the heck is going on? Very disappointing… I had talked about the County Board race that if turnout gets down to 60,000, if Vihstadt had 30,000 he was going to win.
“He did it,” O’Leary continued. “It didn’t seem possible, it didn’t seem likely, but it happened. The end result, if we look in terms of comparisons: first our candidate won 13 precincts, Mr. Vihstadt won 40. That’s really unheard of. I can’t even think of the last time that occurred. Last time I can think of anything like this was 1979.”
The numbers blew Vihstadt’s campaign manager Eric Brescia away, he told ARLnow.com in a phone interview yesterday (Thursday).
“We were not expecting it to be like this,” he said. “When it came in, it was just euphoric. You always have doubts; it’s very rare in modern politics that you get this many people to split their ticket. Somehow this got pulled off. I didn’t fall asleep that night just because of the adrenaline.”
Brescia said the streetcar was on many voters’ minds, but voters had other concerns, too. Vihstadt is adamantly against the streetcar, while Howze supports it.
“The streetcar was the biggest one issue, and we definitely made it a big part of our materials,” the campaign manager said. “It definitely wasn’t the only thing going on. A lot of people have generic frustrations with the county, responsiveness issues, spending issues, feeling like they’re not being listened to.”
County Board Chair Jay Fisette — who, along with Board members Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes, still make up a pro-streetcar voting majority on the Board — said Vihstadt’s messaging related to the streetcar caught voters’ attention. Fisette suggested voters chose Vihstadt because they were misinformed about the streetcar.
“I think there has been a lot of focus in the last year on that issue,” Fisette said after the ADCDC meeting. “This community has such a history of being thoughtful and policy-oriented … Here on this issue, what has been created and what we see at the moment is a lack of even agreement on some fundamental core facts about the issue.
“It’s almost like climate change,” Fisette continued. “Is it based on science that it’s true, or is it not?”
While Vihstadt has voted for and donated to Republican candidates, Brescia said the campaign was truly independent, with a handful of Democrats, Republicans, Green party and independents attending most meetings.
“The nature of this campaign was just so odd, precisely because it really a coalition of people across the political spectrum,” said Brescia, an economist who volunteered to be campaign manager.
Though Vihstadt raised almost $230,000 toward the campaign, there were no paid staffers, Brescia said, and Vihstadt’s cable commercial — which ran during the Washington Redskins Monday Night Football game on Oct. 27 against the Dallas Cowboys — was produced for free by a supporter.
The confluence of factors that created Vihstadt’s success have led many people to ask, Who is the next John Vihstadt?
Vihstadt is a candidate “with a rare civic resume,” Brescia said. He has served on numerous boards and commissions in Arlington for years. He is the “best Republican candidate they’ve put forward in 30-40 years,” Fisette said. No names have surfaced yet, but there are already rumblings.
“I know a chatter has begun in certain circles, but I haven’t thought about any of that yet,” Brescia said. “But there’s going to be somebody from some corner who will mount a serious run.”
The margin of Vihstadt’s win has Democrats bracing for an even tougher challenge next year, when Tejada and Hynes’ seats are both up for election.
“Tighten your seatbelts,” O’Leary told his fellow Democrats on Wednesday night. “We’re in for a bumpy ride next year, a really bumpy ride.”
Wakefield’s First Winning Season in 31 Years — The Wakefield Warriors football team has clinched its first winning season since 1983. Wakefield is 6-2 and expected to make the playoffs. [InsideNova]
Average First Snowfall at DCA — According to 30 years worth of National Weather Service data, the average date of the first measurable snowfall at Reagan National Airport is Dec. 18. [HillNow]
O’Leary Expects Howze Victory — Thanks to an influx of party-line voters — “the power of the sample ballot” — former county treasurer and local election prognosticator Frank O’Leary thinks fellow Democrat Alan Howze will defeat incumbent John Vihstadt on Nov. 4. If Vihstadt is defeated, Democrats worry he would run again next year and, with no congressional races on the ballot, win against Mary Hynes or Walter Tejada. [InsideNova]
Arlington Man’s Death Ruled a Homicide — The death of Arlington resident Michael Hrizuk in D.C.’s Glover Park neighborhood has been ruled a homicide. Hrizuk, 57, died of a “blunt impact head injury” during a reported assault. [Washington Post]
De la Pava Takes Over As Treasurer — After more than 30 years in office, Frank O’Leary stepped down as Arlington County Treasurer Monday. Stepping up to replace him is his chief deputy, Carla de la Pava, who was sworn in to serve as treasurer in a ceremony at county government headquarters. De la Pava is so far unopposed in an upcoming special election that would allow her to continue serving out O’Leary’s term, which runs through Dec. 2015. [InsideNova]
TDM Is the ‘Secret to Arlington’s Success’ — The man who heads Arlington County Commuter Services, the county’s Transportation Demand Management (TDM) agency, says TDM is the “secret to Arlington’s success.” Commuter Services Bureau Chief Chris Hamilton says ACCS programs like BikeArlington, WalkArlington, The Commuter Store and the Car-Free Diet campaign have helped to keep cars off the street even as Arlington’s population has grown. [Mobility Lab]
‘Orange Line Disaster’ at Courthouse — The Orange Line was a “disaster” at the Courthouse Metro station this morning, commuters reported via Twitter. According to various reports, delays started when a train with a door problem offloaded at Courthouse. Passengers crowded onto the platform at the station, which was reportedly un-air-conditioned. At some point, a passenger on a train fainted, prompting that train to hold at the station while medical personnel responded.
