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by Progressive Voice November 16, 2017 at 3:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Rip Sullivan

Amid the wreckage of the 2016 Presidential election, I was inundated by folks — reliable activists and, more importantly, lots of new faces – wanting to push back against the policies and, importantly, the style of politics Donald Trump was peddling.

They wanted to do something — immediately. As House Democratic Caucus Campaign Chair, I stressed the importance of the upcoming November 7 election. In response, people exclaimed that they wanted to do something that weekend.

That desire to “do something,” birthed an historic wave election.

I have been asked repeatedly since last Tuesday whether we really expected to win this many seats. My answer is that we knew we could, so we developed a strategy to ensure that, if a wave developed, Democrats and our supporters would be positioned to capitalize in races across the Commonwealth.

And did we ever capitalize.

As with every election, we knew turnout would be the difference. Would that desire to do something translate into votes from folks we really needed to get to the polls? Would people tune in to these important House of Delegates races, or wait until next year’s Congressional elections, or even 2020, to make their opposition to the Trump agenda heard?

The answer? Not only were Virginians paying attention, they were ready to vote in record numbers. Democratic House candidates ran issues-oriented, substantive campaigns and installed unprecedented get-out-the-vote operations to make sure their voters turned out. About 47 percent of Virginia’s eligible voting population went to the polls, the highest percentage turnout in a gubernatorial year in two decades.

As I write this, Democrats have swept all three statewide seats and picked up a minimum of 15 House seats. The House majority is still in play.

What is still undecided?

Three House of Delegates races — the 28th, 40th, and 94th Districts — are still up in the air. The reasons vary. Voters who cast provisional ballots because, for example, they forgot to bring their driver’s license to the polls, could by November 13 submit acceptable photo ID to their local registration office.

In the 28th District, controversy swirls due to a Registrar’s refusal to count 55 absentee ballots delivered to the registrar’s office by Wednesday, November 8 and Democrats have filed a federal lawsuit to force the Registrar to count these votes.

There are allegations that in “split precincts” in the 28th District, 600+ voters were given the wrong ballots, potentially costing Democrat Joshua Cole, currently trailing Republican Bob Thomas by 82 votes, enough votes to win the election. It is likely all three races will proceed to a recount.

Regardless of whether Democrats reach 51 votes in the House of Delegates, a few things are clear.

First, it is a new day in Richmond. Our 34-member House Democratic Caucus has grown by at least 15 members. No matter what our eventual number is, we will have new influence. New clout. The Republicans ignore us at their peril.

Second, from Medicaid expansion to women’s reproductive rights to environmental issues and more, the General Assembly will finally more closely reflect the values and priorities of the whole of Virginia.

Third, we must continue to focus on ways to increase voter participation. While 47 percent turnout this year is encouraging, according to the Virginia State Board of Election’s statistics for the last 40 years it is still well short of the astonishing 66.5 percent turnout in 1989’s gubernatorial elections and the high-water mark of 83.7 percent in 1992’s Presidential election.

We can reach these numbers again by making it easier to vote in Virginia.

One way is to recognize that more and more Virginians want to and are voting early absentee, and then encourage and better enable that method through legislation and voter education.

The way Virginia’s voting process is currently structured, unless a voter meets a narrow set of criteria that permits him or her to vote early absentee, he or she must have the time and resources to vote during a 13-hour window on a Tuesday.

I have repeatedly introduced legislation in the House of Delegates — and will again in the upcoming session — to provide for no-excuse early absentee voting. Early voting clearly helps broaden participation in our democracy, making it more representative. 47 percent turnout this year is fantastic, but we can do better. It’s time to help more Virginians’ voices be heard.

As for whether we’ll have the 51 votes to make sure that happens, stay tuned…

Rip Sullivan is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Arlington and McLean. He practices law in Arlington with Bean, Kinney & Korman, PC.

by Larry Roberts November 9, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Larry Roberts

Democratic sweeps in Arlington are not a given, but often occur. In some instances, Arlington is in tune with the rest of the Commonwealth, though usually a much deeper shade of blue. In other years. Arlington is out of step with electoral results in the Commonwealth as a whole.

