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Flyer posted in Courthouse advertising a YouTube video series (photo courtesy Chaz Papa)

A pair of political hucksters is behind flyers posted along the Wilson Blvd corridor promoting a To Catch a Predator-like YouTube video series.

The series was announced last month by Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, known for telling wild tales that later turn out to be false, often holding press conferences outside Burkman’s Rosslyn townhouse as part of their publicity campaigns.

(Burkman’s local notoriety includes being banned from holding press conferences at a Rosslyn hotel, having police called on one of his townhouse press conferences after protesters and hecklers showed up, allegedly staging a fake FBI raid at his house, and getting shot in a Rosslyn parking garage.)

In videos posted to YouTube, the duo purport to lure government officials to a home in order to engage in sexual activity a woman posing as a teen girl. Parts of the series appear to be filmed in Rosslyn.

The flyer, shown above, highlights one person who was featured in the pilot episode, said to be a former Trump campaign field director who later received a political appointment to a federal agency.

The flyer claims there is an “ongoing investigation by Arlington PD into his solicitations for sex with decoy posing as an underaged teen girl.” ARLnow is not naming the individual because there is no indication that he is accused of a crime by an actual law enforcement agency.

“This is not a flyer created or supported by ACPD,” said police department spokeswoman Ashley Savage, asked whether such an investigation was underway.

“As always, we would encourage anyone with information regarding possible criminal activity in Arlington to report information to ACPD for investigation by calling the Emergency Communications Center at 703-558-2222 or 9-1-1 in an emergency,” she added.

There’s a reason why Wohl and Burkman may be resorting to low-tech ways — like duct taping a flyer to a bus stop — to promote their online video series. Both men have been banned from Twitter for violating rules against misinformation.

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A recall effort targeting Arlington’s top prosecutor is reportedly gaining some traction.

In August, a political group named Virginians for Safe Communities (VSC) launched a recall effort against Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, as well as her counterparts Buta Biberaj and Steve Descano in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, respectively.

Dehghani-Tafti was elected in 2019 on a pledge to reform the criminal justice system. Her tenure has included efforts to reduce racial disparities in prosecution, investigate wrongful convictions and decriminalize marijuana possession. But VSC says her approach has made Arlington less safe.

And now, the group is expanding its outreach with mailers — sent to homes in Arlington this week — as well as a new website dedicated to Dehghani-Tafti and an electronic recall petition. The website is reportedly attracting visitors and signatories, recall organizers say.

“VSC has begun to send out mailers to voters educating them on Parisa’s radical and dangerous agenda and dereliction of her duty to uphold justice, protect victims, and enforce the laws of the Commonwealth,” VSC leader Sean Kennedy says.

“Our effort in Arlington County and the City of Falls Church is ramping up substantially in the near future and will include direct communication with voters on various platforms as well as public forums,” Kennedy continued. “FireParisa.com is generating a great deal of traffic already in [this] first week and we are well on our way to collecting the requisite 5,500 signatures to protect Arlington by removing her at trial.”

The mailer accuses Dehghani-Tafti of lenient treatment of criminals, referencing plea deals with a man allegedly caught with 50 lbs of marijuana at National Airport and a man charged with throwing two dogs off a balcony to their deaths.

In a response, Dehghani-Tafti denied VSC’s claims that she is neglecting her prosecutorial duties and linked the group to other recall efforts in the region.

“These are lies being pushed by the same Trump, dark-money supported political operatives and right-wing groups that have sought to intimidate elected school boards all over Northern Virginia for simply doing their jobs. It’s part of a broader scheme nationwide where they abuse outdated recall laws because they can’t win at the ballot box,” she said.

VSC’s activity has been covered by the New York Times, which described Kennedy as a Republican political operative and noted that another backer, former Trump administration appointee Ian Prior, is “leading a petition drive to recall school board members in Loudoun County over critical race theory.”

The recall effort comes for Descano as he’s facing blowback from judges for what they characterize as overly lenient plea deals in child sex abuse cases.

What’s happening between Descano and the judge’s bench is another example of the judicial tug-of-war between progressive, reform-minded prosecutors and judges.

VSC has to gather enough signatures to have a court review its case against the three prosecutors. A special election would be held if the group both gets those signatures and a judge rules in its favor.

In addition to paid and volunteer canvassers, the group has launched electronic petitions. Kennedy said it’s a common misconception that signatures for Virginia candidates or official recalls must be pen-and-paper. During the pandemic, six candidates for elected office successfully sued the Virginia Department of Elections and State Board of Elections allowing for the electronic collection of signatures.

