Ranked-choice voting is supported by all four candidates for County Board, according to their comments at an Arlington Committee of 100 candidate forum held last night (Wednesday).
The event was the first candidate forum of the fall general election season.
Support is strong among the three independent candidates — Audrey Clement, Mike Cantwell and Adam Theo — who want to unseat Democrat incumbent Takis Karantonis. He won a special election in 2020 and his seat is now up for a full four-year term. Theo, a Libertarian, is the most recent addition to the ballot after officially launching his campaign this week.
While all four support ranked choice voting, the reform would not be ready for the upcoming Nov. 2 election, as the county is still hammering out the logistics of the system. Dismayed at the pace of implementation, the independents said the reform would reveal public support for candidates like them and add political diversity to the County Board.
“I’ve spent a lot of my free time promoting ranked choice voting in Virginia,” said Cantwell, who became the vice president of Fair Vote Virginia, which advocates for ranked choice voting in Virginia, in 2019. “I went to Richmond in February 2020 and lobbied to bring it to Virginia. At that time, to the surprise of many, the legislature passed bills 506 and 1103, which allowed it in [Arlington] and the rest of Virginia. Since that time, [the county has] taken very little action to implement that new law.”
Theo also criticized the lack of movement on implementing the new voting system and educating voters about it.
“It would’ve been awesome to have the logo-picking determined by ranked choice voting,” he said. “That would’ve been a great way to educate the public. Here we are, waiting for the county to proceed and provide results. I have a lot of skepticism for the County Board’s real willingness to push forward real reform. It puts their own positions, jobs, in jeopardy.”
Karantonis said he is on the record supporting ranked-choice voting and voted to fund an initiative to test it out.
“I put money where my mouth is,” he said. “I think this is a great improvement in democracy.”
During the forum the four candidates articulated their positions housing and on Arlington County’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Both Karantonis and Theo said “affordable housing” is the biggest issue facing Arlington.
“I’ve been a housing advocate from day one,” Karantonis said. “The first thing my wife and I experienced [when moving here] was not being able to find housing, not having choices… Arlington is a community that looks back to a solid record of planning carefully for housing, of matching development with assets like transportation, schools and natural resources. We need to bundle these to support the creation of new housing choices because displacement is a real thing.”
“[Housing affordability] poses the problem of pricing out the elderly, low-income, immigrant and disabled people who are clinging on as it is already,” he said. “The number of housing units built in this county is horrifyingly low.”
But he took a jab at the County Board for talking about affordable housing and posing for photos at new developments, while not doing more to prioritize affordability. He spoke favorably of the Missing Middle Housing Study, a county-led effort to see if single-family home areas should be rezoned for more types of moderate-density homes, as a means to increase housing options for the middle-class.
Cantwell said he worries about affordability both in terms of housing and taxes.
“I think the biggest problem facing Arlington is runaway spending and taxes and lack of accountability in county government, [which] stems from lack of political competition,” Cantwell said. “I’m for affordable housing, but I question the outcomes of $300 million spent on a government-run affordable housing program… I think most Arlingtonians are interested in finding a market rate affordable housing place to live in, but not that many are interested in being part of government run program, where they have to submit tax returns, W-2s [and other] bureaucracy.”
Clement said the Missing Middle Study will create more housing, but nothing truly affordable, predicting people will continue to get priced out of their neighborhoods. She added that it won’t promote racial equity, citing a study from New York University that found between 2000-2007, upzoning in New York City “produced an influx of whites in gentrified areas, even as white population plummeted.”
“A far better solution is to repurpose unrented luxury units in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor to moderate income housing,” she said.
(Another NYU study found little link between neighborhood gentrification and displacement of low-income residents, at least in New York City.)
(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Arlington’s four candidates for the County Board agree that Arlington County should take more steps to support small businesses.
The County Board hopefuls articulated their plans for supporting the business community and encouraging economic development during an Arlington Chamber of Commerce candidate forum last night (Tuesday).
Candidates suggested providing grants, cutting certain taxes and fees, expanding online permit applications, and improving both the county’s regulatory processes and how county staff help businesses navigate them.
The debate was moderated by Alex Koma of the Washington Business Journal, a former ARLnow reporter. Koma also asked candidates about office space vacancies, housing and development.
Citing his “Freedom and Justice Plan,” Democratic challenger Chanda Choun said he would encourage public-private partnerships that fund grants for startups and minority-owned businesses, which often struggle to get loans. He would also eliminate the Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax, which is calculated based on the gross receipts of a business.
“If you’re a small mom and pop, and you generate revenue — not even profit — of $10,000 or more, you have to start paying business license fees,” he said. “It makes no sense.”
Independent candidate and Yorktown Civic Association President Mike Cantwell said the county should eliminate the business tangible tax — which taxes the assessed value of business furniture, machinery, tools and computer equipment — and instead tax specific things like automated checkout machines.
“The business tangible tax takes in approximately 4% of revenue for the entire budget and it is a highly inefficient tax and an administrative burden on small businesses,” he said, adding that “we have a role to play to make sure machines don’t replace humans.”
Perennial independent candidate Audrey Clement supported expanding the Permit Arlington portal, which took some permits process online in 2019 (a dozen others are already slated to go digital through 2022). She said the county needs to keep up its vaccine distribution efforts and review the real estate assessment process.
Democratic incumbent Takis Karantonis called for small business grants; better customer service for people navigating county, state and federal regulations; and — for big businesses — a review of county processes to see if they are efficient.
“We need to create something that will sustain [the smallest, women-owned and Black- and Brown-owned businesses] in the long term,” Karantonis said, adding that continuing a pandemic-era business loan program “would be a signal that we welcome them and are committed to restoring neighborhood retail and retail diversity.”
Mike Cantwell is seeking an Arlington County Board seat.
Arlington’s elections office confirmed Wednesday morning that Cantwell indicated by email his intention to run but hadn’t yet filed paperwork.
Cantwell told ARLnow.com that he’s running as an independent.
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he’s held positions with the federal government and currently works for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as a branch chief. He has two graduate degrees, including one from the U.S. Naval War College.
Cantwell said he wants to “end one-party rule” in Arlington, focus on core services, curb rapid urbanization, support small businesses by lowering taxes, and better fund the county auditor’s office.
He will face the Democratic nominee, either County Board incumbent Takis Karantonis or challenger Chanda Choun, as well as independent Audrey Clement, a frequent candidate for local office.
Democrats will choose their nominee through a June 8 primary. Arlington Republicans have until June 13 to nominate a candidate for the general election.
Cantwell and his wife have three children, ages 21, 19 and 16.
Among his numerous activities within the community, he’s the president of the Yorktown Civic Association and former board member of the Lee Highway Alliance that’s sought to revitalize the corridor to benefit businesses and neighborhoods.
Cantwell has been active with the nonprofit Arlington County Civic Federation, but resigned from his position on the federation’s board last month to pursue a run for County Board. He is also the vice president of FairVote Virginia, an organization seeking election reform, particularly with ranked-choice voting.
The five-person County Board, whose members serve four-year terms, currently consists entirely of Democrats. The last time an independent candidate won a seat there was John Vihstadt in 2014.
Karantonis secured a partial term to the seat in a July 2020 special election, following the death of former Board member Erik Gutshall.
Cantwell and the other three candidates are set to appear together via Zoom for the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s annual County Board Candidate Forum this coming Tuesday, May 25.
Photo courtesy Mike Cantwell