(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) On March 15, a year to the day after the all-Democrat Arlington County Board rejected a controversial plan to add lights to its football and baseball fields, Bishop O’Connell High School made a $350 contribution to the campaign of Republican County Board candidate Mark Kelly, according to public campaign contribution records.
In a statement issued late this afternoon, Michael J. Donohue, Director of Communications for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, said the donation was made by a school employee using school funds. The check was intended to be a donation from an individual, however, and not a donation on behalf of the school itself, according to Donohue.
The Diocese learned today that a member of the staff of Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington County recently used a school check for the sake of convenience to purchase a set of tickets to a political fundraiser for a candidate for local office. This was a significant error in judgment on the part of the school employee as well as a clear violation of diocesan policy. Though all of the $350 in school funds were reimbursed by the employee, Chancery and school officials are presently reviewing the matter, and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.
One local Democratic official raised a red flag about the donation, which seemed like an unprecedented, symbolic gesture from the school, until the Diocese clarified the record.
“I’ve never seen this, a school giving a donation to a political candidate,” the official told ARLnow.com.
Donohue said Diocese policy specifically prohibits political donations, which would be a violation of the church’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
“Diocesan policy absolutely prohibits church entities to contributing to any political campaigns, either on behalf of or opposition to any candidate,” Donohue said. “That’s reflective of the IRS code.”
A Bishop O’Connell spokeswoman was reached via phone before this article was published, but declined to comment.
Kelly ended up losing the March 27 special election to Democrat Libby Garvey.
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Two out of the past three times the turnout of a County Board special election was below 19,000, a Republican ended up winning. This year, it’s looking unlikely that even 15,000 votes will be cast out of the pool of 122,882 active registered voters in Arlington.
“I think it’s probably going to end up maybe being 10 to 12 percent [turnout], and I may be overestimating that,” Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg told ARLnow.com this afternoon. “Usually in a special election we get closer to 20 percent, but I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere near that this time.”
Though past experience would suggest that the low turnout might spell doom for Democratic candidate Libby Garvey, the fact that there’s both a Republican and a fiscally-conservative Green Party candidate in the race makes any attempts at prognostication difficult.
Democrats are hopeful that they’ll be able to rally more voters before the polls close at 7:00 tonight. Privately, they’re also hoping that the “anti-Democrat” vote splits between Republican Mark Kelly and Green candidate Audrey Clement.
Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair Mike Lieberman conceded that turnout is low, but said Democrats are cautiously optimistic.
“We are expecting a bit of an uptick in the afternoon, but it’s certainly going to remain low,” Lieberman said. “It’s hard to predict. When there’s very high turnout, our chances go up. When there’s low turnout, it’s much more of a question mark.”
“Certainly I think we are in for a relatively close election,” Lieberman continued. “We remain optimistic about Libby’s chances despite the low numbers.”
Here is the unedited response from Mark Kelly (R):
We need a new voice on the County Board to keep Arlington a wonderful place to live and raise a family.
Keirsten and I bought our first place, a condo on Army Navy Drive, in Arlington when we got married in early 2000. A year and a half later we moved into our house, so that we could start a family. We now have four children — our two daughters, Layne and Mia, and then our two sons, Luke and Jake. The oldest three attend Claremont Immersion elementary school.
Like you, we have put down our roots in this community and want to make it the best place possible for our children to grow up in. Even though there are issues critically important to our community’s future that need to be addressed at the County Board level, I enjoy living in Arlington visiting our parks, spending time in my local library branch, and being an active member of our community.
I hope to put my experience to work for you as a member of the Board. After law school and passing the Virginia Bar in 1996, I went to work on Capitol Hill and over the last 15 years worked on federal public policy. I have demonstrated an ability to quickly digest complicated issues and make recommendations for action. I also served as an analyst on the federal budget for two members of Congress which will allow me to hit the ground running on Arlington’s budget in April.
