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De Ferranti Pulls in More Cash Than Vihstadt, But Incumbent Maintains Healthy War Chest

Democrat Matt de Ferranti managed to raise more cash over the last two months than independent incumbent John Vihstadt, who he’s challenging for the lone County Board seat on the ballot this fall.

But Vihstadt still has a substantially larger campaign war chest to draw upon, as the race rounds into the home stretch ahead of Nov. 6.

From July 1 through Aug. 31, de Ferranti raised just over $39,900, according to campaign finance documents released today (Wednesday). Vihstadt pulled in about $26,900 over the same time period.

The independent’s largest donation was a $5,000 check from a political action committee representing Arlington’s firefighters’ union, which endorsed Vihstadt in late July. De Ferranti’s biggest contribution was a donation of the same amount from Mark Johnson, a co-founder of the D.C. investment firm Astra Capital Management.

Yet the incumbent, the lone non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999, has spent considerably less than de Ferranti, leaving him with a roughly $70,000 advantage in cash on hand. As of Aug. 31, Vihstadt reported having nearly $123,800 in the bank, to the Democrat’s roughly $53,400, and shelled out just under $3,000 compared to de Ferranti’s $19,500 in expenses.

De Ferranti faces a formidable opponent in Vihstadt, who managed to win a pair of sweeping victories over Alan Howze in 2014, but he’s benefitted from the fundraising support of prominent state Democrats like former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring. He’s also set to welcome Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax for a fundraiser later this month.

Even still, Vihstadt looks on pace to out-raise de Ferranti, just as he did Howze — de Ferranti has raised roughly $106,100 since launching his campaign in January, compared to Vihstadt’s nearly $139,000 over the same time period.

However, de Ferranti does stand to benefit from the support of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, which is looking to return the Board to unified Democratic control. The party has only reported contributions through June 30, when it recorded having just over $101,800 in the bank.

Candidates will next deliver more details on their finances on Oct. 15.

Flickr pool photo via wolfkann

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Arlington Democrats Confident of ‘Blue Wave’ in November

Arlington Democrats are promising a “blue wave” in a new round of yard signs distributed over the last few weeks.

The signs promote the full slate of Democratic candidates on the ticket in the county this fall — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District), County Board nominee Matt de Ferranti and School Board member Barbara Kanninen — alongside images of a blue tidal wave Democrats are hoping sweep them back into power nationally.

County Democratic Committee Chair Jill Caiazzo told ARLnow that the party’s joint campaign committee designed the new signs, and Democrats have been distributing them for roughly a month now. She expects that they’ve given out a “few hundred” so far, and fully plans to distribute more as Nov. 6 nears.

While signs boosting the whole ticket might be a fixture of yards and medians every election season, Caiazzo hopes this specific design taps into the “broader movement” organizing around frustration with President Trump nationwide.

“We hope they convey a need for sweeping change in our politics, and that’s coming in November,” Caiazzo said.

Despite pushback and talk of a “red wave” by President Trump, a succession of polls has supported the notion that Democrats have a distinct enthusiasm advantage headed into the midterms, which figures to help out local candidates down the ballot as well. If a blue wave is on the way for Democrats looking to take back Congress, even local candidates like de Ferranti and Kanninen stand to benefit.

Kaine’s contest with Corey Stewart, the Republican chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, isn’t projected to be a close race, yet it may drive Democrats to the polls all the same. Stewart’s embrace of Confederate monuments and past associations with white supremacist figures has made him especially controversial, even if polls regularly show him facing a double-digit deficit. Caiazzo expects Kaine to be “highly present” in Arlington leading up to the election, as driving up margins in the county is “important to their statewide strategy.”

Kanninen looks to be well positioned against independent Audrey Clement, a perennial candidate for county offices, but the “wave” Caiazzo hopes for might be especially meaningful for de Ferranti. He’s facing off against independent John Vihstadt, a well-funded incumbent who managed to win a pair of elections to the Board back in 2014 by wide margins and has earned endorsements from a variety of Democratic officeholders.

“We’ll take help from all corners and we’re certainly hopeful that the situation from national candidates will help us overall in Arlington,” Caiazzo said. “But we know it’s also important to campaign on local issues and we embrace that challenge.”

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County Board Contenders Strike Divergent Tones on Confronting Arlington’s Gloomy Economic Future

When it comes to how to best grapple with Arlington’s gloomy economic future, the two contenders for County Board are pitching two decidedly different strategies: one with a look inward, another with a look outward.

Independent incumbent John Vihstadt spent a Wednesday night candidate forum hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce outlining ways he hopes to change county policies to wring more money from developers and manage growth, and strategies for reforming the county’s permitting processes for new businesses.

Democratic nominee Matt de Ferranti, however, dedicated most of his time to discussing his commitment to luring in businesses to reduce the county’s persistently high office vacancy rates, while pursuing tax increases in the meantime.

