Arlington, VA

(Updated at 10:20 p.m.) There were no surprises in Tuesday’s general election in Arlington, as Parisa Dehghani-Tafti was elected Arlington’s new prosecutor and all Democratic incumbents won new terms.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney race saw an elevated level of write-in votes — 10% of the overall vote — but the result was never in doubt as Tafti received 90% of the vote. She will take office as the top prosecutor for Arlington and Falls Church starting in January.

Tafti ran a progressive campaign centered on criminal justice reform during a contentious and expensive primary. She ran unopposed in the general election after beating incumbent prosecutor Theo Stamos in a surprising upset in the primary, with 52% of the vote to Stamos’ 48%.

“It was really surreal,” Tafti told ARLnow of her win, after the final precinct results came in.

The incoming prosecutor added that she was “lucky” she had time between the June primary and the November election to start work on her transition. Tafti she’s looking forward to rolling out reforms come January — which one expert has said is the most aggressive policy transition for the office in living memory.

“I’m really excited to get a restorative justice program started,” she told ARLnow.

Elsewhere on the ballot, Arlington County Board incumbents Katie Cristol (D) and Christian Dorsey (D) defeated independent candidates Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell with 40% and 38% of the vote, respectively. Clement’s 13% and O’Dell’s 7% compares to the 10% Clement and 19% Republican Mike McMenamin received in 2015, when Cristol and Dorsey were first elected.

In contested General Assembly races in Arlington, state Sen. Janet Howell, who ran unopposed in the primary, won out over Republican candidate Arthur Purves, 73% to 27%. Del. Alfonso Lopez defeated independent challenger Terry Modglin, 83% to 16%.

Other Democratic candidates won bids for re-election tonight after running uncontested races:

  • Del. Patrick Hope
  • Del. Mark Levine
  • Del. Rip Sullivan
  • State Sen. Barbara Favola
  • Sheriff Beth Arthur
  • Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy
  • Treasurer Carla de la Pava
  • School Board member Reid Goldstein

Acknowledging that most of its candidates were not facing strong challengers, the Arlington Democratic party has instead focused on supporting other Virginia progressives they hoped could flip the GOP-controlled state House and Senate. As of 10 p.m., the Associated Press projected that Democrats would, in fact, win control of both.

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Last week, we asked the four candidates seeking a seat on the Arlington County Board to write a 750 word essay on why our readers should vote for them in the Nov. 5 general election.

Here is the unedited response from Democratic incumbent County Board member Katie Cristol.

As you head to the polls this upcoming Tuesday, I ask that you consider casting one of your two votes to return me to the Arlington County Board. Over the past four years, I’ve sought to collaborate with residents and regional partners to find and implement smart, balanced solutions to hard problems and to position this community to take advantage of the opportunities ahead.

Together, we’ve made real progress for Arlingtonians:

  • We adopted a comprehensive strategy to address child-care accessibility in Arlington that’s working: My colleagues and I approved hundreds more quality spots in the first year of the strategy, and within just a couple of months of new ordinance changes taking effect this July, nearly three dozen providers had submitted proposals to expand.
  • We’ve made critical progress on our high rate of commercial vacancy with new and renewed office tenants. Arlington has made international headlines with Amazon, but we also welcomed tech start-ups, national nonprofits and renewable energy companies to fill or redevelop our empty office buildings.
  • We’ve added over a thousand new committed affordable homes for our lower- and moderate-income neighbors, acted to preserve garden apartments, and expanded opportunities for new housing types. As a result, there are now more homes affordable to our neighbors making less than 60% of area median income than there were four years ago – even at a time of increasing rents.
  • We’ve tackled what looked impossible for our regional transit system. As a leader in multiple regional transit bodies, I’m proud to have been part of the coalition that achieved the extraordinary milestone of dedicated capital funding for Metro: a first in the system’s many-decades history.

We’ve made Arlington a more compassionate, effective place for those who need support: creating a legal services fund for our immigrant neighbors – the first in Virginia – and expanding services for survivors of sexual violence, including a comprehensive medical, counseling and justice response.