Arlington faces some significant challenges that require a new voice and a new perspective to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods without breaking the bank. With a potential scaling back of federal spending we need to get back to budgeting that prioritizes the basics. Currently, we are too often spending too much on things we simply do not need. When elected I will propose an alternative budget that includes real spending restraint that allows us to reduce what has become out of control real estate taxes that will top $5,000 for the average homeowner.
I am all for paying my fair share, but with local tax rates at such high levels, we should approach the tax rate debate as an opportunity to provide more flexibility for the family budget instead of increasing flexibility for county spending on non-core services. And renters should not forget that any increases in property taxes by the current board will be passed on to you in the form of higher rent in the upcoming year.
A significant part of improving our quality of life without breaking the bank is by stopping expensive vanity projects such as the Columbia Pike Trolley that will cost upwards of $300 million, the $1.5 million Artisphere subsidy that is draining resources from the Arlington Economic Development department and stopping the acquisition of 2020 14th Street North for a new homeless shelter at a cost of $7.5 million more than the assessed value for a building that needs at least $10 million to rehab the building. These costs are particularly concerning because better alternatives are available that will improve our quality of life without breaking the bank.
On Columbia Pike increasing bus service can improve overall transit service without the massive costs of construction or the negative impacts of the massive redevelopment on neighborhoods and the availability of market rate affordable housing. The Artisphere should be able to fast track the process of becoming an independent non-profit venture especially with the expected $1.4 million of revenues listed in the County Manager’s budget before counting the excessive county subsidy. And the current winter homeless shelter in Courthouse could be retrofitted into a year-round shelter for $2 million, equal to the one year expected debt service cost of the ill-advised building purchase.
We need to develop the transparency necessary to hold our local government accountable for program management and spending decisions. I will work to establish an Inspector General to advocate on behalf of tax payers and good government practices across all county operations. I will also make sure we put the county’s checkbook online so that all residents can ensure county spending is in line with our values and public policy priorities.
I am asking for your vote on March 27th. I am asking for your support of an opportunity to highlight the benefits of having a voice that is accountable only to voters and not the one party establishment club that controls Arlington.
The three candidates for Arlington County Board squared off last night at a forum hosted by the Radnor/Ft. Myer Heights Civic Association. Green Party candidate Audrey Clement, Democrat Libby Garvey and Republican Mark Kelly advanced cases for why they each should get voter support.
Garvey’s main push is for more communication and transparency in government.
“I think we’re having a little trouble keeping our priorities straight. Is it all about education, infrastructure, public safety? Or is it all about Artispheres and street cars and that sort of thing,” Garvey said. “I think we need to be very clear about our priorities and make them our core services.”
Kelly’s focus is on greater fiscal discipline. He’s also interested in getting the current board members to think outside the box.
“They talk a lot about the Arlington Way and including communities. But sometimes when the rubber meets the road, it’s a lot of talk,” said Kelly. “Someone needs to be presenting alternative plans and offering amendments even if they lose.”
Clement touted her fiscal responsibility as well. She distinguishes herself from Kelly by saying their ideologies are different, and cost reduction doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the welfare of residents. She advocates eliminating what she calls wasteful spending projects like Artisphere, the planned Long Bridge Park aquatics and fitness center and the planned Columbia Pike streetcar. She said a bus system would provide the same service at one-fifth the cost of the streetcar’s estimated $250 million dollar price tag.
Kelly also stated opposition to the streetcar project. Garvey, on the other hand, wouldn’t offer a firm opinion on the idea. She did, however, express interest in examining expanded bus service instead. Like other issues raised throughout the night, the streetcar is something she said she “questions.”
“I’m not taking a stand on it right yet, but I have lots of questions about whether it makes sense for the amount of money that we need to put in,” Garvey said.
A topic referred to throughout the forum is the Board green-lighting the purchase of an office building in the Courthouse neighborhood for a homeless shelter. The candidates assert that regardless of whether or not a year-round homeless shelter a good idea, the process for approving the deal was faulty. Garvey, while again stating she has questions about the project, reiterated the need for transparency. She said although the board may have had good reasons for their decision, residents don’t like it.
