Arlington, VA

While many elections are spaced out over months, sometimes even years at the presidential level, three Arlington candidates have been running for County Board in a 61-day sprint towards the special election on July 7.

Takis Karantonis (D), Susan Cunningham (I) and Bob Cambridge (R) are all first-time candidates in the most unconventional race in recent memory.

“It’s unprecedented and extremely short,” said Karantonis. “We have the COVID-19 [pandemic] and it is a special election [held] right after Fourth of July. Everything you can imagine that is non-typical for an election is typical for this one.”

The 61-Day Campaigns

The special election was triggered by County Board member Erik Gutshall’s resignation in April. Ten days later, Gutshall died after a battle with brain cancer. On May 7, Karantonis bested three other candidates to be chosen as the Democratic nominee in a closed caucus.

Karantonis, and economist and the former director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, faces opposition in the election from Cunningham, a business executive and independent who has been involved in several major planning efforts, and Cambridge, a Republican and former instructor in the CIA.

For each candidate, it’s been a struggle to adapt over the span of weeks to national and local changes — from the phased reopening to the Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd.

“It was right at the end of April [when Gutshall resigned], ” Cunningham said. “I mulled it over, talked it over, then filed before the end of the month and before the party caucuses. It was not particularly premeditated — it was an unusual time with a lot of grieving and a lot of need. The rest of us were shaken by Erik’s death and we had to get a lot of signatures in the middle of the pandemic.”

Without a party infrastructure to back her up, Cunningham said she has had to take a grassroots approach in a compressed election cycle when traditional door-to-door campaigning grassroots tactics weren’t viable. Cunningham considered throwing her hat into the ring for the Democratic primary but said she felt more comfortable running as an independent.

“I thought long and hard about whether to run as an independent because there’s only, like, one example of that working,” Cunningham said, referring to independent John Vihstadt’s victories over Democratic candidates until he was bested in 2018. “It really was a values-based decision. I’ve always through local government should be non-partisan. The issues are not the national party issues; it’s potholes and schools.” Read More

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Former Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt has endorsed a fellow independent in the July 7 County Board special election.

The race, to fill the seat of the late Erik Gutshall on the Board, features three candidates: Democratic nominee Takis Karantonis, independent Susan Cunningham, and Republican Bob Cambridge.

Vihstadt, who won a historic victory in 2014 before losing his reelection bid in 2018, said in a statement today that Cunningham is a civic leader who will “bring a renewed focus on valuing what’s essential in an open, transparent, and equitable way.” Cunningham said she welcomed the endorsement and is committed to nonpartisan governance.

More from a press release:

“I came to know and respect Susan’s community accomplishments during my County Board tenure. As demonstrated by her collaborative leadership on the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) and on the planning body for the renovated and expanded Dorothy Hamm (formerly Stratford) Middle School, she has a knack for bringing diverse minds together, cutting to the chase, and getting things done,” said Vihstadt.

Vihstadt continued, “We live in precarious times. Susan’s sober, well-informed and independent outlook on what local government can and can’t afford is exactly what the Board needs right now. She’ll speak truth to power and bring a renewed focus on valuing what’s essential in an open, transparent, and equitable way.”

“I am very proud to have earned John’s endorsement,” said Cunningham. “Like John, I’ll bring inclusive, non-partisan leadership, listen to all perspectives, and ask tough questions,” Cunningham added. “John proved that an Independent candidate can win in Arlington. Serving on the Board is not about advancing partisan agendas or political stepping-stones. It’s about doing what is right for all of Arlington — full stop.”

Cunningham’s campaign website — which adopts Vihstadt’s signature purple color — describes the Yale-educated mother of two as “a seasoned executive, entrepreneur, engineer, education reformer, and community leader” who “builds collaborative solutions that break through the status quo without breaking the bank.”

“From COVID-19 to school capacity and Amazon, the next few years will be among the most challenging in Arlington’s history,” the website says. “Susan brings the context and skills Arlington needs now, to act swiftly on top priorities for residents and businesses.”

Among the two other candidates in the race, Karantonis is an economist by training and the former director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization. His website says he is “committed to ensuring that our community builds on our legacy of safe and walkable neighborhoods; ethnic and cultural diversity; excellent schools, public places and facilities; fiscal responsibility and accountable governance; and an unwavering commitment to community involvement.”