The business-focused debate, moderated by ARLnow, was perhaps best defined by an exchange where Vihstadt emphasized “the cold truth that we can not afford to do everything we might like to do, especially all at once.” The independent has been a sharp critic of some county infrastructure projects since winning a pair of elections to the Board back in 2014, particularly the Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center.

De Ferranti says he fully recognizes that Vihstadt’s assessment of the economic challenges ahead are certainly accurate, but he had a “cold truth” of his own to offer.

“The cold truth is that if we don’t grow, and don’t invest in the vision of a greater version of the American dream applied to Arlington, we won’t be able to address our challenges,” de Ferranti said. “We do face challenges, but the sky is not falling. We have resources, and we can invest in them.”

The Democrat reiterated his belief that “we can’t cut our way to prosperity,” pledging to work with the relentlessness of ex-Gov. Terry McAuliffe to attract businesses to Arlington and slash the county’s office vacancy rate to 15 percent over the next four years — it’s hovered around 20 percent for the last several years.

But de Ferranti noted that tax increases would have likely have to be part of the equation as well. He worked to make it clear that he’s “not a tax-and-spend liberal,” but also slammed Vihstadt for his decision to vote against soliciting community input on a tax rate hike this year.

“I am not saying that I necessarily would’ve voted for a half-cent tax increase,” de Ferranti said. “But we did not have that debate that we need to have. And I’m concerned that our community might be at risk over the coming years of having some shock at the struggles we’re going to face because we’re opening four schools this coming year… It’s about how soon to be honest with the community about difficult decisions that we face.”

Yet Vihstadt pointed out that the county just raised taxes last year, including a property tax rate hike that was “the largest in years,” and he felt that the county was better served by taking a “pause” this year. After all, he noted that County Manager Mark Schwartz fully expects to propose tax hikes next year, and perhaps the year after as well.

“We trimmed in some places, we hiked fees in others; it wasn’t easy,” Vihstadt said. “But we honored our commitments to schools, Metro and public safety personnel.”

Vihstadt took no firm stance on the possibility of tax increases going forward, but did stress that rate hikes could provide further challenges to seniors looking to remain in the county, a demographic he felt is often overlooked in the debate over affordable housing.

But he also pointed out that he believes there’s a better way to secure more cash for government services: extracting more concessions from developers.

The county can currently secure transportation improvements or affordable housing commitments from developers — but those changes only come on the site of the properties being developed. Vihstadt would rather see the county require developers kick in money for countywide services, even if the county’s own legal team believes such a move would ultimately be counterproductive.

“A new development, depending on what it is, means material impact on our already bursting schools, our limited green space, public safety resources and more,” Vihstadt said. “Our lawyers and planners have issues with modifying the way we do things. Change is tough… but I believe we need to start this community conversation soon.”

De Ferranti agreed that such a conversation might indeed be a worthy one to have. But he believes “those [changes] alone will not be sufficient to get us growing.”

“We have to have some tough discussions about where we’re going to invest to move our economy forward,” de Ferranti said.

The Board contenders will square off in several additional forums between now and the Nov. 6 election, including ones hosted by the Yorktown Civic Association on Oct. 1, the Committee of 100 on Oct. 10 and the League of Women Voters on Oct. 25.

Photo via @ArlChamberVa

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County Board Contenders Call for Boost in Arts Grants, Differ on Private Sector’s Role

Both contenders for the lone County Board seat on the ballot this fall say they want to see more money go toward grants for local artists, though they differ a bit on the exact logistics.

In a forum focused on the county’s arts scene, hosted by Embracing Arlington Arts and Arlington Independent Media earlier this month, both independent incumbent John Vihstadt and Democratic nominee Matt de Ferranti emphasized that the arts have such a vital role to play in the county’s cultural and economic health that the county needs to subsidize local programs.

Furthermore, both candidates want to see the county restore the $30,000 the Board slashed from the new year’s budget in funding for “Challenge Grants,” which provide some matching funds for artists who attract private donations. Vihstadt and de Ferranti both advocated for even increasing the amount offered through the program in future budget cycles, even with the county facing an uncertain financial future due to Metro funding obligations and a persistently high office vacancy rate.

Though the forum was light on stark disagreements between the two, Vihstadt painted the private sector as having an especially large role to play in supporting the arts. Though he remains confident the county will be able to eventually increase grant funding, he cautioned that Arlington’s “economic headwinds” will inevitably limit what the county can do.

“The arts are going to have to step up to the plate a bit, maybe to a greater degree than the art community has, in terms of really leveraging those private sector resources,” Vihstadt said. “The government can be a catalyst, it can help with climate change of a sort, but the government can’t do it all.”

He pointed out that the Board already took one step in the direction of encouraging artists to embrace the private sector when it restored $70,000 in funding for AIM originally set to be cut from the fiscal 2019 budget, which came with the condition that the organization pursue matching funding from donors.

“That was controversial, but I felt it was the right thing to do to encourage and really make sure that AIM would further reach out into that community and bring in those private sector dollars,” Vihstadt said.

De Ferranti says he was certainly glad to see those AIM cuts reversed, calling them “short sighted,” but he was more willing to see a role for direct county spending, connecting the success of Arlington’s arts scene to its economic prosperity.