“I don’t think the county makes huge errors all the time, but you have to wonder about this one. I’m very uncomfortable with how uncomfortable people are with it,” she said. “We need to have the community on board with it because of the costs.”
Kelly said the way the county went about the approval process is unacceptable. He contends it was rushed, and the building purchase shouldn’t have gone through when so many citizens oppose it.
“The Board needs to realize that in talking with people throughout the county, people don’t feel like their concerns are being heard,” he said.
Clement said the purchase is outrageous due to the $25 million purchase price and the $10 million price tag for renovations.
“It represents a terrible burden on the taxpayers of this county, and is probably one of the worst decisions ever to come down,” she said.
Clement backs a shelter that would require an investment of no more than $2 million dollars, which she believes could be easily achieved by renovating the existing A-SPAN winter shelter. She added that her party wanted a year-round shelter no matter what the cost, but she doesn’t support that viewpoint.
“I am willing to deviate from my party, if need be, on issues. Particularly as they pertain to fiscal responsibility,” said Clement.
Garvey highlighted her own ability to deviate from her party, stating that no sitting member of the County Board endorsed her in the primary, despite all being Democrats. Kelly advanced the need for getting a fresh face on the Board, namely not another Democrat. He contends the current members sometimes fall into a state of groupthink.
“When you have one party that dominates every single elected office in Arlington, it creates an insular environment where no one’s accountable,” Kelly said. “If we really want to let the existing members of the County Board know that we’re watching them closely, we’ve got to elect someone that’s not part of the club.”
Kelly wants to hold board members accountable by publishing the county’s expenditures online. He also supports hiring an inspector general to perform annual audits. Garvey agrees with the need for annual audits, but prefers bringing in an outsider for evaluation instead of making it a county position. Clement likes the idea of an inspector general looking at the books in order to cut down on discrepancies.
“People are not so much concerned about some of the decisions the county makes, but rather the inaccuracies that have been reported,” Clement said. “I think an inspector general is needed basically to keep the county board honest.”
The special election to fill the county board position vacated when Barbara Favola was elected to the state Senate will take place on March 27.
Republican Files for County Board Race — Arlington County Republican Committee Chairman Mark Kelly has filed to be the GOP nominee in the upcoming County Board special election. It’s not the first time Kelly has run for County Board. In 2010 incumbent Chris Zimmerman defeated Kelly 57 percent to 36 percent. [Sun Gazette]
Progressive Group Endorses Bondi — Democratic County Board candidate Melissa Bondi has garnered an endorsement from Virginia New Majority, a statewide progressive organization. “As a long-time advocate of affordable housing and Smart Growth, she was worked tirelessly to ensure that the county’s plans for economic development have not been pursued at the expense of the county’s working and poor families,” the organization said in its endorsement. “And, we expect Board Member Bondi to pursue a transportation plan that won’t encourage displacement of low-income communities.” [Virginia New Majority]
ACDC To Offer Free Trips to Caucus — The Arlington County Democratic Committee is offering free transportation to its caucus tomorrow night. (The caucus is being held to select a nominee for County Board.) “Rides will be available from the Ballston Metro every 15 minutes from 6:45PM to 8:30PM,” ACDC said in a press release. “Voters can meet the Ride Coordinator at the top of the Ballston escalators… next to Tivoli.” Thursday’s caucus is being held at Washington-Lee High School, while a caucus on Saturday is being held at Kenmore Middle School.
Four Mile Run Footbridge to Be Replaced — The bike and pedestrian bridge that connects the W&OD and Custis trails near the East Falls Church Metro station is being replaced. The new bridge should be complete in the next couple of months and, unlike the old bridge, will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. [Greater Greater Washington]
Flickr pool by ddimicky. ACDC is presently an ARLnow.com advertiser.
Mark was a well-spoken, likable family man who took measured, intellectual positions on the issues. He was a Republican who Democratic voters could potentially find common ground with, especially in an anti-incumbent year.