This year, the County’s voters were largely in step with voters in the Commonwealth as a whole – particularly urban and suburban areas – in an extraordinary night for Democratic candidates.

Governor-Elect Ralph Northam’s nine point victory exceeded most expectations. He received over 300,000 more votes than Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2013. Lt. Governor-Elect Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring also achieved victory margins exceeding most expectations.

The tectonic shift in the Commonwealth was in House of Delegates elections. Going into the election, House Republicans held a 66-34 edge over House Democrats. Most observers expected that the Democrats would pick up five to eight seats. No one imagined Democrats picking 15 seats, with two more still in play. It is now conceivable, though unlikely, that Democrats will gain control of the House of Delegates or a 50-50 tie leading to a power sharing arrangement.

Assuming the House ends up at 51-49 for the Republicans and the Senate — not up for election in 2017 and has a 21-19 Republican advantage, what will this mean for Arlington? What does the Democratic statewide office sweep – giving Democrats 10 straight statewide victories — mean?

We can expect the policies of the Northam Administration will track closely the McAuliffe Administration across the broad spectrum of issues – including economic development, education, transportation, Constitutional rights, and promoting equality and inclusion as core values. Governor-Elect Northam has announced that native Alexandrian Clark Mercer will serve as his Chief of Staff, which will assure that Northern Virginia, and its inner suburbs, will have a seat at the governing table.

We can expect that Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring will also provide continuity in the Lt. Governor’s and Attorney General’s offices.

Personalities and priorities do differ, however. Governor-Elect Northam has largely aligned himself with issue positions supported by most Arlington voters. At the same time, he grew up on the Eastern Shore and has lived most of his life in Hampton Roads with its own unique issues and challenges that sometimes, but not always, track those of Northern Virginia.

There will be early signs of whether Governor Northam’s Administration will reflect the multiculturalism that is the reality of Northern Virginia and place as great an emphasis on transportation – particularly multimodal transportation -more important to Northern Virginia and Arlington than any other part of the Commonwealth.

Others will be changes Governor Northam makes to the budget introduced by Governor McAuliffe, any adjustments to the state education funding formula and levels, and signals Governor Northam sends about tax reform – which affects each region and even locality differently.

The biggest changes will likely occur in the General Assembly. On a procedural level, Democrats will gain seats on House Committees. On a policy level, Governor Northam will likely have less need to use his veto pen than Governor McAuliffe. And House Republicans will have difficult calculations on whether to make adjustments to their legislative agenda.

That will in large measure depend on whether they believe their slim majority is more likely to remain in place in 2019 through moderation and bipartisanship or, alternatively, by introducing and voting on legislation by party line votes because they believe they can regain seats in 2019 by hewing to a conservative line.

Arlington legislators, and Northern Virginia legislators in general, will certainly have substantially more say in activities in House Committees and on the House floor.

There is some hope that the House and Senate will reflect on the changing demographics and population shifts in Virginia and feel a need to keep their majorities by reconsidering the importance of such issues as Medicaid expansion, transit funding including support for Metro, and how inclusion and equality contribute to the health of Virginia’s economy. Such a shift would bring the Commonwealth more in line with the issue positions of most Arlington voters.

Finally, we now know that Republicans will not have sole control of the redistricting process in Virginia in 2021. This gives hope for nonpartisan redistricting reform efforts. In any event, redistricting will have to be bipartisan. That is likely to result in districts that will lead to Congressional and General Assembly membership more philosophically aligned with Arlington.

Lawrence Roberts recently served as Campaign Chair of the Justin Fairfax for Lt. Governor campaign. In the past, he has served as Counselor to the Governor in Richmond and Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee. He has been active in civic organizations in Arlington, Northern Virginia, and statewide. He is an attorney in private practice.

by Progressive Voice October 26, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz

For the past four years I have had the pleasure of working with a regional asset building and financial capability nonprofit organization which seeks to empower low and moderate income residents of the Washington metropolitan region financially so they can take control of their finances, increase their savings, and build wealth for a better future.

