Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the authors’.
By Katie Cristol and Matt de Ferranti
In a conference call, Progressive Voice editors asked Arlington County Board members Katie Cristol and Matt de Ferranti about their insights on the challenges of being a leader in local government during the trying time of the COVID-19 epidemic.
PV: Tell us about the challenge of making pressing leadership decisions, such as on the County budget, when there are fewer known facts, data and projections about 2021 and beyond.
MD: This isn’t an easy budget. In normal years, we have about 10-12 budget work sessions. You have time to learn, synthesize. This year, the fiscal reality has changed during the middle of the process, so it’s challenging to accept the new reality and adjust quickly.
Ultimately, we have to focus on values and what we must do: keeping people safe, making sure people are not evicted, and meeting our commitments and basic human needs. So we will do a pretty basic budget, and in the coming year, may come back and make adjustments. It’s a dynamic environment.
KC: It helps that Arlington’s fiscal fundamentals are still strong. Arlington is in very good fiscal health–such as our bond rating, our fully funded pension plan. What we are really talking about is lost opportunities–the investments we hoped to have made in this budget to attract good people to work here, expand human services, expand our capacity to fix street lights more quickly.
There may be harder times ahead. But what enables me to tell residents we can weather the pandemic as well as the economic challenges is that the fundamentals are still there. We have excellent public health and emergency response teams. We have staff who were with us during 9/11, during the recession starting in 2008. Our public health director got us through H1N1. I hope people feel confident by the amount of expertise brought to bear. We [County Board] are the faces on policy, but a lot of the pandemic response is at the professional expert level.
KC: I was reading through comments, a chat that the county manager did with staff, and it was a reminder of how dedicated the people who work for government are…. EMS, Fire are top of mind but also people who administer food stamps…they are risking their own safety to do that.
PV: What ways have you found to balance necessary health and safety (such as physical distancing) with the desire to shore up the economy, small business and workers? Any new insights about the role of government?
MD: Local governments and state governments have had to step forward, particularly because of an absence of leadership from the federal government, so the breadth of what local government can do is more clear to me than ever. There is an opportunity for innovation as we seek to serve all of our residents well.
KC: At the policy level, we’ve been providing small business technical assistance through BizLaunch, trying to help owners navigate SBA loans.
KC: We’ve been wrestling with how to support our restaurants, which are hurting so deeply. Very quickly, DES [Department of Environmental Services] traffic management set up free parking zones marked with signs outside the restaurants. Those are safer and easier for people [to pick up takeaway orders].
Doing things so quickly now will carry over to expecting it to always be so quick. When people discover how quickly we can do these changes…[laughs] without so much public engagement. People are used to [a long time of] hashing out pros and cons for something like curb space management.
PV: Will there be lingering after-effects on public engagement, move more quickly after the emergency passes?
MD: I think there will be some changes in public engagement. People will still want input and we will engage fully, but I think we will evolve a bit, so our input is both thorough and effective in making sure we hear from our whole community.
(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Despite nearly a year’s worth of effort, it looks like a group of youth basketball referees left unpaid by a county contractor are not going to get paid via any kind of governmental intervention.
Instead, an Arlington County Board member is seeking to crowdfund their payments.
De Ferranti told ARLnow today that he launched the campaign in his personal capacity, and contributed $250 of his own money, after being unable to find a way to get the refs paid in his professional capacity.
The issue started after last winter’s rec league sports season, when the owner and sole employee of a company hired by Arlington County to manage referees suffered a stroke and was incapacitated. Most of the 100 or so referees hired by Mid-Atlantic Coast Referees, which received a $163,269 contract from the county, were paid, according to de Ferranti. About two dozen are still owed, in aggregate, somewhere around $12,000.
That money is unlikely to be forthcoming due to “significant financial problems” at the company, which is now reportedly under conservatorship.
De Ferranti’s GoFundMe effort has set a goal of raising $12,500 from the community, to — as the title of the campaign suggests — “Pay the Referees.”
“I think it’s a unique situation that the law, and the right thing to do, do not align,” de Ferranti said. “I think [the campaign] will move us forward as a community.”
De Ferranti stressed that all efforts had been made to find a way for Arlington County to intervene, but the possible legal remedies appear to have been exhausted. The county government can’t pay the refs — many of them teens — because it never employed them directly.
“The fact that we are legally unable to pay the rest is something that not everybody immediately knows,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do, to compensate individuals for work that has been done… This is unfortunately a reality of the law that says public entities cannot provide gifts of public funds to individuals we do not have contracts with.”
“My colleagues and I share the desire to address this,” de Ferranti continued. “We all, in our personal capacities, want to see this addressed. We tried creative ways to fix the problem, that were legally permissible, and in this unique situation we have been unable to address the problem.”