Importantly, I’ve endeavored to achieve these and other breakthroughs for our community while exercising good fiscal stewardship. I’ve supported needed capital projects in the County, while significantly reducing their costs. We’ve reduced use permit conditions and duplicative community processes to help Schools keep their projects on time and on budget. During my chairmanship last year, the Board held the tax rate flat, though it meant difficult program cuts, to avoid shifting the burden of lost commercial revenues to residential payers.

And I’m running for reelection because we have many more big things to do, together. If I earn your support on November 5th, I will prioritize:

  • Increasing moderately-sized ownership housing in neighborhoods throughout the County, through the study and legalization of alternative forms.
  • Planning for community infrastructure, specifically:
    • A long-term plan for siting future schools facilities beyond the ten-year horizon of our Capital Improvement Plan; and
    • Collaborating with our Northern Virginia partners to realize a truly interconnected transit system across the greater DC region.
  • Protecting our global and local environment by aggressively implementing public and private efforts in our updated Community Energy Plan; and prioritizing “Biophilic Cities” principles and practices for Arlington to prioritize natural spaces in our commercial corridors.

To learn more about these and other priorities ahead of the election, please visit www.katiecristol.com/issues. Thank you for the opportunity to serve this extraordinary community, and for your consideration on Tuesday, November 5th.

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Arlington County Board incumbents fought to hold their ground against independents over Amazon incentives and housing topics at a debate Monday evening.

At the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum at U.Group in Crystal City (2231 Crystal Drive), Democratic incumbents Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol faced off against independent challengers Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell.

One of the moments of back-and-forth criticism among the candidates came over the redevelopment of a number of market-rate affordable housing complexes in the Westover neighborhood. Clement has frequently criticized the County Board for what she said was the “preventable demolition” of the Westover garden apartments.

The redevelopment was by-right, meaning the developer did not need County Board approval. But Clement said the County Board could have designated the apartments part of a historic district and preserved the homes.

Overall, Clement argued that development drives up costs to build housing and that even dedicated affordable housing units come at a steep cost.

“The average cost of a new [Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing] unit is in excess of $400,000,” Clement said. “Most of the units are not affordable. Because the units are not affordable, the income-qualified people who move in, 30 percent of them have to have rent subsidies to pay the nominal amount of rent that they do pay. The taxpayers are hit twice, they have to pay their own rent and their own mortgage and they have to pay someone else’s because the cost of building that unit was astronomical.”

Dorsey fired back that rather than use the historic district designation, the County Board is working to change the regulations to protect affordable communities from redevelopment.

“In the Westover reference that Ms. Clement talked about, while she thinks the Board has done nothing, what we did do was take a courageous stand… and stopped the perverse incentive that led people to take affordable communities and turn them into by-right townhouses,” Dorsey said. “We paused that option and put it into the special exemption process so that we created options to preserve that housing.”

“We’re studying ways that can be better purposed to provide long term, market-based affordable housing,” Dorsey added. So you have to figure out where you’re doing harm and stop doing harm to create new options to preserve affordability both through direct subsidies and through the market.”

O’Dell, meanwhile, said the County should do more to accommodate for “tiny apartments” aimed at people moving to Arlington immediately after college, who may need an affordable place to live but not a lot of space.

“When you talk about housing affordability, you need to have a variety of types of units,” O’Dell said. “We should look at the lower incomes that fall into the 60 percent bracket and give them opportunities to possibly move in and look at places to live.”

Cristol said the County should work to open the door to other types of housing, pointing to the recent legalization of detached accessory dwelling units as an example and noting the large amount of land in Arlington zoned for only single-family housing.

“One of the most important things we can do is legalizing alternative forms,” said Cristol. “There are so many housing forms that could offer folks not only an opportunity to rent but [also to] buy and it’s literally illegal to build them in huge swaths of the county… There’s room for creative ideas, this is an area where we need partnership in the private sector, particularly for those who develop housing.”