“If we view this as a zero-sum game, then Arlington will lose in the long term,” de Ferranti said. “We have to see it as how we can grow together and have the vision to find the right investments to move us forward so the budget isn’t so tight… We have to think about, how do we create an environment where millenials don’t want to go to the Wharf and the Anthem, but want to stay in Crystal City, or at least consider it.”

Beyond direct subsidies, de Ferranti also expects the county can do more to help artists afford to live in Arlington. For instance, he pointed to the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust in Richmond as a model for the sort of program the county could experiment with to make home ownership more affordable — the nonprofit acquires single-family homes to sell to qualified buyers at affordable prices, but maintains ownership of the land itself. That helps the nonprofit reap the benefit of any increase in market value when owners decide to sell, which it uses to keep prices affordable going forward.

De Ferranti foresees the county creating a similar system matching artists, or even groups of artists in co-op communities, with affordable homes.

“Artists desperately want to live here… but in Arlington, being middle class is not easy,” de Ferranti said. “We need to make sure we’re caring for folks who need the chance to get up that economic ladder.”

Yet Vihstadt and de Ferranti both expressed confidence that space in the Four Mile Run valley in Nauck will someday be home to more affordable studio space for artists of all stripes. Though the creation of an “arts district” in the area has at times stirred controversy throughout a lengthy planning process for the valley, both candidates say they feel such a solution is the right fit for its future.

“We will have an arts district in harmony with the other uses around that park area, and we’ll have that synergy,” Vihstadt said.

Photo via YouTube

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Morning Notes

‘Life-Threatening’ Flooding Possible Throughout D.C. Region — The flash flood watch for Arlington continues through early Wednesday morning, with a “water hose in the sky” expected to blast the region with rain over the next two days. [Twitter, Washington Post]

Defense Spending Juices Hiring in Northern Virginia — From Arlington to D.C.’s more far-flung suburbs, the Trump administration has meant big business for contractors in Northern Virginia. Federal employment numbers may be shrinking, but the area added 12,800 jobs over the past year, including 5,700 federal contractors. [Washington Post]

NewsChannel 8 Gets a New Name — Arlington-based WJLA-TV is rebranding its sister station as “WJLA 24/7 News” starting today (Tuesday). The stations’ parent company, Sinclair Broadcasting, has attracted some intense scrutiny in recent months for its conservative bent, and its effort to buy up scores more local television stations. [Washington Business Journal]

John Vihstadt Earns Endorsement of County Firefighters’ Union — The County Board’s lone independent picked up his second endorsement from the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association. The union cited his work to fight for a raise in first responder pay rates in its decision to back him over Democrat Matt de Ferranti. [InsideNova]

Arlington Soccer Teams Head to Nationals — The county is sending both a boys and girls team to the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas today. [Twitter]

Nearby: Potomac Yard Death Investigation — Alexandria police are looking into a death on E. Reed Avenue, just across the city’s border with Arlington. The victim was an 82-year-old man, and police believe the death was suspicious. [WJLA]

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Vihstadt Backs Kaine Over Stewart for Senate, Says the Republican Nominee ‘Sows Fear’

Ahead of his own tough re-election bid, independent County Board member John Vihstadt says he plans to support Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) this fall, spurning Republican nominee Corey Stewart.

Vihstadt, the first non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999, has long defied easy political characterizations. He won office in 2014 with the backing of both the county’s GOP and Green Party, earned the endorsement of several elected Democrats and has donated to Republicans and Democrats alike over the years.

Now, he’s opting to endorse one Democrat even as another, Matt de Ferranti, challenges him for re-election this fall.

Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and the former head of President Donald Trump’s Virginia campaign, has frequently managed to stoke controversy throughout his lengthy political career. He earned national attention for pushing policies targeting undocumented immigrants around Prince William, embraced the Confederate flag during his unsuccessful run for governor last year and courted the support of white nationalists, though he has frequently disavowed any charges of racism leveled against him.

Since earning his party’s Senate nomination in June, Stewart has even attracted condemnations from some fellow Republicans. Accordingly, when he was informed of Vihstadt’s decision by ARLnow, Kaine was not overly surprised to hear the news.

“I have an opponent who, he’ll pick as many fights with Republicans as he’ll pick with Democrats,” Kaine said during a campaign stop in Ballston. “There may be a lot of Republicans who feel like he’s pushing them away, and I’m going to be proud to have anyone’s support.”

Stewart, however, says he’s never even heard of Vihstadt, and quickly dismissed his criticisms.

“A lot of the establishment crowd have more in common with Tim Kaine than they do with me,” Stewart said. “They don’t have anything in common with me, because they don’t want much to change in Washington. It’s all very chummy… I’d rather lose all those establishment types and pick up the working class voters. That’s a good trade, to me.”