Arlington now has a contract with a different referee contractor, and new policies in place, he noted.
De Ferranti suggested that donations of $25 could make a big difference and help the campaign raise the needed funds “as quickly as possible.” He plans to further promote the campaign, which he launched today, via social media.
“I ask that you join me, as I care about making sure the young people and adults who refereed our County league games last year are compensated for their work,” the GoFundMe page says. “I’m proud that our community pitches in to help where there is a need. I promise if there was another way to get this done, I would do it. Please help.”
Image via Flickr/Karl Baron
WWI Commemoration Sunday — “At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I ended with the signing of the armistice. One hundred years later, we are gathering to commemorate the end of the Great War with a ceremony at the Clarendon War Memorial to mark the hour and day the armistice was signed.” [Arlington County, Arlington County]
County Board Election Map — In Tuesday Arlington County Board election, John Vihstadt captured most of the precincts in residential North Arlington, as well as few in South Arlington — including Aurora Hills and Fairlington — but Matt de Ferranti won by capturing the precincts along the Metro corridors and around Columbia Pike. [Blue Virginia]
De Ferranti Says Economic Development is Top Priority — “My top priority will be to work on bringing down the office-vacancy rate so that we can afford to invest in our schools and Arlington’s future,” de Ferranti told the Sun Gazette. “The other priorities – housing affordability, renewable energy and child hunger – will also be areas I will work on, but the majority of my time preparing to serve will be thinking about how we can grow and attract businesses to help us grow and afford the investments we need for our future.” [InsideNova]
Arlington Spots Make ’50 Best Restaurants’ List — Half a dozen Arlington establishments made Northern Virginia Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2018. They are: Ambar, Green Pig Bistro, Nam-Viet, Peter Chang, Ray’s the Steaks and SER. None, however, cracked the top 10. [Northern Virginia Magazine]
Arlington Ranks No. 2 on ‘Hardest Working’ List — Arlington is the No. 2 hardest-working “city” in America, second only to the San Francisco suburb of Walnut Creek, according to a new study. Arlington residents spend an average of 41.8 hours per week working and another 4.9 hours commuting, with 16.3 percent of the population leaving work before 7 a.m., the study found. [Haven Life]
ACPD Participates in Alzheimer’s Awareness — “Each year, the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) encounters memory-impaired individuals, including regular contact with those enrolled in the Project Lifesaver program… Recognizing the importance of education and awareness about this disease for both officers and the community, ACPD is joining the many landmarks, cities and agencies who are members of Project Lifesaver around the globe taking part in Light the World Teal Day by wearing teal ribbons on their uniforms on November 8.” [Arlington County]
HQ2 in Crystal City Would Benefit Tysons, Too — The Tysons area is expected to see increased demand for housing and commercial real estate should Amazon open a large new office complex in Crystal City. “I think Tysons will reap the benefits without having to suffer from the traffic issues that may come as a result,” said one university professor. [Tysons Reporter]
John Vihstadt’s pair of decisive County Board victories four years ago were some of the lowest moments for Arlington Democrats since the county turned decisively blue decades ago — for many, that makes Matt de Ferranti‘s win all the sweeter.
De Ferranti’s seven-point win over the independent incumbent stands in stark contrast to Vihstadt’s double-digit dominations of Alan Howze in both a special election and a general election back in 2014. Those wins were widely seen as a rebuke to the Board’s Democratic majority, particularly with projects like the Columbia Pike streetcar and the Long Bridge Park aquatics center the targets of frequent community complaints.
Accordingly, county Democrats now see such a stark turnaround just a few years later as proof that they learned the lessons of 2014, and have responded to that dissatisfaction from voters.
“This is one of the biggest wins for Democrats in Arlington that I can remember,” Paul Ferguson, Arlington’s clerk of circuit court and a Democratic officeholder in the county dating back to 1996, told ARLnow.
Democrats surely benefitted from an energized electorate as well, owing to a midterm election that sent plenty of voters to the polls looking to send a message to President Donald Trump — nearly 101,000 people cast ballots in the race, about 37,300 more than in Vihstadt’s general election win back in 2014. De Ferranti himself acknowledged that “the broader national mood didn’t hurt” in powering his win.
But county Democrats also argued that de Ferranti’s victory, by a commanding margin, proved that the local party and its officeholders spent the last few years making meaningful changes to their way of doing business.
“That was an astounding recovery from 2014,” said School Board member Barbara Kanninen, who also won a convincing re-election over independent Audrey Clement Tuesday. “John is a very well-liked, very well-respected person. For Matt to put together a campaign to overcome all of those obstacles, the 2014 deficit he was starting with, that is absolutely a demonstration of the blue wave.”