Cambridge’s website acknowledges the long odds of a Republican being elected in deep blue Arlington, and adds a bit of self-deprecating humor.

“While success is unlikely – there have been no Republican members of the Arlington County Board since 1983 – it is an opportunity to share some ideas and that is to my mind well worth doing,” the website says. A banner at the top reads: “Committee to Elect Bob Cambridge: So far that’s just me, but I am working on convincing my wife.”

Cambridge, an Army veteran who now works as an attorney, says he wants “to see more effective and efficient use of the taxes that I pay each year” and “more ideas can advance that agenda.”

The deadline to register to vote, in time for the July 7 special election, is today (May 26). Early voting is currently underway and absentee ballots can be requested through June 16.

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Morning Notes

Resources to Assist Those in Need — Arlington County has created a list of food, financial and medical assistance that is available for neighbors in need during the coronavirus outbreak. [Arlington County]

Vihstadt Stands Up for Farmers Markets — “At Saturday’s County Board meeting, former board member John Vihstadt rapped the state government for lumping in farmers’ markets – of which Arlington has nearly a dozen operating throughout the week – with restaurants (which for the most part are now closed to dine-in service and in many cases are shuttered completely) rather than treating them as supermarkets (which remain open and running at full strength).” [InsideNova]

Giant Adjusting Store Hours — “Effective Friday, March 27, most Giant Food stores will adjust hours of operations to be open from 6:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m… The first hour of operations, 6:00-7:00 a.m. is reserved for senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals, including pregnant women and caregivers shopping for the immunocompromised, so that they may shop and practice safe social distancing.” [Press Release]

Va. Liquor Stores Limit Hours — “The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) will reduce operating hours at all of its stores statewide beginning Friday, March 27, due to the expanding nature of the COVID-19 outbreak… stores across the commonwealth will be open from noon to 7 p.m., seven days a week, starting Friday, March 27.” [Virginia ABC]

County to Help Hospital with Bond Sale — “Continuing a 42-year tradition of collaboration, the Arlington County government will assist Virginia Hospital Center in issuing bonds to support new construction. County Board members on March 21 authorized the government’s Industrial Development Authority, or IDA, to issue up to $300 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds to support the effort.” [InsideNova]

Local Catholic Schools Embrace Distance Learning — “The Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Catholic Schools announced the successful stand-up of distance learning in all 41 parish schools and high schools in the Diocese. Distance learning is now in place, offering interactive, personalized instruction to students through the remainder of the academic year.” [Press Release]

Local Leaders Urge Rent Leniency — “There are new calls for landlords to freeze [rent] payments to help mitigate the economic fallout of the pandemic… ‘We need them to show compassion on the front end, and we’ll work to make sure they’re made whole on the back end,’ said Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey.” [Washington Business Journal]

Tomb Sentinels Are Still Guarding — “There is a sacred duty not even a pandemic can stop: a rite of continuity still carried out in Arlington National Cemetery even as much of the country shuts down. The sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier recently marked more than 30,000 days of constant watch over the remains of unidentified U.S. service members — a streak persisting through the pandemic.” [WUSA 9]

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Many Arlington homeowners can now build backyard cottages, thanks to a vote from the County Board.

Board members unanimously voted to loosen zoning regulations on so-called detached “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs) during their Saturday meeting. The vote came after a contentious discussion with residents who said they feared the impacts of greater density and fewer trees in their neighborhoods.

“I am very pleased to support this motion for the benefits I think we’re going to see,” Board member Erik Gutshall said. “In my view the benefits far outweigh the potential impacts. To me it’s about housing. Period.”

Board members have long eyed small backyard homes as a way to help increase the county’s available affordable housing stock.

The newly amended zoning rules allow Arlington homeowners to build detached ADUs on their property without first seeking county permission to do so — as long as it’s a one-family property. Previously, homeowners could only build an ADU inside their house (such as an English basement) or convert an existing outside structure into one.

Now, homeowners can build an ADU on an interior lot as long as the structure is at least 5 feet away from the property lines. ADUs built on corner lots must sit 5 feet from the side yard line and 10 feet from the rear yard line.