“Recent Virginia Supreme Court rulings, statutory changes in Richmond, and Virginia Board of Election settlements and rule changes have substantially altered those requirements,” he said. “Our very experienced counsel have concluded confidently that digital signatures (which are signed until penalty of perjury and using a signature tool, not text alone) are valid.”

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A parent group that got its start advocating for a full return to school during the pandemic is calling on the Arlington County Democratic Committee to end its School Board caucus.

Arlington Parents for Education (APE), which has been vocal recently in its criticism of School Board leadership and Arlington Public Schools’ American Rescue Plan spending amid the coronavirus, says the caucus — most recently held in May, to determine who local Democrats endorse in the general election — discourages broad election participation and makes officials beholden to the political party.

“This ‘endorsement’ effectively decides the outcome of the general election during a little-known caucus in May, because the ACDC places the endorsee’s name on its coveted November sample ballot. To wit: every School Board member since 2003 has been endorsed by the ACDC,” APE said in a statement.

The group added that until this process ends, “the Arlington School Board will continue to put students’ needs last, move in lock-step, and avoid even voting on issues that may be unpalatable to the caucus-voting-minority within the party.”

In Virginia, all School Board races are nonpartisan, meaning parties like Arlington Dems can only endorse candidates, not nominate them as in a primary. But as part of the endorsement caucus, candidates agree not to run in the general election, making the end result similar to a primary.

In a statement, ACDC Chair Jill Caiazzo said the group has the same right as any private organization to support candidates for elected office.

“Arlington Democrats fights every year to elect candidates who will advance Democratic policy priorities at all levels of government, including local races,” she said. “Voters need look no further than the recent alt-right fracas at a Loudoun School Board meeting to understand the importance of Democratic leadership in our schools at this time. Arlington Democrats choose our endorsed candidates for this critical leadership position using the most robust endorsement process of any organization in Arlington, with record-breaking participation in each of the past two years.”

This year, the caucus was held to decide who Democrats will endorse during the Nov. 2 general election to fill a seat held by School Board member Monique O’Grady, who’s not seeking a new term. The 2021 caucus, in which ACDC endorsed former educator Mary Kadera, had in-person and online voting options due to the pandemic, and brought in 6,207 ballots, setting a local record. The lockdown-era mail-in caucus in 2020 brought in 5,700 votes.

For the parent group, that turnout is low, even if record-breaking.

“This means that a School Board seat for a 25,000+ student school system in a county of 233,000 is decided by just 2.5% of the population, and in most years it is even lower,” APE said. “We believe broad participation and civic engagement are cornerstones of democracy.”

The group pointed to a list of self-identified Democrats who also want to see the caucus abandoned, including Parent-Teacher Association members, local NAACP members and former School Board candidates Symone Walker and Miranda Turner.

This spring, Kadera and Turner also critiqued the caucus during a candidate dialogue hosted by the Arlington NAACP.

“With all due respect to Arlington Dems, I’d like them to see them be able to endorse a candidate in the normal way other community organizations do, without running a caucus that can artificially constrain the participation of some people,” Kadera said.

Turner agreed, saying the process — which happens in the spring — confuses people and generates low turnout.

“I think it does tend to discourage folks from voting who would otherwise be very interested in voting for a school board candidate,” she said. “It is in fact a nonpartisan race, and I do think it might be better for the school system as a whole to treat it as such.”

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Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti at an NAACP and Black Lives Matter rally and march in Arlington last year (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A new political group has announced plans to force a recall of Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church.

Virginians for Safe Communities (VSC) is aiming to remove her and her counterparts in Fairfax County and Loudoun County — Steve Descano and Buta Biberaj, respectively — by gathering enough signatures to have a court review its case against the three prosecutors. Should the group get those signatures and should a judge rule in its favor, a special election would be held.

The trio were elected in 2019 on their pledges to reform the criminal justice system, and Arlington’s top prosecutor has emphasized initiatives such as decriminalizing marijuana possession, ending cash bail and increasing data transparency. But not everyone sees her changes, or those of her counterparts in neighboring counties, as reforms.

“Their radical policies have proven not only unlawful but dangerous, including eliminating cash bail by fiat, unilaterally nullifying narcotics laws, and failing to prosecute serious crimes. The people of our community would be shocked that these prosecutors aren’t pursuing crimes like animal cruelty, domestic assault, reckless driving, and indecent exposure,” VSC President Sean Kennedy tells ARLnow.