Photo courtesy James Mahony
Seven Dems Line Up to Replace Brink — Seven Democrats are running for the House of Delegates seat being vacated by Del. Bob Brink, who’s heading to the McAuliffe administration. The candidates, who will compete in a firehouse primary on Sunday, made their pitch to members of the Arlington County Democratic Committee at its meeting in Ballston last night. Also last night, Brink thanked ACDC members for their support over his 17 years in office. [Blue Virginia, Washington Post, InsideNova]
O’Leary to Retire Monday — County Treasurer Frank O’Leary, also speaking at last night’s meeting of Arlington Democrats, formally announced his retirement. O’Leary, who has served more than 30 years as county treasurer, touted his record of reducing tax delinquency rates, increasing the county’s return on financial investments, and improving customer service. His deputy, Carla de la Pava, will be sworn in as interim treasurer after O’Leary submits his resignation Monday. [InsideNova, Blue Virginia]
Aurora Hills Babysitting Co-op Turns 50 — A babysitting co-op in Arlington’s Aurora Highlands neighborhood just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Babysitting is free in the co-op, which requires members to contribute by babysitting each other’s children. [Washington Post]
SoberRide Returns for July 4 — The Washington Regional Alcohol Program will offer free taxi rides on Independence Day tomorrow through its SoberRide program. Revelers can call 1-800-200-TAXI for a free cab ride home from 10:00 p.m. on July 4 through 4:00 a.m., as long as the fare is under $30. [WRAP]
DCA Warns of Long Lines — The Fourth of July holiday is expected to result in longer lines and wait times at Reagan National Airport this weekend. The airport is advising travelers to arrive two hours early, especially during its “peak travel times… typically during the early morning (5:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.) and late afternoon (3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.).” There may also be a mid-day peak from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Adding to the problems, the airport reports that some airlines are canceling flights due to Hurricane Arthur. [MWAA]
Flickr pool photo by Rob Cannon
Arlington’s unofficial election prognosticator, Treasurer Frank O’Leary, expects the special election to draw between 35,000 and 37,000 votes, dwarfing the previous record for a special election — 21,624 votes, set in 2003 — and rivaling the odd-year election records of 2011 and the constitutional amendment year of 1999.
“The natives are clearly restless,” O’Leary said in an email. “This fervor may reflect disgruntled voters responding to [John] Vihstadt’s energetic efforts to torpedo the aquatic center and derail the streetcar. Similarly, it may arise from the equally energetic efforts of the newly-minted ACDC Chairman — Kip Malinosky (who cannot afford to lose his maiden effort) and a determined Democratic candidate — Alan Howze — who has rapped his knuckles on thousands of voters’ doors.”
O’Leary is projecting about 2,750 absentee votes will be cast, compared with the 2011 general election that saw 2,248. Along with Democrat Howze and Republican- and Green-endorsed independent John Vihstadt, independent Stephen Holbrook and Independent Green candidate Janet Murphy are also running.
“Turnout resulting from this tempestuous mix,” O’Leary wrote, “will be further enhanced by the later-than-usual voting date of April 8, coupled with an extra hour of sunlight at day’s end.”