Previously, the County Board debated whether to allow 1-foot setback distances, but members ultimately nixed the idea, citing privacy concerns between neighbors and the fact it would only increase the number of ADU-eligible properties by 2 percent.

The exact distance didn’t matter to Urban Forestry Commission member Phil Klingelhofer, who said Saturday he had “serious concerns” about allowing any detached ADUs because laying sewer lines and footings anywhere could hurt the county’s tree canopy coverage.

“I want to make sure that we’re not… losing the forest for the trees,” Board member Katie Cristol replied. “Nationally, the biggest driver of emission and therefore climate change is sprawl development.”

Previously, several members of the activist Arlington Tree Action Group cited concerns about ADU construction killing trees and adding impervious surfaces to the county, which is already at a higher risk of floods.

Among the opponents was former County Board member John Vihstadt, who said the measure was part of a bigger mismanagement of density and natural resources.

“We must do better with managing our growth,” he said.

County Housing Planner Joel Franklin said since Jan 1, 2018, the county has approved 10 requests to build ADUs, three of which were converting existing structures into detached backyard cottage-style units.

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Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol says she’s running for re-election, becoming the first candidate to jump into the race for two Board seats on the ballot this fall.

The Democrat, who is a fresh off a year rotating in as chair of the five-member Board, told ARLnow that she announced her decision to seek a second term in office to supporters today (Thursday).

Since first winning office in 2015, Cristol believes the county has “started to make progress on the issues I’m passionate about,” but she’s hoping for another four years on the Board because she sees more work left to do on everything from expanding affordable housing options to increasing the availability of childcare in the county.

Cristol says she’s well aware that the next four years will be challenging in Arlington, particularly as the Board copes with some unpleasant budgets and manages Amazon’s arrival in Crystal City and Pentagon City.

The latter topic has drawn more than its fair share of attention to the county, and Cristol in particular, over the last few months, but she plans to embrace the complexities of the company’s impact during her campaign.

“We’ve never been a community where we just let things happen to us, we plan for things,” Cristol said. “But the only way to make sure that happens is to believe in our potential to do that, and elect leaders who are problem solvers, not just problem spotters… There’s been a lot of temptation through all this to say ‘No’ or reject it or find enemies, as opposed to looking to maximize the benefits, which is hundreds of millions in tax revenues to help fund the priorities we care about.”

Cristol points out that, without Amazon bringing its new headquarters to the county, she’d face the similarly unpleasant prospect of running for re-election as the county grapples with a 20 percent office vacancy rate, which became a key issue during Democrat Matt de Ferranti’s successful campaign to oust independent John Vihstadt last year.

Even still, Cristol acknowledged that Amazon won’t be the answer to all of the county’s fiscal challenges as she asks for another four years on the Board. Officials have repeatedly warned that it could take years for the county to see tax revenues from Amazon’s new office space, requiring a mix of tax hikes and service cuts in the new fiscal year to fill a hefty budget gap.

Cristol concedes that “as would any elected official, I’d prefer to be cutting taxes and expanding services in a re-election year.” But she also believes that her chairmanship of the Board last year, when it managed to avoid any tax increases in favor of a handful of spending cuts, demonstrates that she can govern in a “sustainably progressive” manner despite the fiscal headwinds.

“We found a way to work through our budget challenges last year where we made difficult decisions about cuts, but didn’t cut anything to the bone or harm our core priorities,” Cristol said. “And I’m optimistic that’s what we’ll do again this year, even if it will be tougher.”

Though Cristol is the only candidate in the race so far — County Board Chair Christian Dorsey has yet to announce whether he’ll seek re-election — she’s well aware that she could face a more difficult race this year than when she last ran four years ago.

In that contest, Cristol and Dorsey easily triumphed over independents Mike McMenamin and Audrey Clement. But this time around, Cristol could well find herself squaring off against her former colleague Vihstadt, who recently thrust himself back onto the county’s political scene with his renewed criticism of costs of the Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center project.

For her part, Cristol says she doesn’t know whether Vihstadt plans to mount another independent bid. In an election year without any statewide races at the top of the ticket, she says his entry into the race would present an “interesting question” of political strategy, but she’s not spending too much time worrying about it quite yet.