Dehghani-Tafti rejected his claims and said she is fulfilling her campaign promises well.

“I’m doing exactly what I promised my community I would do — what I was elected to do — and doing it well: making the system more fair, more responsive, and more rehabilitative, while keeping us safe,” she said. “This is a far-right attempt to overturn a valid election through a non-democratic recall.”

The effort has already received coverage by national outlets such as the New York Times, which described Kennedy as a Republican political operative and noted that another backer, former Trump administration appointee Ian Prior, is “leading a petition drive to recall school board members in Loudoun County over critical race theory.

The group has not disclosed who its donors are.

Kennedy cited Arlington County Police Department’s annual report, which notes an increase in felony aggravated assaults and carjackings, as evidence against Dehghani-Tafti — though the report also shows a decrease in violent sex offenses and a relatively low homicide rate. He also cited rising homicide rates in Fairfax County in 2021 and an alleged failure to prosecute domestic abusers in Loudoun.

Meanwhile, Dehghani-Tafti’s tenure has seen some conflicts with judges over plea deals and dropping charges without stating a reason why for the record.

Public Defender Brad Haywood defended Dehghani-Tafti and said the group does not have a pulse on Arlington’s community or courthouse.

“I don’t know all of the problems they’re having in other jurisdictions, but the consensus among defense attorneys and her prosecutor colleagues from places like Alexandria and Portsmouth is that Ms. Dehghani-Tafti has done the best job of any of the reform-oriented prosecutors elected in Virginia over the past few years,” he tells ARLnow. “She’s been thoughtful about staff retention and recruitment, she’s moved at a measured pace with her policy changes, and she’s been deliberate about engaging and showing respect to stakeholder groups that were skeptical of her, such as the police department.”

Haywood added that there have been no homicides yet in 2021, and his office has observed that sexual assault appears to be prosecuted more aggressively now than under her predecessor, Theo Stamos.

Matthew Hurtt, a spokesman for the Arlington County Republican Committee and former ARLnow opinion columnist, said Arlington Republicans are concerned about the stats and “look forward to working alongside Virginians for Safe Communities wherever we can.”

“We are encouraged by a broad, bipartisan coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and independents who support prosecutors who will faithfully execute their oath of office and uphold the law,” he said. “Picking and choosing which laws to enforce or re-writing laws wholesale is not the job of a prosecutor — it’s the job of the general assembly.”

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Along George Mason Drive near the hospital Thursday morning, bare metal frames were almost as ubiquitous as the undamaged political signs still standing in the median.

Reports of widespread political sign vandalism earlier this month have seemingly not deterred the vandal or vandals. Newly ripped, trampled or discarded signs can still be seen along Arlington’s main roads. Many, if not most, are those supporting the Democratic presidential ticket.

“We continue to have widespread and sustained destruction and vandalism of campaign signs we’ve lawfully erected,” Arlington County Democratic Committee spokeswoman Rebecca Theim told ARLnow yesterday afternoon. “Our program chair, Carol Burnett, estimates that fewer than 25 of the 780 Biden-Harris signs Arlington Democrats volunteers placed on Oct. 3 remain undamaged. Although we’ve replaced many, most of the original signs simply disappeared; those that remained have been shredded.”

“More than half of our Arlington Democrats Joint Campaign signs titled ‘Vote Democrats’ are also gone or vandalized, including 30 such signs just last night along Wilson Boulevard,” Theim added. “The majority of signs supporting the re-election of Sen. Warner also have been removed or vandalized… There’s been some vandalism of the other signs, but for the most part, signs about the proposed state constitutional referendums and School Boards races have remained untouched.”

Arlington Democrats took the rare step of putting out a press release about the sign destruction on Oct. 4. Isolated incidents of signs being vandalized happen every election cycle, but 2020 seems to be different, local Democrats say.

“I have done median signs for a dozen elections in Arlington, and have never seen vandalism this rampant,” said Burnett, who heads ACDC’s sign program. “Usually, a few signs go missing, but I’ve never seen this kind of destruction, where signs are shredded or torn in half. And I’ve not seen entire streets with signs in a dozen medians vandalized, like has happened this year.”