Yet Jill Caiazzo, the chair of the county’s Democratic Committee, pointed out Vihstadt declined to back Kaine in 2016 when he was on the ticket as Hillary Clinton’s running mate — Vihstadt put out a statement after the election saying that “all four party nominees on the Virginia ballot for president fell short of what our nation deserved — and needed in 2016.” She sees Vihstadt’s decision as “further evidence that voters who previously considered third party candidates are voting Democratic in the Trump era.”

“These voters will send a strong message in 2018 that the extreme Trump-GOP agenda is bad for Virginia and bad for Arlington,” Caiazzo wrote in an email. “We expect that a majority of Arlington voters will vote for Democrats up and down the ballot this November, including Democrat Matt de Ferranti for County Board.”

Political scientists have indeed speculated in recent weeks that Stewart could hurt the party’s other nominees down the ballot, should Republican voters stay home. Several Republican members of Congress have already declined to campaign with Stewart, and while Vihstadt might not be wholly dependent on GOP voters, he too could fall victim to a wave election for Democrats made all the larger by Stewart’s shortcomings.

Stewart doesn’t think much of that idea — “It’s bull,” he says.

“I’m going to be a lot more competitive and a lot stronger this fall than people think,” Stewart said. “Tim Kaine is the sort of old, elite Democrat that people are tired of. There’s a change going on in Washington, and it’s being led by President Trump.”

For his part, de Ferranti doesn’t believe Vihstadt’s public support for Kaine will make a difference by the time November arrives. He sees backing Kaine over Stewart as a “low bar” for anyone to clear, given his dim view of Stewart’s politics.

“Everybody should vote for Tim Kaine, who is a phenomenal leader, and against someone who is clearly racist,” de Ferranti said.

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Podcast: Democratic County Board Nominee Matt de Ferranti

Fresh off a commanding primary win, Democrat Matt de Ferranti has the next four months to make his case to Arlington voters about why they should oust incumbent County Board member John Vihstadt in his favor.

De Ferranti, a lawyer and local political activist, has the benefit of running as a Democrat in deep blue Arlington, particularly in a midterm cycle that’s shaping up to be quite favorable to Democrats at the top of the ticket. But Vihstadt, the Board’s lone independent, won his seat in another midterm year, back in 2014, and has incumbency to lean on as he campaigns for another term.

De Ferranti spoke with ARLnow about his vision for the county’s economy, how he sees the Amazon HQ2 debate, how he thinks he can beat Vihstadt, and much more.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Vihstadt Amasses Robust Campaign War Chest to Fend Off de Ferranti

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) County Board member John Vihstadt is assembling a sizable campaign war chest to support his re-election bid, with roughly three times as much cash on hand as Democratic challenger Matt de Ferranti.

Vihstadt, the Board’s lone independent, reported having just over $99,870 in the bank through June 30 on campaign finance documents released yesterday (Monday). He reported raising about $21,700 in the month of June alone, and has now pulled in a total of nearly $112,000 in contributions since last January.

Meanwhile, de Ferranti reported about $33,000 in the bank, now that he’s a few weeks removed from besting Chanda Choun in the Democratic primary. He raised a little over $12,100 last month, bringing his total for the campaign to about $66,200 in all.

County Democrats are eyeing the race intently as a chance to return the Board to unified Democratic control, following Vihstadt’s twin victories over Alan Howze in 2014.

But it would seem they have yet to put their wallets behind de Ferranti in a big way — de Ferranti was his own leading donor in the month of June, chipping in $2,000 to his campaign. De Ferranti and his mother, Margot, have also loaned the campaign $4,000 each. Notably, de Ferranti is planning a fundraiser with County Board Chair Katie Cristol and other Democrats later this month.

Vihstadt, however, has yet to contribute much to his own re-election effort.

His donations are largely split between large-dollar and small-dollar amounts, according to data collected by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project. His leading donor for the month of June was Jackie Kramer, who chipped in $1,000 to the campaign.

Vihstadt, who’s been endorsed by a handful of Democratic officials around the county, is just off the fundraising pace he set in 2014, as he ran in a special election followed immediately by a general election. From July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2014, he pulled in about $135,000, compared to roughly $111,000 over the same time period covering 2017 to 2018.

He reported raising about $255,000 in all over the course of those campaigns. Howze managed nearly $222,000 in contributions over the same time period, and lost handily in both elections.

Candidates won’t deliver their next fundraising reports until Sept. 17.

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Vihstadt Argues for Another Delay of Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center

County Board member John Vihstadt is renewing his push to delay the construction of the Long Bridge Park aquatics center.

Vihstadt is waging a lonely battle against the oft-postponed project as the county’s budget picture grows increasingly grim. He says the $60 million the county’s set to spend on the new pool would be better spent on building new schools or buying additional park land, particularly considering that Arlington is feeling a financial squeeze at the moment.

Between sending more money to Metro and declining commercial tax revenues, the County Board is facing some challenging headwinds as it nears a final decision this weekend on a new, 10-year plan for construction spending. Vihstadt, the Board’s lone independent who is running for re-election this fall, thinks the 72,000-square-foot pool complex can wait a bit longer.