“The message that I’ll run on and what I can bring to the table is going to be the same irrespective of what decision he makes,” Cristol said. “I think I have a fantastic record to really be proud of.”

It’s unclear whether Cristol could face Democratic primary challengers before she even reaches the general — Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) and Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) have all drawn primary opponents thus far in Arlington’s local races — but any primary would be quite different from the six-way race she won four years ago.

In 2015, Cristol ran as a young newcomer to county politics, beating out some more experienced candidates. This time around, she has a record to defend, but also experience to run on.

“Some of the points I made back then do hold now,” Cristol said. “As a fresher face on the scene, I knew I didn’t have all the answers, so I thought it was important to listen to both longstanding Arlingtonians and those that hadn’t been as included in the past… and if I’ve learned anything in four years, it’s that nobody knows all these answers. That listening will still be at the heart of my campaign.”

Cristol says she’ll make a formal announcement at the Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting next Wednesday (Feb. 6), with a campaign kickoff event later that month.

File photo

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Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos has officially kicked off her bid for re-election, looking to rebuild bridges among her fellow Democrats after repeatedly endorsing independent John Vihstadt and drawing a primary challenger from her left flank.

Stamos emphasized that she’s “been a Democrat since I was holding up signs for Hubert Humphrey on the south side of Chicago” in a speech announcing her run for re-election last night (Wednesday) at the county Democratic committee’s monthly meeting.

The county’s top prosecutor has ruffled plenty of feathers among party leaders in recent years, becoming one of just three elected Democrats in Arlington to back Vihstadt’s independent bids for County Board.

And with Parisa Tafti (a former public defender who’s served in leadership roles for the local Democratic party) hoping to win the party’s nomination for the post this June, Stamos began her campaign on a bit of a conciliatory note. After all, the committee threatened to boot County Board member Libby Garvey out of the group over her support for Vihstadt, leading her to briefly resign instead.

Accordingly, Stamos primarily cited her long history with the entire Vihstadt family in explaining her support for the independent, who won a pair of elections in 2014 to become the first non-Democrat on the Board since 1999. Vihstadt lost his bid for re-election last year to Democrat Matt de Ferranti, returning the Board to one-party control.

Stamos regaled the audience with memories of relying on the Vihstadts, her neighbors for years, to look after her kids as they were growing up. She says her family and the Vihstadts still celebrate holidays together, making her backing of his candidacy as personal as it was political.

“Back in 2014, when John asked, and again last year, if I would support him, I wasn’t going to say to him, ‘You know, I’ll support you privately but I can’t do it publicly,'” Stamos said, according to a video of the event posted on the Democratic blog Blue Virginia. “I didn’t want to do that. And, as President [John F.] Kennedy once said, and it’s an important thing to remember, ‘Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.’ And my support for John was one of those times.”

However, Tafti has so far chosen to base her challenge to Stamos on policy disputes, rather than any party infighting. She claims that Stamos, who was first elected in 2011, has been insufficiently committed to reforming the county’s criminal justice system, and even exacerbated some of the system’s racial disparities.

“Safety is justice and justice is safety,” Tafti said Wednesday night in formally announcing her own campaign. “In Arlington, it is long past time that we start leading on this issue.”

Tafti, who recently won the backing of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, has pledged not to seek the death penalty if she’s elected in Stamos’ stead, and to end the practice of requesting cash bail for all criminal defendants. Stamos has pledged to end cash bail for most defendants accused of misdemeanors, but both Tafti and other local public defenders believe that change doesn’t go far enough.

Tafti also took aim Wednesday at Stamos’ relationship with local legislators, arguing that they need “an honest partner who understands, even outside of campaign season, the need to support policies important to Democrats” in order to pass criminal justice reforms at the state level.

She specifically singled out Stamos’ comments to ARLnow back in June for criticism, after Stamos dismissed a letter by the state’s legislative delegation urging her to do away with cash bail entirely.

“When our delegation seeks my help to reform the bail system, I shall do so with an open mind, not dismiss the request as ‘silly’ and ‘misguided,'” Tafti said.

But Stamos also took some time to defend her record heading up the prosecutors’ office in her kickoff speech, claiming she’s “led our office on a set of values that any Democrat would support.”