“There are also many more reports of residents having their ‘Dump Trump’ and Biden-Harris signs stolen from their yards,” she continued. “One resident who lives on 23rd Street in Aurora Hills has had 6 signs stolen. He now takes his signs inside at night.”

On Nextdoor this week, Arlington residents have also reported numerous missing or damaged signs supporting President Trump.

Arlington GOP Chair Andrew Loposser previously told ARLnow that sign vandalism is a common occurrence.

“Nearly every candidate’s signs — regardless of political party —  get vandalized at some point during the campaign, usually by bored high school kids,” he said earlier this month. “Let me be clear: Vandalism of any kind is unacceptable.”

Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow that as of Thursday, the department has received more than a dozen reports of political sign theft and damage in recent months.

“Since July, ACPD has taken 13 reports for damaged, destroyed or stolen political signs,” Savage said. “These incidents have been reported in areas throughout the County.”

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(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) Nicole Merlene, a Democrat challenging state Senator Barbara Favola (D), has become embroiled in a war of words with a self-described political meme account on Twitter.

The incident started with Merlene’s introduction at an Arlington Young Democrats forum.

“As a renter, as someone who completely relies on public transportation because they can’t afford a car, as someone who had to pay out of state tuition for college, as someone who has a very small prospect of owning a home in Northern Virginia unless I get married,” Merlene said in her opening remarks, “when I think about the future, our environment comes to mind. Have we taken the action needed to put us on a sustainable path forward? Do we have leadership in Richmond willing to stand up to Dominion?”

Accusing Favola of conflicts of interest and calling to ban political contributions from Dominion Energy — which has contributed $9,500 to Favola’s campaigns — have been some of the more vocal talking points from Merlene’s campaign.

But an anonymous Twitter account called Virginia Political Memes attacked Merlene over the comments and derided the candidate’s financial status as a “poor personal decision.”

Merlene responded with a three-part video series laying out the candidate’s positions on transit, affordability in Arlington, and renters rights:

One of the most fundamental parts of being a Democrat is that no matter your socioeconomic status, your religion, your gender identity, your race — is that you’re provided an opportunity to succeed and you’re given a level playing field… To write off an entire segment of our population as “poor” because they have to rent or because they have to use public transportation is despicable.

Favola waded into the fight as well and said that Merlene “should take her own advice” when it comes to elevating the political discussion.

The argument escalated to threats of a physical confrontation from Merlene’s brother — a threat lampooned in the responses — for which Merlene took to Twitter to apologize.

Arlington’s primary election be held on June 11 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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Billionaire Tom Steyer is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting in Arlington tomorrow (March 20) about the “need to impeach” President Donald Trump.

The Tuesday event is part of a nationwide event series that Steyer has launched since Trump took office, in which he makes what he calls “the patriotic case for impeachment.”

Town hall attendees can ask questions during the program as Steyer details how “to support the resistance against Trump’s administration” and calls on Maryland and Virginia lawmakers to act, according to a press release. A second town hall is planned tomorrow in Prince George’s County, Md.

More via a press release:

Arlington residents are heavily concentrated in Virginia’s 8th district, which has a strong Democratic majority. Yet Congressmember Don Beyer voted against impeachment in two separate floor votes despite clear support for impeachment from his constituents. In Prince George’s County, Congressmember Anthony Brown represents Maryland’s deeply Democratic 4th district. Even with calls to action from his constituents, Brown has also voted against impeachment in both floor votes. The town halls will gather local voters demanding explanations from Beyer and Brown on their decisions not to back Trump’s impeachment.

“Donald Trump has put our entire country at risk, and America needs strong leaders who will stand up to him,” said Steyer. “Those who condemn Trump but do nothing to back their words with action are enabling the damage he is inflicting on our people and our democracy. Both Congressmembers Don Beyer and Anthony Brown have repeatedly ignored their constituents’ voices by voting no on impeachment. Since the only thing Beyer and Brown should be contemplating is their constituents’ well-being and best interests, we need to know why. The people deserve representatives who refuse to back down on our shared principles, and we will ensure their voices are heard.”

Steyer launched the Need to Impeach campaign on October 20, 2017 through national television and social media ads. More than 5 million people have since signed on to support the campaign, creating a digital army that several political strategists call one of the most powerful political tools in the Democratic party. So far, six national commercials have aired, reaching more than 2 billion viewers through television and more than 454 million through social media. A seventh commercial — the first in Spanish — will begin airing nationwide this week.