The project’s skyrocketing costs have convinced the Board to repeatedly adjust its plans it over the years, and Vihstadt made an effort to drive down its cost a key plank of his 2014 bid for office. But he still feels that even the facility’s reduced cost is too much for Arlington to take on right now.

“Times change, circumstances change, and I just don’t think it’s right to go forward on that project,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “Schools have a higher priority. Parks have a higher priority.”

Yet, just as when he cast the lone vote against the project’s construction last December, Vihstadt appears to be in the minority on that position. His four colleagues on the Board all told ARLnow that they wouldn’t support any effort to postpone the Long Bridge project, even with the county’s money troubles in mind.

“Raising these issues when he first ran for election was an important contribution, because it shifted that narrative to value engineering,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “That success is something John ought to feel he positively contributed to. Now, it’s the responsibility of the rest of us to follow through.”

The pro-pool Board members all point out that the project has been in the works for decades, with the community formally signing off on money for the aquatics center as part of a bond referendum back in 2004, and would fill a void for such a facility in the Crystal City area.

But they also stress that the process of unwinding the work the county’s already done would be so costly as to make the effort pointless. County Manager Mark Schwartz believes that cancelling the county’s existing contract to build the facility would prompt extensive litigation, with financial consequences to follow.

“We cannot simply break the contract,” Board member Libby Garvey wrote in an email. “Likely there would be real financial penalties for us if we did, to say nothing of the damage to our reputation among builders. Companies bidding on our projects in the future would likely add extra cost because we could not be trusted to fulfill our contracts.”

The aquatic center’s proponents also see any move to reverse the Long Bridge decision as one that would send the wrong message to the community, or as an effort to “re-litigate the past,” as Board member Erik Gutshall puts it.

“If you can’t trust our word and the votes of the Board, it’s just inviting an endless cycle of pitting project against project right up to the point the ribbon is cut,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol.

But Vihstadt believes taxpayers would appreciate the Board’s willingness to re-examine its priorities as fiscal realities change. For instance, as debate about amenities to be built for high schoolers at the Career Center site heats up, Vihstadt suggested redirecting some of the Long Bridge money to add a pool at that location instead.

“A pool in a high school… makes more sense than an aquatics center, which is going to be used more heavily by folks outside of Arlington,” Vihstadt said.

Gutshall believes such an idea could’ve been viable if it was proposed “five or 10 years ago,” but he feels the county is too far down the current path to consider that sort of plan now.

“Where do we draw the line and say, ‘Enough is enough’ when it comes to replaying this sort of debate?” Gutshall said.

Democratic nominee Matt de Ferranti is eager to provide a contrasting view in that discussion as part of his bid against Vihstadt.

“We should not only study things forever,” de Ferranti said. “Eventually we have to act with courage and conviction to improve the community… and with a reduced cost, it’s the right thing to do to move forward.”

Yet Vihstadt argues that his obstinance on the subject is the just sort of thing that helped him win in the first place — and a clear demonstration of the independent streak he brings to the Board.

“We have to scour things, ask questions and, on occasion, say ‘No’ or hit the pause button and say ‘Not now,'” Vihstadt said. “I think a lot of people appreciate the constructive attitude I’ve had to ask questions and not just nod my head.”

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With a Low-Turnout Primary Win Under His Belt, de Ferranti Looks to November

Matt de Ferranti scored a decisive, 20-point win in his bid to become the Democratic nominee for the Arlington County Board — but with that success comes the daunting task of figuring out how to beat an incumbent who twice put up double-digit margins of victory four years ago.

De Ferranti, an advocate for Native American education, didn’t have much trouble overcoming cybersecurity professional Chanda Choun in yesterday’s primary. He earned more than 7,000 of the roughly 11,500 votes cast, and lost just two precincts to Choun, even though both were first-time candidates.

Yet the real challenge for de Ferranti will be translating his primary victory into a win this fall against independent John Vihstadt, who won both a special election and general election in 2014 after assembling a unique coalition of disaffected Democrats, Republicans and even local Green Party supporters.

“I’m looking forward to building the strongest grassroots campaign the county’s ever seen, because that’s what it will take to win,” de Ferranti told ARLnow. “But there’s time yet to get to the general. For now, I’m just very grateful for the team we built and the support we were able to build across the county.”

Many of the county’s top Democrats seem to think de Ferranti has what it takes — he earned the endorsement of three state legislators, two School Board members and a whole host of former elected officials during the primary. The county’s Democratic Committee also praised de Ferranti as a “terrific addition” to the party’s ticket in a statement Tuesday night, praising his focus on “maintaining our excellent schools, addressing housing affordability, improving our transportation system and stimulating a strong economy for all.”

Other observers, however, are less optimistic. While de Ferranti did win handily, he also ceded roughly 40 percent of the vote to a candidate in Choun who was broadly unknown in political circles before suddenly jumping into the race in February. Even with predictions of a “blue wave” election in November, it might not be enough to get de Ferranti over the top.