Vihstadt did indeed have plenty of strengths, enough that many political observers around the county believed he could survive such a Democratic wave. He had the backing of a variety of current and former Democratic elected officials, a hefty campaign war chest and plenty of name recognition after years of civic activism in the county.
But all those factors were not enough for him to hold on to his seat, ensuring that Democrats will have unified control of the Board once more — Vihstadt himself declined an interview Tuesday night, and did not respond to subsequent requests for comment.
“People genuinely saw that we heard the message of 2014,” de Ferranti said. “Time doesn’t stand still. We’re evolving as a community and responsiveness is important. Fiscal responsibility is important, but also we have to make investments in our future.”
County Board member Erik Gutshall (D) agreed with that line of thinking, arguing that voters themselves have evolved over the last four years as well.
Vihstadt triumphed in 2014 by winning over many disaffected Democrats, to say nothing of independents and Republicans, largely by insisting on a more fiscally conservative approach to governing and emphasizing the close scrutiny of county projects. De Ferranti criticized that style as one that didn’t lay out a positive vision for the county, and Gutshall expects that voters were sympathetic to that message.
“Arlington has had the chance to reflect about where we are and make a choice about what direction we want to go,” Gutshall said. “Do we want to go toward a bold vision or do we want to stay focused on trying to maintain the status quo? With the benefit of four years, they had a chance to reflect on that and move forward.”
However, Gutshall would stress that such a comment is not “an indictment of John’s service.” While county Democrats have long yearned to unseat Vihstadt, the first non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999, none were willing to spike the football too vigorously over his defeat.
“Today, a decent person lost, and a decent person also won — the fact that both statements can still be true in Arlington should give us all hope for the future of our democracy,” county Democratic Committee Chair Jill Caiazzo wrote in a statement.
Board Chair Katie Cristol (D) was even willing to credit Vihstadt for helping the Board learn from his “clear-eyed approach on fiscal issues, in particular.”
“We’ve definitely seen a shift on the Board in how to be more inclusive in our decision-making… and that’s a real legacy for him,” Cristol said.
But Cristol also noted that de Ferranti’s win also completes the near-total transformation of the Board from just five years ago. Only Libby Garvey, a Vihstadt backer and former School Board member, remains from the Board that Vihstadt joined when he won in 2014.
Cristol and Vice Chair Christian Dorsey both joined the Board in 2015, and both were newcomers to the political scene at the time of their victories. When combined with the 45-year-old de Ferranti — a first-time candidate himself, who Ferguson dubbed “the best young candidate I’ve seen in my career” — Gutshall fully expects that the newly reconstituted Board will think, and act, a bit differently.
“It’s a completely different Board, and a Board that’s going to be focused on: ‘How do we meet our challenges and how do we take bold action?'” Gutshall said. “People want to be bold. They want to see progressive values put into action.”
First Incumbent Voted Out in 21st Century — Democrats had few negative things to say about County Board member John Vihstadt during the past few months of campaigning, but voters nonetheless decided to vote him out of office last night, a relatively rare event in Arlington. Per the Sun Gazette: “The last County Board incumbent to be defeated for re-election was Mike Lane, a Republican who in the spring of 1999 won a special election for the seat of Al Eisenberg (who took a post in the Clinton administration) but later that year was defeated by Democrat Charles Monroe.” [InsideNova]
O’Leary Nailed It — Former Arlington County Treasurer (and amatuer election prognosticator) Frank O’Leary was spot on on his analysis of how yesterday’s local voting would shake out. O’Leary “opined that if the Arlington electorate was so large that 100,000 votes were cast for County Board, Democrat Matt de Ferranti would win with about 53 percent of the vote. Presto: Arlington voters indeed cast just over 100,000 votes in that race, and de Ferranti ended up with 53 percent, according to unofficial results.” [InsideNova]
Other Reasons Why Crystal City is Good for Amazon — Should Amazon announce Crystal City as the destination for a major new office campus — despite the disappearance of an event tent that seemed like it might be intended for such an announcement — there are a number of reasons why the neighborhood likely won over Amazon execs. One reason not as widely discussed: Crystal City is already a high-density, mixed-use neighborhood with a relatively small residential population and a long-term plan for more density. In other words, it’s a big green light for Amazon to build out the HQ2 of its dreams, without having to worry much about the NIMBYism that might delay plans elsewhere. [Brookings]
Progress on the Pike for Idido — Idido’s Coffee Social House is getting closer to its opening along the Columbia Pike corridor. This week the cafe filed a Virginia ABC permit application to serve beer and wine.
(Updated at 11:15 p.m.) Democrat Matt de Ferranti has knocked off independent incumbent John Vihstadt in the race for County Board, restoring the Board to unified Democratic control for the first time since 2014.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, de Ferranti captured a 53 percent to 46 percent victory over Vihstadt, a difference of about 7,000 votes.