In the end, however, Arlington voters re-elected Democrat Chris Zimmerman by a wide margin.
It was especially striking that, despite loud grumbles of disapproval in certain quarters over perceived excess county spending, 57 percent of voters still chose to re-elect the number one supporter of the county’s proposed $200 million streetcar project.
“Once again the voters have affirmed their commitment to progressive government… even in a down year,” Zimmerman said.
Voters rewarded Democrats for their “commitment to quality services and strategic investments” as well as “a commitment to Arlington as a diverse and welcoming community,” he added.
“There’s obviously a segment of Arlington that agrees with his side, they do every time,” he said. “He’s obviously a lot more conservative than I am, and a lot more conservative than Arlington.”
Asked whether he would consider adopting any parts of Kelly’s platform — an open, web-based list of all county spending, for instance — Zimmerman demurred. He said the board would continue with its existing agenda, which has ensured a “strong tax base and a strong quality of life.”
“I don’t think Arlington has really been interested in the anti-government, extreme position that Republicans have been taking,” Zimmerman said. “The country may be closely divided, but Arlington has not been closely divided.”
Party with the candidates at the following locations, starting now:
Rep. Jim Moran and Arlington Democrats — Westin Arlington Gateway (801 North Glebe Road, Ballston)
Mark Kelly — Hard Times Cafe (3028 Wilson Boulevard, Clarendon)
Patrick Murray — Baley’s Pub and Grille (4238 Wilson Boulevard, Ballston)
If Jon Stewart wanted to find sanity in politics, he would have had to look no further than across the river in Arlington. This year’s county board race has been polite, issues-oriented and has avoided the stench of national political hyperbole or special interest interference.
Adding to the sanity, the race has also featured a viable third-party candidate who’s a full participant in debates, not a side show.
In Highland Park Thursday night, a quiet, attentive, sign-less audience watched as Democratic incumbent Chris Zimmerman, Republican Mark Kelly and Green party candidate Kevin Chisholm debated a range of issues.
The most heated portion of the debate — relatively speaking — came when Kelly again tweaked Zimmerman on the county’s Columbia Pike/Crystal City streetcar project. Referring to it as a “$200 million trolley,” Kelly made an economic argument against the massive project.
“I just don’t think it’s a wise investment moving forward,” was Kelly’s zinger. Chisholm — a self-described social liberal and fiscal conservative — agreed, and spoke of the “gentrification effect” the streetcar could cause on Columbia Pike.
Zimmerman, who has made the streetcar a bit of a personal mission, responded with a passionate defense of the “years of input” on the project and the “stronger network of public transportation” that the project will bring to the Pike. He announced his annoyance that debate rules didn’t give him enough time to discuss the project’s financing.
The remainder of the debate was pure zen for a sanity supporter. In fact, the most intemperate remaining portion of the debate came from the moderator, who asked about the “glib” county staff response to concerns about the development plan for East Falls Church.
Kelly talked about the “disturbing” lack of public input into the Crystal City Sector Plan and said the board should take more time on East Falls Church. “You don’t just do density for density’s sake,” he said.
Zimmerman said the board will, in fact, take more time on the plan and will “approve something that I’m confident will reflect the needs and desires of the people who live in East Falls Church.”
All three candidates agreed that affordable housing was important, particularly on Columbia Pike. Zimmerman said affordable housing “is what I’ve spent my career working on,” and lauded the county for having “one of the most progressive” affordable housing policies in the region.
Kelly said preserving affordable housing on the Pike starts with not spending money on projects that could result in the loss of garden apartments and existing market-rate affordable units.
Chisholm worried about Pike residents moving to Fairfax and questioned the $250,000 salary of the head of a county-supported housing non-profit, who he did not name. Chisholm added that the relationship between developers and the county government is “too cozy.”
“If we can’t maintain what we already have, why are we putting funds in there to buy something new,” Kelly asked.
Zimmerman countered that the county’s AAA bond rating proves that the board has practiced sound fiscal discipline.