“It just really shows that his support is very thin, and there’s not much of it,” said Ben Tribbett, a veteran Democratic strategist. “John Vihstadt has got to be ecstatic… In my mind, it will be very difficult to lose as a Democrat in Arlington in this kind of environment, but it’s possible he’ll do just that.”

In particular, Tribbett points to the anemic turnout in the primary as reason for de Ferranti to be concerned. Though he never expected voters to flood to the polls for a local primary, he noted that Alexandria’s mayoral primary attracted roughly 10,000 more voters to the polls than the County Board race did.

Considering that Arlington has roughly 70,000 more residents than Alexandria, Tribbett finds that result “very telling.”

“A primary electorate of 11,500 shows it was essentially the people who always show up and vote, it doesn’t indicate real levels of support,” Tribbett said. “He’s trying to run as an establishment politician, when he’s not a politician and nobody knows him.”

The primary turnout represented just 7.7 percent of the county’s registered voters, according to the Arlington elections office, and did pale a bit in comparison to even past Board primaries. For instance, more than 15,200 people cast ballots when Erik Gutshall challenged Libby Garvey in 2016, and nearly 20,000 participated in 2015’s six-way race.

De Ferranti, however, said he was generally “pleased” with the turnout in the primary, especially considering that there wasn’t any other race at the top of the ballot to attract Democratic voters — neither U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) nor Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) drew primary challengers.

“We had a great contest with a couple of really strong candidates,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol, a Democrat. “Credit goes to both of them for running inspiring campaigns that drew a lot of people to the polls.”

Yet Tribbett wonders just how inspiring de Ferranti will prove to be for Democrats who backed Vihstadt last time around, and even some who are considering doing so again this year. Garvey has already announced her intentions to support the independent once more, as have Democrats in two countywide offices: Treasurer Carla de la Pava and Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos.

“Look at who endorsed [de Ferranti] and who stayed out of it: why would any of them endorse him now?” Tribbett said. “What is his reason for why people are replacing John Vihstadt?… He’s not invulnerable, but you can’t beat somebody with nothing.”

None of the other three Democrats on the Board have lent the newly minted nominee their support as of yet — Cristol, for her part, said she’s “not ready” to discuss who she’ll be supporting — but de Ferranti believes he’ll have no trouble outlining his case against Vihstadt for skeptical Democrats.

“I’ll be acknowledging, ‘this is a decent person,’ but also making it clear that the values that I’ll bring to the position are different,” de Ferranti said. “I’m focused on returning Arlington to a fiscally reasonable approach, but one that’s open to visionary decisions like building the Orange Line, which required some investment.”

Photo via Facebook

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De Ferranti Touts Experience, Choun Promises a ‘Different Voice’ Ahead of County Board Primary

For about a month, it seemed as if Matt de Ferranti would be the only Democrat to throw his hat in the ring and run for County Board this fall.

With the Board’s lone non-Democrat, independent John Vihstadt, up for re-election, local party activists have been eyeing 2018 for years now. Yet, when de Ferranti announced his bid in January, he didn’t have much in the way of competition from his fellow Democrats, a stark departure from the surge in Democratic candidates in other races across the state.

De Ferranti, a lawyer and advocate for Native American education, has spent plenty of time in civic life since moving to the county five years ago — he’s sat on a variety of commissions and volunteered for local Democrats. But he’s also a first-time candidate and far from a sure bet to knock off Vihstadt.

Nevertheless, for weeks, he remained the only Democrat in the race, even as Jill Caiazzo made a pledge to run an open primary for the nomination a key part of her successful run to become chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

Chanda Choun, a cybersecurity staffer for software company Securonix, changed all that when he announced his own run in February, setting up Tuesday’s primary contest.

Choun freely admits that his decision to enter the race caught some in the party by surprise, noting that he only moved to the county in 2015 and became active politically immediately following President Donald Trump’s election. But he also believes his background as a Cambodian immigrant and Army reservist will help him overcome his lack of experience, even though a cadre of Arlington officials and civic leaders have lent de Ferranti their support.

“I understand why there might be confusion or questions about why I was running or who I am,” Choun told ARLnow. “But I believe I’ve answered those over the past four or five months… It’s about providing that different voice, and I think that’s struck a chord with people.”

De Ferranti, however, argues that his “relevant experience” working with elected leaders in county government shouldn’t be overlooked. He may not be quite as young as Choun — de Ferranti is 44, Choun is 30 — but he believes he’d also provide fresh perspective on the Board, informed by his years of experience.

“People want to know if you really have a plan and want to do the job, not just run for the job,” de Ferranti said. “I’m not running to get my name out there. I’m running to win.”

On policy matters, there isn’t much separation between the two. Both believe the Board needs to keep investing in county schools, transportation projects and affordable housing, even as financial pressures squeeze the county government — they’re also both willing to support a potential tax increase next year either, a distinct possibility as commercial tax revenues keep plummeting.

Neither candidate is a big fan of Vihstadt either, though both do acknowledge that the independent hasn’t radically disrupted the Board’s dynamic.