The difficulty of the electoral math for Vihstadt, amid heavy Democratic turnout, was apparent since the first precincts reported. De Ferranti was leading in three of the first four. In 2014, Vihstadt won each of the four districts in his general election race against Alan Howze.
Arlington Democrats had eyed Vihstadt’s seat on the Board ever since his surprise victories four years ago, when he bested Alan Howze in both a special election and general election, becoming the first non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999.
“This a reflection of where we’ve come as a party… we heard the message of 2014,” de Ferranti told ARLnow amidst a jubilant crowd of Democrats at William Jeffrey’s Tavern on Columbia Pike Tuesday night. “And I think we have to be humble enough to acknowledge that the national mood didn’t hurt.”
De Ferranti, a lawyer and advocate for Native American education, argued that he had an optimistic and forward-looking vision for the county’s future that stood in stark contrast to Vihstadt’s record. He contended that the incumbent hadn’t done enough to address the county’s persistently high office vacancy rate, and that Vihstadt was overly focused on saying ‘no’ to ambitious projects rather than pursuing an agenda with vision.
Vihstadt, meanwhile, pledged to continue to provide some balance to the Board’s Democratic majority and to work to manage the county’s growth responsibly. Vihstadt did not, however, have a singular project to rail against this year, as he did the Columbia Pike Street Car four years ago. The independent’s victory was widely seen as a rebuke to that project specifically and the Board’s Democratic majority more generally.
Still, the two contenders largely agreed on most pressing issues facing the county. However, de Ferranti separated himself a bit by adopting a friendlier stance toward Amazon’s potential arrival in Arlington, and by setting goals for the county like ending child hunger by 2022 and shifting to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2035.
De Ferranti won despite being out-raised by Vihstadt in the race for campaign cash, but he benefitted from support from three of his fellow Democrats on the Board — Libby Garvey endorsed Vihstadt once again — and a variety of statewide politicians.
This was de Ferranti’s first run for elected office. He won a two-way primary against fellow newcomer Chanda Choun back in June.
School Board member Barbara Kanninen also won a second term, ensuring that Democratically endorsed candidates will maintain unified control of the Board once more.
Kanninen, an economist, bested independent Audrey Clement by a margin of 68 percent to about 30 percent. Clement and Kanninen last squared off in 2014, when Kanninen first joined the Board.
The race is nominally nonpartisan, but county Democrats have now twice backed Kanninen for office, and she spent the past year serving as Board chair, which rotates among the five members.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to work,” Kanninen told ARLnow. “I think it shows that people know we’re working hard as a Board and we care about our kids.”
Kanninen ran on traditional issues impacting the school system, like her support for mental health resources for students and improving teacher retention through consistent pay increases, but Clement worked to focus the race on the Board’s decision to change the name of Washington-Lee High School. Opponents of the name change charged that Kanninen spearheaded the effort, and threw their support behind Clement.
Yet the independent fell short once more, in what was her eighth unsuccessful bid for local office in Arlington.
Kanninen was unopposed in the race for the Democratic nomination this year.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District) also cruised to re-election over Republican Thomas Oh, earning his third term in Congress.
Beyer, Virginia’s former lieutenant governor and the owner of several local car dealerships, dominated with nearly 79 percent of the vote to Oh’s 20 percent. The 8th District, which includes Arlington and parts of Alexandria, is one of the most Democratic in the country, last electing a Republican in 1988.
Oh charged that Beyer has been unresponsive to his constituents since taking over for longtime Rep. Jim Moran, and ran on a moderate platform that was decidedly different from other Republicans around the state. But Beyer countered that he’d been an effective representative for the district, noting his focus on environmental issues in particular during his time in Congress.
It is the honor of my life to represent the 8th congressional district of Virginia. THANK YOU for re-electing me today to a third term. I will work every day to make you proud.
— Don Beyer (@DonBeyerVA) November 7, 2018
All four bond referenda easily earned approval from Arlington voters, with none earning less than 73 percent of the vote. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) also cruised to a 15-point victory over Republican Corey Stewart, with his race called as soon as polls closed.
Here is the unedited response from Democrat Matt de Ferranti:
I am running for the County Board to bring new vision and fresh ideas to solve Arlington’s biggest challenges–reducing our office vacancy rate, building the schools we need to educate every child, increasing housing affordability, expanding opportunity for all, protecting our environment, and tackling climate change.
Addressing our Office Vacancy Rate
Our office vacancy rate has been hovering at 20% for four years. If we don’t fill the empty offices in Crystal City, Rosslyn and Ballston, we won’t be able to afford the services that make Arlington such a great place to live: our schools, the housing we need so that people can afford to live here, the parks and open space that are so vital for us, our transportation system, and other key services. And we won’t be able to avoid deficits like the one that is projected for the coming year–$78 million–8% of our operating budget.