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The independent challengers for Arlington County Board confronted the two Democratic incumbents on local hot button issues at last night’s Arlington County Civic Federation debate.

Democrats Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey faced off against perennial candidate Audrey Clement and newcomer Arron O’Dell at the Civic Federation’s annual candidate, which serves as the unofficial kickoff of the fall campaign season.

Clement’s main attacks centered around a perception of unchecked increases in development and density, destruction of native vegetation, and a lack of county government transparency. Specifically, Clement claimed the County Board’s decision to move forward with the Rosslyn boathouse project came with little public community input. Clement said the new boathouse will take away from one of the last green places in the Rosslyn area, a forested plot of land near Roosevelt Island.

“How can you have a public process when the County Board unanimously approved [the boathouse],” she said. “It’s not for or against the boathouse, it’s for or against double speak.”

Cristol fired back that the boathouse had been in the works for decades and has been subject to extensive public discussion. At some point, she said, projects need to move forward.

“The idea of the boathouse was the result of a public process a couple of decades ago,” Cristol said. “There needs to be a standard of finality. “

Cristol and Dorsey also defended repeated attacks from Clement, and to a lesser extent O’Dell, that Arlington’s ever-increasing density was fundamentally transforming the County.

“Development is synonymous with housing,” Cristol said. “So do I think there needs to be more housing? Yes, but we have to plan for the infrastructure to support that and plan for the student population [growth]. But I believe we can welcome more neighbors and still maintain our quality of life.”

Cristol argued later that the law of supply and demand applies to Arlington, as it does elsewhere — that adding more housing will keep housing costs lower. Clement disagreed, citing recent studies that showed rental rates were more closely tied with amenities than with the supply of housing.

Dorsey also disagreed with Clement’s characterization of “growth on steriods” in Arlington.

“We’ve seen 1.4 percent growth [per year] on average,” said Dorsey. “That’s moderate. In the ’40s, ’50s and ‘6os we grew far faster. Managing growth is what we do well. The idea of us closing up shop is not something that can happen.”

O’Dell, who said he did not have a strong opinion about the boathouse and some other topics of discussion during the debate, did express strong feelings on Amazon’s arrival into Arlington. The county is leaning too heavily on the tech giant for economic growth, he said, something that could backfire should Amazon’s plans change — much like over reliance on federal tenants led to high office vacancy rates following the implementation of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closing Act.

“It’s replacing the federal government with another entity,” he said. “We’re creating another potential vacuum. The key to success will be getting small businesses to follow Amazon.”

Clement also criticized the Board for overselling the positive impacts Amazon would bring and offering the company millions in incentives.

Dorsey recognized the concerns about Amazon’s arrival and said he sympathizes with many of them.

“One of the challenges [will be] the impact on housing,” Dorsey said. “It’s also going to require the Board to work in conjunction with Alexandria for inclusive growth for all as we create concrete arrangements with our neighbors.”

Overall, Dorsey said the company’s arrival will help reduce the strain on local taxpayers and open up new opportunities for the Pentagon City-Crystal City area.

Arlington voters will cast their general election ballots on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Residents have until October 15 to register to vote, and can check their registration status online.

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Morning Notes

Now Might Be the Time to Sell Your Home — “‘Some sellers are thinking ‘gosh, why don’t I just wait until Amazon gets into full bloom before I sell my house, because maybe values will go up even higher,” Christine Richardson, president of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, told WTOP. ‘But I’m not sure that is necessarily the right way to think about it, because often that initial exuberance is actually higher than reality turns out to be.'” [WTOP]

Local CVS Sold Millions of Opioids — “The largest recipient of pain pills in Arlington, according to the database, is a CVS Pharmacy located at 3133 Lee Highway. A total of 1,465,700 pills were shipped to this pharmacy between 2006 and 2012, which would be enough for one pill per year for each of the 106,612 people who live within five miles of the pharmacy.” [Patch]