“I’m proud to say that, as of last Friday night, the inmate population in the Arlington County jail is the lowest it’s been in the past five years, and that’s not by accident,” Stamos said. “It’s because of smart policing and smart prosecution, because of innovations that I’ve supported and championed.”

She also pointed to her decision to not seek jail time for people convicted of their first marijuana-related offenses as a move toward reform, and her embrace of diversion programs to keep people struggling with addiction or mental health issues out of jail.

“The core mission of our office will always remain the same: the principled prosecution of criminal defendants, the vigorous protection of victims’ rights and never losing track of the public’s and community’s safety,” Stamos said.

Local activist Nicole Merlene also formally announced her primary challenge to state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) at the meeting, while Treasurer Carla de la Pava proclaimed her own bid for a second full term in office.

Unlike Stamos, de la Pava did not address her support for Vihstadt in her speech. She has yet to draw a challenger this year, and has never run a contested race for the post — she was appointed to replace retiring treasurer Frank O’Leary, then won a special election and general election in consecutive years to retain her role.

School Board Chair Reid Goldstein also used the meeting as a chance to announce his bid for a second term, as he hopes to once more win the party’s endorsement for the nominally nonpartisan role.

Only one seat on the Board is up for grabs this year and Goldstein has yet to face any challengers in the race, though he has attracted some criticism for his handling of the controversial process of drawing new boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools last year.

Nevertheless, Goldstein used his speech as a chance to present the school system’s challenges as issues arising from the quality of county schools.

“These are tough issues, but we have to be in a situation where people aren’t eager to leave our schools,” Goldstein said.

The committee is set to select a Democratic School Board nominee in a caucus sometime in May or June. A June 11 primary will decide the other races on the ballot this year.

Photo via Facebook

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Outgoing Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt said goodbye, at least for now, to public office on Saturday.

A ceremony was held at Saturday’s County Board meeting to honor Vihstadt and his four years of service on the Board. Fellow Board members and members of the public spoke glowingly of Vihstadt’s work ethic, commitment to serving constituents and ability to find common ground amid disagreement.

Vihstadt, an independent, was defeated by Democrat Matt de Ferranti in the November general election. De Ferranti will take office in January.

After more than an hour of comments from Arlington officials and the public, Vihstadt spoke at the meeting. A transcript of his prepared remarks is below, after the jump.

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John Vihstadt’s pair of decisive County Board victories four years ago were some of the lowest moments for Arlington Democrats since the county turned decisively blue decades ago — for many, that makes Matt de Ferranti‘s win all the sweeter.

De Ferranti’s seven-point win over the independent incumbent stands in stark contrast to Vihstadt’s double-digit dominations of Alan Howze in both a special election and a general election back in 2014. Those wins were widely seen as a rebuke to the Board’s Democratic majority, particularly with projects like the Columbia Pike streetcar and the Long Bridge Park aquatics center the targets of frequent community complaints.

Accordingly, county Democrats now see such a stark turnaround just a few years later as proof that they learned the lessons of 2014, and have responded to that dissatisfaction from voters.

“This is one of the biggest wins for Democrats in Arlington that I can remember,” Paul Ferguson, Arlington’s clerk of circuit court and a Democratic officeholder in the county dating back to 1996, told ARLnow.

Democrats surely benefitted from an energized electorate as well, owing to a midterm election that sent plenty of voters to the polls looking to send a message to President Donald Trump — nearly 101,000 people cast ballots in the race, about 37,300 more than in Vihstadt’s general election win back in 2014. De Ferranti himself acknowledged that “the broader national mood didn’t hurt” in powering his win.

But county Democrats also argued that de Ferranti’s victory, by a commanding margin, proved that the local party and its officeholders spent the last few years making meaningful changes to their way of doing business.

“That was an astounding recovery from 2014,” said School Board member Barbara Kanninen, who also won a convincing re-election over independent Audrey Clement Tuesday. “John is a very well-liked, very well-respected person. For Matt to put together a campaign to overcome all of those obstacles, the 2014 deficit he was starting with, that is absolutely a demonstration of the blue wave.”

Vihstadt did indeed have plenty of strengths, enough that many political observers around the county believed he could survive such a Democratic wave. He had the backing of a variety of current and former Democratic elected officials, a hefty campaign war chest and plenty of name recognition after years of civic activism in the county.