Leveraging our Talented Residents and New Ideas To Grow our Economy
The tough work of solving this problem is not new to me. I’ve worked on economic development as an attorney for local governments, so I know how to convene and build relationships with thought leaders and businesses. We must focus on the fields of the future: cybersecurity, clean and green-technology, and medical technology. We must leverage our talented workforce–the most educated in the country–to become the intellectual research and development hub for Virginia and the region.
There are a lot of reasons for our 20% office vacancy rate. At some point, though, we need leadership from the County Board to bring it down. I’ve made this issue my top priority from the beginning of this campaign because I know reducing our vacancy rate is critical for our future and our shared prosperity.
Building the Schools We Need to Educate Every Child
I began my career as a teacher, currently work on Native American education, and served as Chair of the APS Budget Advisory Council last year. I helped bring down a $20 million gap without cutting core educational services. And we still provided a step increase for our educators and other school personnel.
I will continue my commitment to educational opportunity and fiscal responsibility by building and funding the schools we need to educate every child. The Arlington Education Association and all five members of the School Board are supporting me because of my commitment to education, and my honest assessment that we must lower the cost of construction per seat.
Addressing Our Housing Affordability Challenges
I have worked for Habitat for Humanity, serve on Arlington’s Housing Commission, and believe deeply that housing must be affordable for middle class Arlingtonians and those working to get into the middle class. Teachers, first responders, and young families must be able to afford to live here. Seniors must be able to age in place. I will work on this issue with creativity and relentless commitment if I have the honor of serving you.
Expanding Opportunity for All, Ending Child Hunger, and Focusing on Equity
Arlington is the fifth wealthiest county in the country, but we have more than 2300 families who seek help from the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) every month. If we work together, we can end child hunger in Arlington by 2022. We are a compassionate community and ended Veterans’ homelessness in 2015. We can end child hunger too.
Protecting our Environment and Tackling Climate Change
Climate change is a threat to our community, nation, and our world. It is an economic issue and a moral issue that Arlington must lead on. We must commit to 100% renewable energy by 2035. I will accelerate our Community Energy Plan, preserve our trees and open space, and protect our environment.
The Choice You Have on Tuesday
I have the support of leaders you trust: Senator Tim Kaine, Congressman Don Beyer, County Board Chair Katie Cristol, County Board Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey, Delegate Rip Sullivan, Delegate Alfonso Lopez, Clerk of the Court Paul Ferguson, and all five Members of Arlington’s School Board. A full list of those who have endorsed me can be found at https://mattforcountyboard.com/endorsements/
Think about these leaders, the challenges I have outlined above, and our pressing needs. Go to https://mattforcountyboard.com to learn more. Then, hire the County Board Member you believe is best on the office vacancy rate, school capacity, housing affordability, expanding opportunity for all, protecting our environment, and addressing climate change.
I would be honored to earn your vote on Tuesday, November 6.
Democrat Matt de Ferranti wants to end child hunger in Arlington if he wins a spot on the County Board next week, and he says he can achieve that goal in the next four years.
In debates, campaign mailers, and his official platform, de Ferranti has pledged to ensure that no child in the county goes hungry by the time his first term on the Board would be up in 2022.
It’s a target that some observers think Arlington can meet, but gives others pause. And, crucially, it’s a key area of difference between de Ferranti and the man he’s hoping to unseat: independent John Vihstadt, the first non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999.
Both of the contenders for the lone Board seat on the ballot this fall want to reduce hunger in the county, of course. Yet the pair differs on how to achieve that goal, and how much the Board should prioritize it in the first place, providing a clear contrast between candidates who otherwise broadly agree on many of the pressing issues facing the county.
“The differences between me and my opponent are not always in votes, they’re often in agenda and focus,” de Ferranti told ARLnow. “I think we have to call Arlingtonians to be committed to this equity and be a caring, compassionate community on hunger in ways that we haven’t been called to until this point.”
Vihstadt and de Ferranti agree that the county could use more data on hunger and food insecurity in Arlington, and say they’d support a new study of the matter. The Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) teamed up with Virginia Tech to release a paper on the matter back in 2012, and both Board contenders are eager for an update to that document.
Yet the incumbent admits to being a bit puzzled that de Ferranti is bringing up the issue so frequently in the first place, and would much rather wait for more information before acting.
“He is the only one who’s talking about critical gaps in child hunger,” Vihstadt said. “I haven’t heard an explanation of why we’re doing this by 2022 and why we’re only talking about child hunger versus senior hunger. He’s raised a good issue, but I would want to see more analysis on this.”