Lots of Booze Sales in Arlington — “The eight Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) stores in Arlington accounted for 2.8 percent of total ABC purchases Virginia-wide during the state government’s last fiscal year, which saw a new statewide record set in total sales volume. A total of $29,052,507 in sales (excluding tax) were made at Arlington’s ABC stores from July 2018 to June 2019.” [InsideNova]

Cristol on Kojo — Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol went on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show on Friday. Among the topics she discussed: the federal government’s search for a new shelter for detained, unaccompanied immigrant children in Northern Virginia. [Kojo Nnamdi Show, Twitter]

Local Restaurants Coming to Memphis — A pair of local restaurants — Matchbox American Kitchen and Arlington-based Big Buns Best Damn Burger Co. — are opening new locations in Memphis, Tennessee. [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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(Updated at 10:55 a.m.) Starting at 6 a.m. today, voters began showing up at their polling places across Arlington as voting in the Democratic primary kicked off.

At Randolph Elementary School in Douglas Park, St. Agnes Catholic Church in Cherrydale, and Madison Community Center in Old Glebe, lines were short and skies were clear.

“It’s been slow, but steady. There’s been 83 people so far, or 2.7 percent turnout. It’s pretty normal,” said Bill Harkins, election officer at St. Agnes.

At Randolph Elementary around 41 people had cast their ballots by 7:41 a.m., according to election officer Harry Dunbar, and another 13 voters arrived in the next half hour. Dunbar said there are 3,000 people who live in the precinct.

“Half of that is normal for a busy general election,” Dunbar said, noting that primary election turnout is usually much lower.

By mid-morning, Arlington’s elections office reported that turnout was somewhat light, but higher in precincts in Arlington’s northwest. Voters in residential northwest Arlington tend to be a bit more conservative, at least relative to the rest of the county.

The only hiccup noticed so far was a ballot that wouldn’t scan at Randolph Elementary. At around 8 a.m., officials had identified the likely culprit: blocks that printed too faintly along the border of the document.

Today’s primary marks the end of several hotly contested races between the Democrats on the ballot — namely the race for commonwealth’s attorney and the state Senate seat in the 31st District. With most races still lacking a non-Democratic candidate, the primary could also decide the Nov. 5 general election.

At Randolph, the race on most people’s minds was the one for commonwealth’s attorney between incumbent Theo Stamos and challenger Parisa Dehghani-Tafti who have clashed in debates since kicking off their campaigns last winter.

Evelyn Luis, a long-time Douglas Park resident, said she doesn’t usually vote in the primaries but showed up today to support Stamos.

“Even though she’s running as a Democrat and I am not a Democrat I know I have to make a choice between the two candidates.” Luis said.

Luis wore a shirt from the 1990s-era Crime Prevention Council of Arlington County, on which she was a board member. She said she disagreed with Tafti’s platform and PAC funding.

Another voter, Aaron Willis, who has lived in the area for a decade, said he’s voted in every primary since moving to the D.C. region. He feels part of the “nerve center” of politics after coming from Ohio where he sometimes felt disconnected.

Willis said he supported Tafti in today’s election, citing her record of pushing for reproductive rights and restoring voting rights to felons.

The interest in the prosecutor’s race also ran high at St. Agnes.

“The important race to me was the commonwealth’s attorney,” said St. Agnes voter Chris Guest. “I think it’s always good to have options, but I wanted to vote against outside money, especially when that’s heavily for one candidate.”

“All of the races are important. Arlington is a great place to live and we have good candidates,” said St. Agnes voter Sarah Devoe this morning. “I’ve been surprised with the commonwealth’s attorney race; it’s not really a race I think of as being competitive. There’s been a lot of TV and print ads. There are two strong candidates.”

Stamos’ record in office and Tafti’s proposed criminal justice reforms have split support among local attorneys and sparked conversations about police brutality and the county’s discovery policy in criminal cases.