Two of Three Dem Candidates Endorse Streetcar — Two of the three Democratic candidates for County Board — Alan Howze and Peter Fallon — have voiced support for the Columbia Pike streetcar project. The third Democratic contender — Cord Thomas — has concerns about the proposal. [Sun Gazette]
Lack of Decal in Fairfax Affects Arlington — Eight years ago Fairfax County became the lone jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to abandon car tax decals, and Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary believes that’s costing Arlington $300,000. O’Leary said it’s too labor intensive to check every single vehicle parked in Arlington without a decal to determine if the vehicle is from Fairfax or if the owner didn’t pay Arlington taxes. [Sun Gazette]
Civic Leadership Program Deadline Extended — Arlington County has extended the deadline for residents interested in signing up for the eight week Neighborhood College program. Participants will learn communication and influencing skills, how to organize for action and how to give and receive feedback, among other things. The deadline to sign up for the free series is now January 10, and classes begin February 13. [Arlington County]
Police Officer Profiled — A member of the Arlington County Police Department — Capt. Kamran Afzal — has been profiled in Asian Fortune. The Pakistani American studied economics in college before turning to a life in law enforcement. He has been with the department for 20 years. [Asian Fortune]
Christmas Tree Collection Begins — County workers began collecting discarded Christmas trees yesterday. The trees are collected curbside until January 17 and will be turned into mulch. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by wolfkann
In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli by a margin of about 56,000 votes. Arlington, meanwhile, contributed about 33,000 surplus Democratic votes to that total.
Arlington’s importance to securing Democratic victories in statewide races cannot be underestimated, county Treasurer Frank O’Leary told the party faithful at last night’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting.
“We are exporting votes that are desperately needed… throughout Virginia,” he said, lauding the party’s get-out-the-vote efforts, which helped lead to McAuliffe’s 72 percent to 22 percent shellacking over Cuccinelli in Arlington.
O’Leary said the nearly 67,000 votes cast in the governor’s race in Arlington were a record, smashing the previous record of about 57,000 and pointing to an overall upward trend in overall turnout for statewide, congressional and presidential races in Arlington. (Turnout in purely local elections — County Board, etc. — remains flat.)
Arlingtonians cast about 7,250 absentee ballots this year, a record for a non-presidential year. The previous record was 7,077, set in 2006. While some of the increase can be attributed to a broader upward trend in absentee voting, O’Leary said the federal government shutdown also played a significant role.
“An interesting thing happened in early October,” O’Leary said. “A whole lot of people were furloughed… and they were mad as hell and weren’t going to talk it any more.”
“My theory that the absentee vote was swollen by angry federal workers, using their unappreciated furlough to come in and vote, may be sustained by the fact that McAuliffe received 79.5% of their vote versus 70.6% in the 52 precincts,” O’Leary said in a subsequent email. “Thus, McAuliffe garnered 650 more votes at the absentee level than might have been expected based on his performance in the precincts.”
The Libertarian candidate running for governor in Virginia, Robert Sarvis, captured about 6.5 percent of the vote statewide, and about 5.8 percent in Arlington. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of some Virginia political watchers, who argued that Sarvis largely siphoned off votes that would have otherwise gone to Cuccinelli, O’Leary said he has reason to believe Sarvis actually hurt McAuliffe in Arlington.
“In my opinion, Mr. Sarvis actually cost our gubernatorial candidates some votes,” he said.
County Treasurer Frank O’Leary (D), Arlington’s unofficial predictor of local voting trends, says a dramatic increase in absentee voting this year points to higher voter interest in the Virginia governor’s race.
“This year’s race will probably set the record for turnout in a Gubernatorial Year,” O’Leary wrote. “In 2009, with seven days of voting remaining, 2,914 absentee votes had been cast. This year, 4,476 have already voted absentee and I expect the final number to hit 7,200 or more.”
O’Leary says the government shutdown might have boosted absentee voting.
“It seems likely that this remarkable increase in absentee turnout is a direct result of federal workers being furloughed,” he wrote. “During the furlough period, 500 additional votes occurred when compared to 2009. Those additional votes may well have arisen from angry federal workers, who had nothing better to do.”
O’Leary is predicting a total turnout of roughly 70,000 ballots cast among the 137,027 active registered voters in Arlington. That predicted 51.1 percent turnout rate in Arlington compares to 42.9 percent for the 2009 race between Bob McDonnell (R) and Creigh Deeds (D), and 50.5 percent for the 2005 race between Tim Kaine (D) and Jerry Kilgore (R).
(The turnout for presidential and congressional elections is generally higher than that of gubernatorial elections, with an average of 81.6 and 56 percent of active voter turnout respectively in Arlington between 1972 and 2012, according to O’Leary.)
Speaking to ARLnow.com on Tuesday, Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg confirmed the increase in absentee voting so far this year. She said absentee voting will “definitely” be higher than in 2009. She was more conservative in her prediction for overall turnout, calling for a 50 percent turnout rate.