De Ferranti says he’s so focused on child hunger, specifically, because research links food insecurity to stunted development among children, and suggests that kids learn less if they come to school hungry. But he’s also relying on data from AFAC, the most prominent Arlington nonprofit focusing on hunger, claiming the numbers demand urgent attention to child hunger.
Charlie Meng, the executive director of AFAC, says de Ferranti is right to do so, and notes that he’s raised the issue with the County Board. In data Meng provided to ARLnow, AFAC has indeed seen a steady increase in the number of people requesting meals through the center, and an increase in the number of children served, specifically.
The numbers show that, in fiscal year 2014, AFAC served meals to 3,034 children. That number crept slowly upward over the years, and AFAC served 4,349 children in fiscal year 2018, an increase of about 43.3 percent over those four years.
“The question to the county is always: what’re your priorities?” Meng said. “It’s not always the government’s responsibility, but better support and coordination would go a long way to solving this issue.”
Meng believes that de Ferranti is absolutely correct that the county could effectively cut the number of hungry kids to zero within the next few years, “especially if the coordination and the desire to is there.
On that front, Meng thinks a good place to start would be sending AFAC more money each year.
The county currently allocates about $478,000 annually to help the nonprofit stay afloat, but Meng says AFAC largely depends on private donors to afford its roughly $7.5 million yearly operating budget. For the last two years, the county tacked on an extra $50,000 in one-time funds to send to the center, but the Board declined to do so this year amid a tight budget crunch.
Meng says he hasn’t needed to cut back on any of his programs after losing out on that money, but he has had to work a bit harder to fundraise to make up the difference. He believes that restoring that money, and even sending AFAC a bit more, would make a huge difference in helping the nonprofit identify hungry kids and reach them.
“They give me $478,000, and I give them $7 million in services,” Meng said. “The deal I give these guys is crazy. If you take money away, I can make it up, but it never makes anything easy.”
De Ferranti says he strongly disagreed with the Board’s decision not to send AFAC the additional funding. Even in a challenging budget environment, he argues “we should not be cutting back when the need in terms of the number of families per month has not decreased.”
Vihstadt is sympathetic to Meng’s case, but points out that AFAC already receives more county financial support than most nonprofits in Arlington. Similarly, he said the Board decided not to tack on any more funding in this year’s budget because members trusted in Meng’s fundraising prowess.
“There are nonprofits who are struggling and who do great work: AFAC is not one of them,” Vihstadt said. “I know he used that $50,000 reduction as an opportunity to raise money. I would love to know how much he raised as a result.”
Others working on the issue of child hunger across the state wonder if a focus on services in county schools might be the surer way for Arlington to reach de Ferranti’s goal.
Claire Mansfield, the director of No Kid Hungry Virginia, says her organization largely focuses on making sure schools offer “healthy, nutritious” meals for breakfast and lunch, as that’s generally the easiest way to reach kids who might not know where their next meal is coming from at home.
She’s particularly interested in making sure that schools not only serve a healthy breakfast, but do so as part of the regular school day, which can “remove the stigma” around students looking for a free or reduced price meal.
Mansfield points out that some, but not all of Arlington’s schools offer breakfast in the classroom — Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia says Randolph Elementary, Oakridge and Hoffman-Boston all do so, though Randolph only offers it to preschoolers and kindergarteners.
Mansfield says expanding such programs can have a huge impact, and that Oakridge has already seen a difference since starting breakfast in the classroom. According to her data, only 24 percent of students at the school eligible for free and reduced lunch ate breakfast in the 2014-15 school year; by last year, that number was up to 85 percent.
She added that schools can be key destinations for hungry kids looking to receive meals over the summer. Bellavia said the school system set up nine such “summer meal sites” this year, and Mansfield believes such options are a key way to fill in “gaps” in reaching families in need.
However, she’s a bit more hesitant than Meng to declare that simply following her prescriptions could definitively end child hunger in the county.
“I’m not one to put a timeline on that per se; if I could do it tomorrow I would do it tomorrow,” Mansfield said. “It’s just a case of making a commitment and saying, ‘We know how to solve this and we’re going to do what it takes.'”
Meng says he’s more than willing to do more work with county schools — in fact, one of his priorities is to expand AFAC’s “summer backpack program,” partnering with schools to reach hungry kids when class isn’t in session.
But to do so, he needs more money, and he says that’s where the County Board’s leadership matters on this question.
“We hear all the time, ‘Where are these people who need food?'” Meng said. “All you have to do is look around. Where do you think these people come from who are washing your dishes, doing your laundry, getting paid $7.25 an hour? We have them in this community. But we may not very long.”
Photo via @NottinghamSCA
Independent County Board member John Vihstadt managed to pull in more cash contributions than Democratic challenger Matt de Ferranti over the final month of the race, but de Ferranti has kept his campaign afloat financially thanks to hefty loans from both himself and his mother.