On the state of the Metro system, Chisholm compared Metro to a car that “needs a lot of work” due to years of neglect.
“It’s clear there wasn’t good safety oversight with Metro,” Chisholm added.
Zimmerman, on the defense due to his position on the Metro board, said that Metro’s problems stem from insufficient funding. The system is getting older, he said, necessitating more investment.
Kelly, staring down a particularly juicy target, said he didn’t want “to politicize Metro’s problems,” but argued that the cause of Metro’s safety problems aren’t financial.
“Safety is not a matter of money, it’s a matter of culture,” Kelly said. He then criticized what he said was Zimmerman’s intervention to save a $100,000 per year arts manager position at Metro.
Kelly, whose campaign signs lack the word “Republican,” politely asked voters in heavily-Democratic Arlington not so much for votes, but for an open mind.
“I encourage you to consider me on Nov. 2,” he said.
Republican county board candidate Mark Kelly has started running an ad on local cable television.
The ad emphasizes the “diversity of opinion” Kelly says he would bring to the board. Arlington viewers started seeing the ad on cable TV shows on Wednesday.
“We’re trying to use every means available to reach people,” Kelly said after a debate in Highland Park last night.
Kelly’s opponent, incumbent Democrat Chris Zimmerman, says he has no plans to air any TV ads, although he has done so in the past.
“I’m not buying cable ads,” Zimmerman said, adding that cable viewership is down. “Cable doesn’t have the penetration it used to.”
Zimmerman said that his campaign was based on a 12-month strategy, not a short-term strategy.
Kelly Has $10K Cash Advantage — Republican candidate for county board Mark Kelly may not have raised as much money as incumbent Chris Zimmerman but, true to his campaign platform, he also spent significantly less. Kelly had $28,480 cash on hand on Sept. 30, more than $10,000 more than Zimmerman. More from the Sun Gazette.
County Board Questions NOVA Budget Request — Northern Virginia Community College is asking localities to help cover its $14 million capital budget gap, but at a meeting last night the county board seemed less than enthusiastic about doing so in a year when more budget cuts and tax hikes are likely on the way. Currently, Arlington pays $1 per resident to NOVA’s capital budget fund. NOVA is asking for an additional 50 cents per person. More from TBD.
Hillside Park Reopens — At long last, a hilly, wooded park near Rosslyn, cleverly named Hillside Park, has reopened following significant upgrades. More from TBD.
Planetarium Group to Sell Seats — You can now have your name etched permanently in the David M. Brown Planetarium. The Friends of the Planetarium, which is raising money for much-needed renovations, is offering to engrave brass plaques on the back of one of 55 seats, for a donation of $1,000 or more.
BRAC Meeting Gets Rowdy — For the most part, it was an informative and respectful discussion. But some folks couldn’t contain their anger at the lack of transportation planning related to Alexandria’s massive Mark Center project. Military officials heard an earful. The meeting was organized by Rep. Jim Moran, who has sponsored legislation to delay the move of 6,400 military jobs to the building until sufficient transportation infrastructure is in place. More from the Washington Post.
Kelly Raises More Campaign Cash than Zimmerman — Republican candidate for county board Mark Kelly has been busy this summer. He raised $10,113 from July to August, compared to the $6,535 raised by incumbent Democrat Chris Zimmerman. Kelly also has more cash on hand than Zimmerman. More from the Washington Post.
New Food Carts in Arlington — Just when you thought the food truck craze was reaching a plateau, entrepreneur Ibrahim Hanifi comes along and launches not one but two “Tasty Kabob” carts in Arlington this week. The carts, which serve basic halal food, won’t be moving around like others. They’ve picked permanent outposts in Pentagon City and Rosslyn. More from TBD.
Dan Kain Trophies Owner Profiled — Jim Preziotti, who owns the once-iconic Dan Kain Trophies store, says that he’s getting ready to move his business away from its current location, which is scheduled for demolition. Even in his late 90s, Preziotti is pressing on with the move and a new online store. More from TBD.