The press release did not note where nor exactly when the events will take place. Attendees are asked to RSVP in order to find out additional event details.

Photo via Need to Impeach

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A decorative Thanksgiving turkeyJudging by the multiple Washington Post articles about it this year (and another from last year), it seems that some sizable percentage of the population is dreading their Thanksgiving dinner conversation following Donald Trump’s election.

Especially when the family is divided politically, such conversations can apparently go downhill fast.

Are you among those who cringe at the idea of Uncle Bob passing along his political views with the gravy and stuffing? Or is that not a concern for you?

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claim-our-future-ad-photo-via-generation-opportunity-instituteA political organization “focused on educating young Americans on the benefits of a free society” is scheduled to educate young Arlington residents about the apparent inefficiency of Social Security during a free event in Clarendon tonight.

The informational session will take place at Clarendon Grill (1101 N Highland Street) this evening at 5 p.m., according to an event page.

During the event, members with Generation Opportunity Institute — the group behind this year’s “State of the Millennial Report” — will share why the Social Security program is stuck in the past:

Join our Virginia Team to learn more about how we’re banding together to Claim Our Future. Young Americans know we are not going to benefit from Social Security.  Our generation is paying the government to address a problem we’ve already solved.  Millennials are saving for retirement 13 years earlier than previous generations, saving more, and have specific savings goals. We, not government, should be in control of our money, our savings, our retirement, and our financial futures.  Social Security is outdated, going bankrupt, and doesn’t work for the 21st century.

The event will also include complimentary appetizers despite the group’s disdain for “free stuff.”

Image via Generation Opportunity Institute

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Morning Notes

Blackjack dealer at Leadership Arlington's Monte Carlo Night at Reagan National Airport (Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day — Looking for a place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today? Take a look at the list of Arlington Irish bars we compiled last month. [ARLnow]

Ted Cruz in Arlington Tonight — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) is scheduled to make an appearance tonight at an event at Sobe Bar and Bistro in Clarendon. The event is being hosted by former Va. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, former lieutenant governor candidate Pete Snyder and the Alexandria-based Disruptor Fund. [Facebook]

NYT On Arlington’s Streetcar Cancellation — The New York Times interviewed Arlington County Board members Jay Fisette and John Vihstadt for an article today entitled “Streetcar Revival Is Wavering in Some Cities.” In addition to Arlington’s streetcar cancellation, the article examines D.C.’s troubles in getting its streetcar line operational. [New York Times]

WeWork Revises Crystal City Plan — The coworking office company WeWork, which has been planning to open microunit apartments in an older Crystal City office building, as part of its new WeLive brand, has revised its plan. WeWork and building owner Vornado are now seeking county permission to build two floors of offices in the building. [Washington Business Journal]

Concept for Abingdon Elementary Revealed — Arlington Public Schools staff have presented plans for a 27,000 square foot expansion of Abingdon Elementary School in Fairlington. The project is expected to cost $29 million and be complete in time for the 2017-2018 school year. [InsideNova]

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Morning Notes

Balloons at a Giant store (Flickr pool photo by Jim Webster)

New Chinese Restaurant?Noted chef Peter Chang appears to be planning to open a new Chinese restaurant at the Lee Harrison Shopping Center on Lee Highway. [Washington Business Journal]

Rosslyn: Hub of Hillary Intrigue — Rosslyn is home to an organization devoted to helping Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects, an organization that spends much of its time trying to dig up dirt on Hillary, and a news organization that is covering the 2016 presidential race. This has created some awkward moments at Rosslyn’s few after-work watering holes. Concludes a magazine article: “The epicenter of the country’s great Hillary debate remains a small, charm-deficient enclave across the river from D.C.” [National Journal]

State Legislators Pass Uber Bill — Both houses of the Virginia General Assembly have passed a bill that would allow ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to operate legally in the Commonwealth. [Washington Business Journal]

Bachelor Contestant Is From Arlington — Jillian Anderson, a now-former contestant on this season of ABC’s “The Bachelor,” is an Arlington resident. Anderson, 25, is described as a competitive weightlifter and an “outspoken gym junkie.” [WJLA]

Crystal City: City of the Future? — Paul Singh, founder of Crystal City-based Disruption Corporation and its Crystal Tech Fund, says he wants to model a “sustainable model for an American city of the future” in Crystal City. “Our efforts in the city should be a 100-year legacy,” he said. [Technically DC]

Flickr pool photo by Jim Webster

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