“There is some credit due to scrutinizing and looking carefully at our decisions,” de Ferranti said. “But once that is done, it’s about having the courage in making forward-looking decisions and understanding change is inevitable. It’s working with it, managing it and using change to shape our community in good ways.”

To that end, both Democrats want to see the county lure more businesses to Arlington and reverse the skyrocketing commercial vacancy rates in Rosslyn and Crystal City. The pair differs on how they’d approach that vexing question, however.

De Ferranti prefers to “look toward the next economy” by marketing the county to “clean tech and green tech” companies — he’s also open to further exploring the possibility of using vacant space in Crystal City to house students, a proposal often bandied about as the school system runs out of available land.

Choun wants to step up the county’s marketing efforts to lure in new businesses, but also lean on his experience in the military and in government contracting to bring federal government agencies back to Arlington, after many have fled.

“Let’s get those dollars back in Arlington,” Choun said. “That was our historic economic base. Obviously, we still want to diversify away from it, but let’s grow the pie as a whole.”

Another key separation: their feelings on the oft-discussed, but seemingly sidelined, Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola. Choun is open to studying the project in more detail, but de Ferranti is a bit more ready to write it off.

“I know there was some study, and I respect those who wanted to look into it more deeply,” de Ferranti said. “But almost everyone I talked to, and my own analysis and common sense, says it’s not the right thing for us.”

But with relatively few policy disagreements separating the pair, Choun expects that his background, as both an immigrant and a tech-savvy millennial, will help separate him from de Ferranti.

“It’s about building a coalition: millennials, veterans, military, people of faith, tech professionals, minorities,” Choun said. “It’s not necessarily about platform, but messaging, vision and character.”

De Ferranti, meanwhile, is counting on his more traditional approach of winning local office to carry the day. Beyond just the endorsements of the county’s Democratic establishment, he’s also pulled in plenty of cash from its traditional donors — he’s raised more than $54,000 over the course of the campaign from more than 175 different people, according to state records. By comparison, Choun has managed to pull in nearly $30,000, with $25,000 coming in the form of a loan from Choun himself.

“I’ve got relevant experience on the key issues to make a difference on the biggest challenges that we face,” de Ferranti said. “I believe more and more people are hearing that, and it’s why I have the support of so many.”

File photo

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County Funds New Study to Help Solve DCA Aircraft Noise Woes

(Updated at 11:45 a.m) Arlington is teaming up with some of its neighbors to the north to somehow find a solution to the persistent problem of aircraft noise generated by Reagan National Airport.

County Board members Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt announced last Friday (June 1) that Arlington and Montgomery County, Maryland have agreed to both chip in funds for a consultant to study the issue starting this year.

The Board members wrote in an email that the study’s goal is “to quantify the noise impacts on our community, to determine what specifically is driving the increase in those impacts in recent years and to identify and evaluate all actions that could reasonably be taken to reduce and mitigate them.”

“Despite what look like promising recommendations for operations south of the airport, the fact remains that we do not appear to be any closer to a solution today for those communities north of the airport than we were when this effort was initiated,” Garvey and Vihstadt wrote. “It is our hope that this study will result in concrete recommendations to achieve the county’s and the region’s goal of reducing aircraft noise where possible and to equitably share it where necessary.”

County leaders have been wrestling with the issue of aircraft noise for years now, particularly as National recorded a spike in air traffic in recent years. Nearby residents have become particularly perturbed by the noise as the airport adjusted flight patterns in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s “NextGen” modernization initiative for the air traffic system in 2014.

“We continue to hear loud and clear from our residents that the noise impacts have worsened significantly since this action and have had a substantial negative impact on their quality of life,” Garvey and Vihstadt wrote.

Arlington and Montgomery County residents are not the only ones grappling with the issue. Some residential portions of Northwest D.C. have encountered an increase in noise since NextGen was implemented a few years ago, leading one District resident to file thousands of noise complaints over the course of one year.

The county has worked with the FAA on the issue since October 2015, through the “DCA Community Working Group,” and the Board members say they’ll send the results of this new study to that group once it’s wrapped up. They plan to update the community on a timetable for the study in the comings weeks, and work is set to kick off with the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) also recently proposed a series of amendments to the new FAA reauthorization bill to address the issue.

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Democratic County Board Hopefuls Clash Over Gondola Funding, How to Beat John Vihstadt

The two contenders for the Democratic nomination for Arlington County Board spent most of their May 2 debate in agreement on a wide range of issues — with one gondola-sized exception.

Chanda Choun and Matthew de Ferranti took turns emphasizing the need for more affordable housing and economic development in the county during the forum, which was held in Ballston and hosted by the Arlington County Democratic Committee. Both Democratic hopefuls had plenty of criticisms of the record of the man they’re hoping to knock off this November: County Board member John Vihstadt, an independent.

The rare policy divergence between the two came on a question about whether they’d support using county funds to help build the oft-discussed Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola.

De Ferranti, a lawyer and Democratic activist who’s racked up endorsements from a whole host of elected leaders, adopted the more cautious stance of other county officials and suggested that he’s “fairly wary of moving forward” with the project.