In addition to various local races, Election Day on Nov. 5 will feature the hotly-contested Virginia governor’s race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe, Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Libertarian Robert Sarvis.
Treasurer Makes Deal for iPark Refills — Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary has struck deals to allow the county to refill iPark devices, while adding more devices to the cache that can be used to replace non-functioning units. The county paid $10,000 to the bankrupt manufacturer of the devices for the codes necessary to add value without additional authorization or payment to the company. The move comes about a month and a half after the company’s bankruptcy suddenly prevented the county from refilling the devices. [Sun Gazette]
Man Gets 10 Year Sentence for Custis Trail Robbery — A 23-year-old D.C. resident has received a 10 year sentence for a robbery on the Custis Trail that left a jogger with a head injury and lingering cognitive effects. The attacker and his 17-year-old brother, who’s expected to receive a 1.5 to 3 year sentence, were both arrested as they fled toward the Ballston Metro Station. The victim, a 55-year-old personal trainer, says he still suffers from headaches, nightmares and memory loss. [Washington Post]
Remembering Allison’s Tea House — From the 1920s to the 1950s, Allison’s Tea House, at 1301 S. Arlington Ridge Road, was “a coveted neighborhood restaurant… that had been visited by dignitaries including Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt.” The restaurant’s iconic stone well house was preserved after the restaurant and its grounds were redeveloped into an apartment building in the 1960s. It still stands, and is used as storage for the apartment’s swimming pool. [Preservation Arlington]
ACPD Participating in Drug Take-Back Day — The Arlington County Police Department is participating in National Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday. From 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., at fire stations No. 1, 8 and 9, officers will collect expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs. “The service is free and anonymous, no questions asked,” police say in a press release. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Tax Delinquency Rate Hits Record Low — Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary and his staff managed to get the county’s tax delinquency rate down to a record low 0.41 percent for the fiscal year that ended June 30. “Just amazing — phenomenal, absolutely fabulous,” O’Leary was quoted as saying during a celebration of the accomplishment last night. [Sun Gazette]
Remembering Arlington’s Nazi Past — He wasn’t very popular with his fellow residents, but George Rockwell, the founder of the once Arlington-based American Nazi Party, remains part of Arlington lore. Before being shot to death in the Dominion Hills Shopping Centre, Rockwell helped organize a picket of Mario’s Pizza House on Wilson Boulevard for refusing Nazi party members service while continuing to serve black customers. The Nazis also made a bomb threat against the Arlington Unitarian Church. [Arlington Magazine]
Adult Soccer Clinic Registration — Registration is open for a six-week adult soccer clinic for men and women, to be held at Washington-Lee High School. The clinic is primarily intended for adults who want to learn how to play soccer or who haven’t played since childhood. [Arlington County]
Photo courtesy Brendan P. Childs
The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Last week, Arlington’s Treasurer Frank O’Leary produced a chart which showed the swelling cash on hand coffers in the County. He was right to question why it was growing so much. He was also right to point out it very well could mean Arlingtonians could be paying less in taxes.
Having this issue brought to light seemed to be a good bit of common sense to me.
Then it got more interesting. This week O’Leary wrote a letter to the editor explaining that his commentary on paying lower taxes and questioning spending decisions by the Board was in his role as a private citizen and not as Treasurer.
We are left to wonder, what prompted O’Leary to feel compelled to backpedal so quickly? Did he receive one or more angry phone calls from a County Board member or members? Did they threaten to cut his office budget? Did they say they might just have to back a primary opponent against him in 2015?
Frank O’Leary is elected by the same Arlingtonians who elect the County Board. They entrust him with a critically important fiduciary duty. He is the guardian of the treasury funded by the taxpayers.
He had every right to bring this issue to our attention. And, he had every right to offer his commentary on it as the elected official who is safeguarding our money.
I have made the argument that our County Board and Manager underestimate revenue each year to give themselves two things: a “budget shortfall” excuse to raise taxes; and a slush fund to spend in the close-out process each year.
Maybe the Board feels like having to explain away our growing cash on hand surplus confirms my theory. Maybe they just do not appreciate having to explain themselves at all. Of course, the explanation by county staff did little to actually answer the underlying questions O’Leary raised. Regardless of how the Board and Manager feel, we deserve more transparency from our county government, and we should applaud Frank O’Leary for pulling back the curtain on this issue.
Here’s my challenge to Treasurer O’Leary going forward. Put the County’s check register online. Let citizens who care about fiscal responsibility monitor the cash flow every month. This will really hold the County Board accountable, and it sounds like it is well within your constitutional job duties.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.