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Morning Notes

DEA Staying in Pentagon City — “The Arlington County Board today approved an incentive grant that will keep the headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, in Pentagon City following a lengthy federal competitive bid process. The agency occupies more than 511,000 square feet of space, and employs about 3,000 people at its Pentagon City location.” [Arlington County]

‘Take Your Child to Work Day’ for Cristol — Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol’s new baby boy made his public debut at Thursday’s meeting for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. [Twitter]

Activists Still Pressing for Tree Removal Explanation — “Remember back last year, when top Arlington officials said they would provide the public – in writing – with the reasons the government would not take further steps to protect removal of a tree that had become symbolic to environmental activists across the county? You may have forgotten, but those activists have not.” [InsideNova]

‘Notable’ Trees Recognized — “Arlington has more than 750,000 trees of at least 122 species that provide $6.89 million in environmental benefits to the County annually in the form of pollution removal, carbon storage, energy savings, and avoided stormwater runoff. The Arlington County Board will designate 24 of these trees as Notable Trees at its April 25 Recessed Meeting. [Arlington County]

Water Main Break in Fairlington — Some 100 Arlington households were without water service for part of Thursday due to emergency water main repairs in the Fairlington neighborhood. [Twitter]

Gerber Incentives Pass — Gerber’s move to Arlington is one step closer thanks to an incentive package unanimously approved by the County Board on Tuesday. The package is divided between money from the state’s Commonwealth Opportunity Fund (COF) — $862,500 — and money earmarked for nearby infrastructure upgrades — another $862,500.

Nearby: Alexandria Peeved By Metro Surprise — “A month after Metro learned additional closures would be needed at the end of this summer’s Blue and Yellow line shutdown, Alexandria’s City Council lit into the agency’s top leaders Tuesday night about why the Virginia city and the public only learned of the extended work through a news release last week.” [WTOP]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

Baby Boy for Cristol — Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol gave birth to her first child, a baby boy, this past weekend. She plans to call in to Saturday’s County Board meeting and participate in the crucial Amazon incentive package vote. [Twitter]

Building Plans for Temporary Amazon Office — JBG Smith “submitted plans March 7 to make common area improvements throughout the 12-story, 221,000-square-foot [office building at] 1800 S. Bell St., to be leased in full by Amazon.” [Washington Business Journal]

County May Change Building Plan Practices — “Arlington officials are considering ending same-day viewing at the Department of Community Planning, Housing & Development after a Washington Business Journal reporter asked to view a permit for a building Amazon.com Inc. is expected to lease, said Ben Aiken, director of constituent services in the county manager’s office.” [Washington Business Journal]

VRE Plans Moving Forward — “Virginia Railway Express is moving forward with plans to build an expanded Crystal City Station, a key step needed to expand and improve service. The VRE Operations Board is due to vote Friday to allow contracting to move forward for engineering work based on the already approved concept design.” [WTOP]

New Leases in Rosslyn — Earlier this week Monday Properties announced the signing of three lease deals at 1100 Wilson Boulevard, one half of its Rosslyn twin towers. The firms leasing new space are The Health Management Academy and Trilogy Federal LLC, while WJLA owner Sinclair Broadcasting is expanding its existing space. [Monday Properties]

Extensive Road Closures Saturday — Expect a number of road closures in Courthouse, Rosslyn and near the Pentagon Saturday morning for the annual Four Courts Four Miler. [Arlington County]

Nearby: Gentrification Fears in Arlandria — “Concern of rising rents and gentrification have always been present in the Arlandria neighborhood, which sits between South Glebe and West Glebe roads and ends at Potomac Yard. Amazon.com Inc.’s plan to move to nearby Arlington has only intensified those worries.” [Washington Business Journal]

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(Updated at 10:45 p.m.) About a year ago at this time, Arlington looked to be in serious trouble down in Richmond.

In mid-March 2018, county officials faced the decidedly unpleasant prospect that they’d come out on the losing end of a bruising legislative battle with two local golf and country clubs.

One of the county’s foremost foes in the General Assembly had engineered the passage of legislation to slash the clubs’ tax bills, potentially pulling more than a million dollars in annual tax revenue out of the county’s coffers.