But all those factors were not enough for him to hold on to his seat, ensuring that Democrats will have unified control of the Board once more — Vihstadt himself declined an interview Tuesday night, and did not respond to subsequent requests for comment.

“People genuinely saw that we heard the message of 2014,” de Ferranti said. “Time doesn’t stand still. We’re evolving as a community and responsiveness is important. Fiscal responsibility is important, but also we have to make investments in our future.”

County Board member Erik Gutshall (D) agreed with that line of thinking, arguing that voters themselves have evolved over the last four years as well.

Vihstadt triumphed in 2014 by winning over many disaffected Democrats, to say nothing of independents and Republicans, largely by insisting on a more fiscally conservative approach to governing and emphasizing the close scrutiny of county projects. De Ferranti criticized that style as one that didn’t lay out a positive vision for the county, and Gutshall expects that voters were sympathetic to that message.

“Arlington has had the chance to reflect about where we are and make a choice about what direction we want to go,” Gutshall said. “Do we want to go toward a bold vision or do we want to stay focused on trying to maintain the status quo? With the benefit of four years, they had a chance to reflect on that and move forward.”

However, Gutshall would stress that such a comment is not “an indictment of John’s service.” While county Democrats have long yearned to unseat Vihstadt, the first non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999, none were willing to spike the football too vigorously over his defeat.

“Today, a decent person lost, and a decent person also won — the fact that both statements can still be true in Arlington should give us all hope for the future of our democracy,” county Democratic Committee Chair Jill Caiazzo wrote in a statement.

Board Chair Katie Cristol (D) was even willing to credit Vihstadt for helping the Board learn from his “clear-eyed approach on fiscal issues, in particular.”

“We’ve definitely seen a shift on the Board in how to be more inclusive in our decision-making… and that’s a real legacy for him,” Cristol said.

But Cristol also noted that de Ferranti’s win also completes the near-total transformation of the Board from just five years ago. Only Libby Garvey, a Vihstadt backer and former School Board member, remains from the Board that Vihstadt joined when he won in 2014.

Cristol and Vice Chair Christian Dorsey both joined the Board in 2015, and both were newcomers to the political scene at the time of their victories. When combined with the 45-year-old de Ferranti — a first-time candidate himself, who Ferguson dubbed “the best young candidate I’ve seen in my career” — Gutshall fully expects that the newly reconstituted Board will think, and act, a bit differently.

“It’s a completely different Board, and a Board that’s going to be focused on: ‘How do we meet our challenges and how do we take bold action?'” Gutshall said. “People want to be bold. They want to see progressive values put into action.”

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Morning Notes

First Incumbent Voted Out in 21st Century — Democrats had few negative things to say about County Board member John Vihstadt during the past few months of campaigning, but voters nonetheless decided to vote him out of office last night, a relatively rare event in Arlington. Per the Sun Gazette: “The last County Board incumbent to be defeated for re-election was Mike Lane, a Republican who in the spring of 1999 won a special election for the seat of Al Eisenberg (who took a post in the Clinton administration) but later that year was defeated by Democrat Charles Monroe.” [InsideNova]

O’Leary Nailed It — Former Arlington County Treasurer (and amatuer election prognosticator) Frank O’Leary was spot on on his analysis of how yesterday’s local voting would shake out. O’Leary “opined that if the Arlington electorate was so large that 100,000 votes were cast for County Board, Democrat Matt de Ferranti would win with about 53 percent of the vote. Presto: Arlington voters indeed cast just over 100,000 votes in that race, and de Ferranti ended up with 53 percent, according to unofficial results.” [InsideNova]

Other Reasons Why Crystal City is Good for Amazon — Should Amazon announce Crystal City as the destination for a major new office campus — despite the disappearance of an event tent that seemed like it might be intended for such an announcement — there are a number of reasons why the neighborhood likely won over Amazon execs. One reason not as widely discussed: Crystal City is already a high-density, mixed-use neighborhood with a relatively small residential population and a long-term plan for more density. In other words, it’s a big green light for Amazon to build out the HQ2 of its dreams, without having to worry much about the NIMBYism that might delay plans elsewhere. [Brookings]

Progress on the Pike for IdidoIdido’s Coffee Social House is getting closer to its opening along the Columbia Pike corridor. This week the cafe filed a Virginia ABC permit application to serve beer and wine.