Vihstadt, the first non-Democrat to win a seat on the Board since 1999, raised about $27,400 from Oct. 1 through Oct. 25, according to campaign finance documents released yesterday (Monday). De Ferranti pulled in about $21,100 over the same time period, after quite narrowly out-raising Vihstadt over the course of September.
But, in total, the Democrat reported raising about $66,100 over the course of the last month, thanks to $45,000 in loans. De Ferranti himself supplied $25,000, while his mother, Margot, lent the campaign $20,000. In the run-up to his primary win over Chanda Choun, de Ferranti and his mother both loaned the campaign $4,000 as well.
De Ferranti also donated $3,500 directly to his campaign, though that was far from his largest contribution for the fundraising period. The Leaders in Education Fund, the political giving arm of the advocacy group Leadership for Educational Equity, cut de Ferranti another $10,000 check after previously doing so last month.
None of Vihstadt’s contributions were more than $1,000 each. However, Steve Harris, the owner of the Arlington-based Mr. Wash Car Wash chain, did chip in a total of $2,000 to the campaign over the course of October, the documents show.
The incumbent, who’s seeking his second full term on the Board after winning a special election and then the general against Alan Howze in 2014, also bested de Ferranti when it came to small-dollar donations. Vihstadt notched 72 contributions of $100 or less, for a total of $4,425, while de Ferranti managed 55 for a total of $2,943.
The Democrat has also managed to spend down the bulk of his campaign account, shelling out nearly $124,500 in the last month alone. He now has about $10,850 left for the campaign’s remaining days.
Vihstadt’s spending was also in the six figures for the final month — he reported about $111,650 in expenses — but his larger campaign war chest means he still has about $58,300 left in the bank.
The independent incumbent has now marshaled just over $212,598 to support his re-election bid. De Ferranti’s total is slightly behind that at around $203,100, but that includes the $53,000 in loans he and his mother have provided to the campaign. Records do not show any loans made to Vihstadt’s campaign.
Voters will decide the lone County Board race on the ballot next Tuesday (Nov. 6).
Photo via Facebook
Elections around Arlington may not attract the sort of expensive TV ads that have come to dominate local stations ahead of the midterm elections, but candidates around the county have shelled out thousands to bring their messages to Facebook.
An ARLnow analysis of the social media site’s political ad database shows that Arlington’s six candidates for Congress and local office on the ballot this fall have combined with the county’s party committees to buy 549 Facebook ads from Jan. 1 through today (Oct. 29).
Thomas Oh, the Republican mounting a longshot bid to unseat Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District), led the way among the county’s candidates, buying 100 ads on the site since launching his campaign in February. According to campaign finance reports, he shelled out about $2,100 to pay for those posts.
But Oh was far from the bigger user of Facebook ads in Arlington — that distinction belongs to the Arlington Young Democrats, who have purchased 270 ads on the platform over the course of the year. The Arlington County Democratic Committee wasn’t far behind, buying 91 ads.
The county’s candidates for local office have relied on social media advertising a bit less, but have still used Facebook to reach thousands of potential voters.
In the lone race for a County Board seat this year, pitting independent incumbent John Vihstadt against Democrat Matt de Ferranti, the challenger has run a bit more Facebook ads so far.
According to Facebook’s database, de Ferranti has run 34 ads on the platform since launching his campaign in January. Records show he’s spent nearly $1,900 on Facebook ads in all, though campaign finance documents only detail spending through end of September — candidates will release their final reports of the campaign later this week.
Of the Democrat’s ads, 19 ran in the run-up to his primary victory over Chanda Choun in June, with 15 reserved for the general election contest with Vihstadt. In general, de Ferranti’s ad buys have each been less than $100 each, with only seven falling in the range of $100 to $500 — Facebook only provides ranges, not specific numbers, for spending and traffic figures.
Two of de Ferranti’s ads picked up between 50,000 and 100,000 impressions, while two others range between 10,000 and 50,000.
By contrast, Vihstadt has only run 10 ads on Facebook so far. His current campaign finance reports only show him spending about $100 on the posts, but he’s ramped up his activity on Facebook in October, meaning his spending will be reflected in the next set of reports.
However, Facebook’s database shows that the incumbent has recorded four ad buys of $100 or more, and one of more than $500, in all. He’s also had two ads reach between 50,000 and 100,000 impressions and two more range between 10,000 and 50,000.
Notably, Vihstadt has also turned to television advertising, and recently started running a single ad on local cable stations.
In the contest for the only School Board seat on the ballot, independent (and frequent candidate) Audrey Clement has outpaced incumbent Barbara Kanninen, who has the endorsement of local Democrats in the nominally nonpartisan race.