Arlington had spent years tangling with the clubs, which count among their members local luminaries ranging from retired generals to former presidents, arguing over how to tax those properties. Yet the legislation from Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District) would’ve bypassed the local dispute entirely, and it was headed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.

That meant that Arlington’s only hope of stopping the bill was convincing the governor to strike it down with his veto pen.

In those days, long before evidence of Northam’s racist medical school yearbook photos had surfaced, the Democrat was well-liked in the county. He’d raised plenty of cash from Arlingtonians in his successful campaign just a year before, and had won endorsements in his primary contest from many of the county’s elected officials.

Yet the situation still looked dire enough that the County Board felt compelled to take more drastic steps to win Northam to their side. The county shelled out $22,500 to hire a well-connected lobbying firm for just a few weeks, embarking on a frenetic campaign to pressure the governor and state lawmakers and launch a media blitz to broadcast the county’s position in both local and national outlets.

“It became apparent to all of us that every Arlingtonian had something at stake here,” then-County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “At a time when we were making excruciating decisions about our own budget, the idea that you would take more than million dollars and put it toward something that wasn’t a priority for anyone here was so frustrating.”

That push was ultimately successful — Northam vetoed the bill last April, and the county struck a deal with the clubs to end this fight a few weeks later.

An ARLnow investigation of the events of those crucial weeks in spring 2018 sheds a bit more light on how the county won that veto, and how business is conducted down in the state capitol. This account is based both on interviews with many people close to the debate and a trove of emails and documents released via a public records request (and published now in the spirit of “National Sunshine Week,” a nationwide initiative designed to highlight the value of freedom of information laws).

Crucially, ARLnow’s research shows that the process was anything but smooth sailing for the county, as it pit Arlington directly against the club’s members. Many of them exercise plenty of political influence across the region and the state, and documents show they were able to lean heavily on Northam himself.

“One would expect a Democratic governor to be highly responsive to one of most Democratic jurisdictions in the state,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. “But this was a matter of great concern to a bunch of very important people in Virginia, and that may well be the reason why additional efforts were necessary.”

And, looking forward, the bitter fight over the issue could well have big implications should similar legislation ever resurface in Richmond.

“Structurally, this bill could absolutely come back someday,” Cristol said. “And the idea that a bill that has such deleterious consequences for land use and taxation in jurisdictions across Virginia could come back and garner support because of an effective lobbying interest is very much a real threat.”

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Morning Notes

Arlington Diocese Releases List of Accused Priests — “Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses on Wednesday released lists of clergy who officials say were deemed ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing youth… The Diocese of Arlington, which covers the northeastern corner of Virginia, released a list of 16 names.” [Washington Post, Diocese of Arlington]

ACPD Restaurant Initiative Deemed a Success — “Arlington County, Virginia, is trying to fight drunken driving, and its method may prove to be a model for the nation.” [WTOP]

Cristol Quoted in the New Yorker — “‘We have an agenda that is about equity and anti-racist goals, and I don’t think he can effectively lead on it,’ [Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol] said, referring to the governor. As for Fairfax, she said, she had thought, after the first allegation, that ‘there might be a way forward for him to recognize harm done’ and stay in office. After the second, it seemed clear to her that there was an indefensible pattern of behavior.” [The New Yorker]

Arlington Man Arrested for 2016 Rape — “Alexandria Police have arrested a man who they say abducted and raped a lifeguard in broad daylight from a pool on South Pickett Street in 2016.” [Fox 5]

Hope’s Assisted-Living Bill Passes — “The derecho that came through Arlington several years ago inspired me to bring this bill and work to make sure, at a minimum, prospective residents knew whether their assisted living facility had a generator in case of loss of power.” [InsideNova, Twitter]

Sheriff’s Office Helping With Scholarships — “The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is helping the Virginia Sheriffs’ Institute raise college scholarship funds for Virginia residents majoring in criminal justice.” [Arlington County]

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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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