By contrast, Choun — a cybersecurity professional and U.S. Army reservist — borrowed a phrase from the ARLnow comment section to declare: “Gondola now!”

“I know it sounds silly, but I don’t think we should just write it off,” Choun said. “I don’t think there’s any harm to continue exploring this proposal.”

Choun pointed to previous studies of the project suggesting that it could ease the connection between Rosslyn and Georgetown by helping people bypass the Key Bridge, adding that the gondola could also increase access to the Rosslyn Metro station for Georgetown residents.

Yet de Ferranti said he’d much rather support Metro more directly via continued county’s financial support of the troubled transit system. He also noted that many local officials fear that Virginia’s recent deal to provide dedicated annual funding to Metro could pull badly needed money away from regional road projects.

“We have to preserve our existing bus routes and the transportation we have now,” de Ferranti said. “I just don’t think now is the right moment for us to get the gondola.”

But neither Choun nor de Ferranti will get a chance to weigh in on the issue at the board level if they fail to best Vihstadt, who became the first non-Democrat to win a seat on the County Board in 15 years back in 2014, and both candidates argued forcefully that they can topple the incumbent.

Choun attacked Vihstadt for, allegedly, being reflexively against growth and development in the county. De Ferranti said Vihstadt is so concerned with the idea of “fiscal restraint” that he’s opposed needed investments across the county.

Choun and de Ferranti differed on how they’d go about beating Vihstadt, who won with an unusual political coalition stretching from the county’s GOP to its Green Party.

“We need to acknowledge: this is a decent person,” de Ferranti said. “We have to relate and then persuade.”

De Ferranti leaned on his experience in county politics to suggest that he has the background to persuade Vihstadt’s backers, frequently pointing to his work on a variety of county advisory committees and with other Arlington leaders to demonstrate his community credentials.

“I’ll be detailed and I’ll be relentless,” de Ferranti said. “We need to return to our roots here.”

Choun, however, suggested he could bring more of an outsider’s perspective to the race. He conceded that he doesn’t have any endorsements and that his decision to jump into the primary “might have rubbed people the wrong way,” but he expects his unique perspective as a first-generation Cambodian immigrant will help him draw a stark contrast in the general election.

“We’re a diverse county now, so we need someone who can relate to the most people,” Choun said. “People want to see someone who is offering and calling for a change.”

Voters will pick the Democratic nominee on June 12. Arlington Republicans will decide whether they’ll run a candidate by May 23; Heitham Ghariani, an IT worker at the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, has also filed to run as an independent.

Photo by Alex Koma

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Democratic County Board Contenders Debate Tonight

The two Democrats vying for the chance to run for a seat on the Arlington County Board this fall will square off in another debate tonight.

The Arlington County Democratic Committee will host the debate between Chanda Choun and Matthew de Ferranti at 7 p.m. at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association building in Ballston. Karen Nightengale, president of Arlington’s chapter of the NAACP, will moderate the event.

Voters will pick a Democratic nominee in the June 12 primary. The winner of the two-way race is set to run against incumbent County Board member John Vihstadt, an independent who is vying for his second term on the board after winning in 2014.

Arlington Republicans endorsed Vihstadt in that race, though the committee has put out a call for candidates that’s set to close next Tuesday, May 9. The GOP will hold a mass meeting on May 23 to pick a nominee if multiple candidates express interest in running, though committee spokesman Matthew Hurtt says it’s possible that no Republican steps forward for the race. Heitham Ghariani, an IT worker at the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, has filed to run as an independent.

Democrats hope that a surge of enthusiasm associated with the national midterm elections helps the party restore its total control of the five-member County Board; Vihstadt was the first non-Democrat to win a seat on the board in 15 years.

De Ferranti, who currently works as legislative director of the National Indian Education Association and sits on several county advisory committees, has so far earned the support of local elected Democrats in his primary bid. Former County Board Chairman Jay Fisette announced his endorsement of de Ferranti on April 30, joining several other state legislators and local officials.

Choun works for a cybersecurity company and as a part-time U.S. Army reservist. He’s also the vice president of the Buckingham Community Civic Association and serves as a delegate to the Arlington County Civic Federation.

Photo by Anna Merod

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Morning Notes

Record Warm Temperatures — Yesterday’s high temperature of 82 degrees was the hottest it has ever been this early in the year. Records were set at all three D.C. area airports. [Twitter, Capital Weather Gang]

Fatal Fall in Clarendon — The man who fell from the roof of a building in Clarendon last week died, police confirmed Wednesday. “The subject was transported to the hospital by Arlington County Fire Department medics where he was later pronounced deceased,” said Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “The police department is conducting an active death investigation and nothing in the investigation has lead us to categorize the death as suspicious.” [Twitter]

Vihstadt Expands Bipartisan Support — Former Arlington School Board member Sally Baird is the latest Democrat to endorse County Board member John Vihstadt in his reelection campaign. “We both know that maintaining top quality public schools is essential to Arlington’s future, and I’m honored to have her support,” Vihstadt said in a statement.

Photo courtesy James Mahony

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