Questions About Local Nonprofit — A new report is questioning why Bethesda-based nonprofit Alley Cat Allies felt the need to buy two residential properties in Arlington. [Chronicle of Philanthropy]

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(Updated at 11:15 p.m.) Democrat Matt de Ferranti has knocked off independent incumbent John Vihstadt in the race for County Board, restoring the Board to unified Democratic control for the first time since 2014.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, de Ferranti captured a 53 percent to 46 percent victory over Vihstadt, a difference of about 7,000 votes.

The difficulty of the electoral math for Vihstadt, amid heavy Democratic turnout, was apparent since the first precincts reported. De Ferranti was leading in three of the first four. In 2014, Vihstadt won each of the four districts in his general election race against Alan Howze.

Arlington Democrats had eyed Vihstadt’s seat on the Board ever since his surprise victories four years ago, when he bested Alan Howze in both a special election and general election, becoming the first non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999.

“This a reflection of where we’ve come as a party… we heard the message of 2014,” de Ferranti told ARLnow amidst a jubilant crowd of Democrats at William Jeffrey’s Tavern on Columbia Pike Tuesday night. “And I think we have to be humble enough to acknowledge that the national mood didn’t hurt.”

De Ferranti, a lawyer and advocate for Native American education, argued that he had an optimistic and forward-looking vision for the county’s future that stood in stark contrast to Vihstadt’s record. He contended that the incumbent hadn’t done enough to address the county’s persistently high office vacancy rate, and that Vihstadt was overly focused on saying ‘no’ to ambitious projects rather than pursuing an agenda with vision.

Vihstadt, meanwhile, pledged to continue to provide some balance to the Board’s Democratic majority and to work to manage the county’s growth responsibly. Vihstadt did not, however, have a singular project to rail against this year, as he did the Columbia Pike Street Car four years ago. The independent’s victory was widely seen as a rebuke to that project specifically and the Board’s Democratic majority more generally.

Still, the two contenders largely agreed on most pressing issues facing the county. However, de Ferranti separated himself a bit by adopting a friendlier stance toward Amazon’s potential arrival in Arlington, and by setting goals for the county like ending child hunger by 2022 and shifting to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2035.

De Ferranti won despite being out-raised by Vihstadt in the race for campaign cash, but he benefitted from support from three of his fellow Democrats on the Board — Libby Garvey endorsed Vihstadt once again — and a variety of statewide politicians.

This was de Ferranti’s first run for elected office. He won a two-way primary against fellow newcomer Chanda Choun back in June.

School Board member Barbara Kanninen also won a second term, ensuring that Democratically endorsed candidates will maintain unified control of the Board once more.

Kanninen, an economist, bested independent Audrey Clement by a margin of 68 percent to about 30 percent. Clement and Kanninen last squared off in 2014, when Kanninen first joined the Board.

The race is nominally nonpartisan, but county Democrats have now twice backed Kanninen for office, and she spent the past year serving as Board chair, which rotates among the five members.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back to work,” Kanninen told ARLnow. “I think it shows that people know we’re working hard as a Board and we care about our kids.”

Kanninen ran on traditional issues impacting the school system, like her support for mental health resources for students and improving teacher retention through consistent pay increases, but Clement worked to focus the race on the Board’s decision to change the name of Washington-Lee High School. Opponents of the name change charged that Kanninen spearheaded the effort, and threw their support behind Clement.

Yet the independent fell short once more, in what was her eighth unsuccessful bid for local office in Arlington.

Kanninen was unopposed in the race for the Democratic nomination this year.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District) also cruised to re-election over Republican Thomas Oh, earning his third term in Congress.

Beyer, Virginia’s former lieutenant governor and the owner of several local car dealerships, dominated with nearly 79 percent of the vote to Oh’s 20 percent. The 8th District, which includes Arlington and parts of Alexandria, is one of the most Democratic in the country, last electing a Republican in 1988.

Oh charged that Beyer has been unresponsive to his constituents since taking over for longtime Rep. Jim Moran, and ran on a moderate platform that was decidedly different from other Republicans around the state. But Beyer countered that he’d been an effective representative for the district, noting his focus on environmental issues in particular during his time in Congress.