Clement has run 32 ads this year, spending about $1,520, according to campaign finance reports. She’s only spent more than $100 on three separate ad buys, but she’s still managed to reach plenty of people. Eight of her ads have secured between 5,000 and 10,000 and impressions, while two have managed between 10,000 and 50,000.
Kanninen has run just 12 ads, by comparison, sending about $241 to Facebook in all. Her ads have been viewed a bit less, with three ranging between 1,000 and 5,000 impressions and one making it to the 5,000 to 10,000 range.
Beyer appears not to have a run single ad on Facebook, despite raising more than $1.9 million over the course of his bid for a third term in Congress. However, he has benefitted from plenty of ads touting his candidacy from the local Democratic committee and the Young Democrats.
Oh faces quite the uphill battle to best Beyer, considering that the 8th (covering all of Arlington and parts of Alexandria) is among the safest districts for Democrats in the country. But the first-time candidate has managed to attract some attention to his Facebook ads at least, with four attracting between 10,000 and 50,000 impressions and seven attracting between 5,000 and 10,000. He’s spent more than $100 on seven different ad buys, which has surely helped boost those traffic numbers.
Facebook’s records don’t show any evidence of any ad spending from the county’s Republican committee, or its Green Party.
Disclosure: both Clement and Vihstadt have purchased ads on ARLnow.com. Flickr pool photo via wolfkann
(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) Arlington voters seem ready to flood the polls in record numbers on Nov. 6, with early turnout numbers presaging a “blue wave” that could — potentially — wipe independent County Board member John Vihstadt out of office.
New figures compiled by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project show that the county has seen a 114 percent increase in the number of absentee ballots cast through Wednesday (Oct. 17), compared to the same time last year. The county’s surge to 4,236 ballots cast, compared to 1,976 a year ago, mirrors similarly boosts around the state.
While absentee voting can be an imperfect measure of Election Day enthusiasm, the numbers in Arlington are strong enough to convince some observers that the county could see huge turnout levels for the midterm elections. Former county treasurer Frank O’Leary, a close watcher of Arlington elections, projects that the current absentee numbers are robust enough that the county sees as many as 95,000 votes cast next month.
That figure would be higher than what the county might expect in a midterm election with a Senate seat on the ballot, without a heavily Democratic electorate itching to send a message to President Donald Trump. It would be close to 10,000 votes more than the 85,300 people who turned out for last year’s closely watched governor’s race that swept Democrat Ralph Northam into office with a hefty victory.
Given Arlington’s overwhelmingly blue political complexion, O’Leary expects “at greater levels of turnout, the blue tide will become increasingly the determining factor” in down-ballot races. That includes Vihstadt’s contest with Democratic challenger Matt de Ferranti, who is hoping to return the Board to unified Democratic control after Vihstadt won a pair of upset victories back in 2014.
O’Leary notes that turnout in the county was severely depressed six years ago, when Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) very nearly lost to Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrats took a beating nationwide, and he doesn’t expect those conditions to repeat themselves this time around.
The county lacks a competitive race in the 8th Congressional District, but with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine up for re-election against Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, a politician disavowed by members of both parties for his frequent embrace of white nationalists and the Confederate flag, O’Leary expects that “an expanded electorate coupled with an odious opponent will net Tim Kaine more than 80 percent of the Arlington vote.”
While O’Leary notes that Vihstadt benefits from the “advantage of incumbency, name recognition, and the support of a number of prominent Democratic elected office holders and the benefit of a well-organized, highly-focused campaign,” he also expects that some of the galvanizing issues Vihstadt seized on in his 2014 bid — the Columbia Pike streetcar and “million-dollar bus stops” among them — aren’t as relevant this time around. It doesn’t help, either, that Vihstadt will have to contend with “a re-vamped (and equally determined) Democratic Party structure” and “the curse of ‘The Donald.'”
“In the event that total turnout exceeds 88,000 (with 75,000 or more votes cast in the County Board race), [Matt] de Ferranti will defeat John Vihstadt and win election to the County Board,” O’Leary predicted.
“Mr. Vihstadt starts with a proven base of 35,000, de Ferranti, perhaps 27,500. (That totals 62,500.) Thereafter, at greater levels of turnout, the blue tide will become increasingly the determining factor,” he explained.
Of course, Vihstadt has out-fundraised de Ferranti so far, and some Democrats remain concerned that the challenger has done little to separate himself from his opponent. For his part, the independent remains confident that he can once again shock the county’s political establishment this year.
“I was the underdog in 2014 and may be again this year,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “I wasn’t supposed to win in the first place, but Arlingtonians proved that they are sophisticated voters. As I knock on doors across Arlington, people, regardless of partisanship at the federal and state levels, say they value the balance and independence that I bring to local government. I’m confident that my purple tugboat will survive the blue wave.”
Flickr pool photo via wolfkann