All four bond referenda easily earned approval from Arlington voters, with none earning less than 73 percent of the vote. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) also cruised to a 15-point victory over Republican Corey Stewart, with his race called as soon as polls closed.

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Candidate Essay: John Vihstadt

Last week, we asked the two candidates for Arlington County Board to write a sub-750 word essay on why the county’s residents should vote for them on Nov. 6.

Here is the unedited response from independent John Vihstadt:

In 2014, you took a chance on me. Against the odds, I leveraged over three decades of community leadership – in our public schools, our neighborhoods, and our advisory commissions – to win a seat on the County Board as an Independent. This foundation enabled me to be an effective County Board member from Day One.

Arlingtonians want their local elected officials to concentrate on the nuts and bolts of local government. They expect their local government to deliver essential community services, programs and facilities, effectively, efficiently, on time and on budget.

I am keeping my commitments to you that I pledged four years ago.

I can’t take full credit, but we are moving away from extravagant and unsustainable capital projects. The streetcar was cancelled, there are no more $1.6 million dog parks or million-dollar bus stops. The former ArtiSphere is now on the tax rolls, and the Olympic-sized aquatics center was downsized.

We’re giving renewed focus to core services, like new seats for new students, shoring up Metro and Columbia Pike transit, augmenting our parks, fields and green space, improving public safety pay, speeding our street paving and holding up our social safety net.

I teamed up with Delegate Patrick Hope to obtain Arlington’s authority to hire an Independent County Auditor. We now have a Waste, Fraud & Abuse Hotline, and protection for employee whistleblowers. Yet while we’ve made progress, more must be done.

Going forward, I’m focusing on three key areas:

  • Growing our economy, while managing Arlington’s growth in a fiscally responsible, environmentally sustainable way. As we diversify our economy across all sectors, we must also ensure a reasonable tax and regulatory climate and user-friendly permitting and approvals for businesses big and small and individuals alike.  It’s time we get ahead of the curve on new public facilities rather than always playing catch-up.  At my urging, the Board has directed the Manager to craft models for cost-benefit studies for new development, and we need authority to direct some developer contributions to address impacts on schools, green space and more.
  • Ensuring greater openness, transparency and inclusion in how we work. With my leadership, we’ve expanded the wording of County bond explanations to give voters more details on big-ticket items. It’s essential we strengthen our Open Data policy by bringing real-time online transparency to the data that drives our decisions. While we’ve made progress, I’m committed to ensuring that our County advisory commissions reflect our diversity, and that we continue to be a welcoming community regardless of who you are. And while there will always be emergencies, a “no-surprises” community engagement process for all initiatives is critical.
  • Instilling a stronger sense of fiscal discipline in County operations. Current County expenditures outpace revenues by 1.5%, so we need new thinking. My repeated effort to ensure that most of our annual budget surplus not be spent, but saved and carried over to the next Fiscal Year, is finally gaining traction with colleagues. At my leadership, the Manager is appointing a reform group to address the cost, timing and coordination issues that often plague our infrastructure projects, and, as Audit Committee co-chair, I’m working with APS to control schools construction costs. This spring, I led the 3-2 Board majority in holding the line on the property tax rate.

In closing, it’s not big news when members of one party endorse their own for office. That’s the nature of tribal politics. What’s remarkable is that I have the endorsement of ten former School Board members, including six Democrats who don’t have to worry about their next election.  And, I’m supported by three incumbent Democratic officeholders who do: County Treasurer Carla de la Pava, Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, and County Board colleague Libby Garvey.

In explaining her support, former School Board Chair Sally Baird said,

I so appreciate the balance and perspective John represents.  His presence ensures a broader dialogue.  At its core, for me, John at the table affirms the most fundamental of Democratic values: inclusiveness.

I hope you agree with Sally that I have brought inclusiveness to the Board, and our community is healthier for it.

Whether it’s pedestrian safety, community infrastructure, school funding or parks, in your neighborhood or elsewhere, I’m working hard for you every day.

As the only Independent, I’ve brought needed balance to the County Board. I need your help to keep it there. Let’s not go back to the echo chamber of unanimous one-party government. I ask for your vote. Thank you.

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