Prior to creating and managing strategies to advance the financial lives of low and moderate income families and communities, I spent 12 years working in the wealth management and financial planning industries for the benefit of families of financial means.

Having now worked with families from across the socio-economic spectrum, I see clearly that we all have dreams and aspirations — regardless of one’s level of wealth or income. What matters most is translating them into goals and objectives.

Yet low and moderate income families face significant challenges in achieving their goals and objectives. Almost 1 out of 5 Arlingtonians live in asset poverty. A great community like ours can and should do better in leading the Commonwealth and the nation in inclusive prosperity.

To provide greater opportunity for Arlingtonians of low or moderate income – who contribute to the growth of our local economy and work hard to better their families’ circumstances, I propose the creation of a local Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-wage families in Arlington.

Over four decades, the EITC has been considered one of the most effective policy tools lifting Americans out of poverty. The EITC is a tax refund to increase the income of working families by providing tax reductions and cash supplements. It can make a real difference to low and moderate income individuals and families. It puts money back in the pockets of working individuals and families and helps them save for their financial future.

According to data from the IRS and Brookings, over 7,700 taxpayers in Arlington claimed the federal EITC — with over $15 million being received by local families from the federal government at an average EITC amount of $1,800.

Since the creation of the EITC at the national level in 1975, other jurisdictions have created local versions. In our region, the District of Columbia and Montgomery County enacted legislation to create anti-poverty programs based on the federal EITC. Their leaders now view the EITC as a critical investment in their economies and in the wellbeing of low-wage workers.

By creating a local EITC, Arlington could lead the way in the Commonwealth by showing that a local EITC provides all Arlingtonians with benefits that accrue from residents who have basic economic stability in their lives. Rather than a handout, an Arlington EITC would represent a smart co-investment between our community and hard-working, low-wage employees who aspire to provide for their families and achieve the American Dream in our community.

Based on nationwide experience, we can expect EITC recipients to spend the received tax credit to purchase goods for family needs from local businesses, save for their children’s education and long-term goals, and pay down debt.

How much would it cost to create an Arlington EITC? It’s all dependent on the percentage of the federal EITC we are willing to match. In jurisdictions where a local EITC has been created, the match ranges from 4 percent (Wisconsin) to 40 percent (Washington, D.C.). Virginia’s current statewide policy is to match 20 percent of the federal EITC.

For the Arlington EITC, I advocate for a 10 percent match as a baseline with gradual increases. At a 10 percent rate, we would be investing $1.5 million on an annual basis to further financially empower our community members currently in low-wage jobs.

As I wrote in this column last December, “local initiatives and solutions are stronger, more effective and efficient when the community is broadly represented throughout the decision-making processes.” Adding voices from our low and moderate income communities to the decisions that impact all of us is critical.

I strongly believe that local initiatives looking at local challenges and opportunities from a holistic perspective can play an impactful role in determining the wellbeing of our community in the years and decades to come. The creation of a local EITC would not eliminate poverty in our community, but would be a step in the right direction.

My wife, our two kids, and I want to be part of an Arlington that moves toward inclusive prosperity. How about you?

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz is the Associate Director of an asset-building and financial capability organization in Washington, DC and a member of Arlington County’s Joint Facilities Advisory Commission. He was a member of the South Arlington Working Group and served on the Board of Directors of the Arlington-based nonprofit organization Dream Project.

by Progressive Voice October 19, 2017 at 12:00 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Emma Goodacre

Since 2010, hundreds of thousands of Virginians have gained access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Virginia’s uninsured rate is now down to 8.7 percent — a 33 percent drop since enactment of the ACA.

Nationally, the Affordable Care Act has helped over 20 million people access quality care at an affordable price that, for many, was previously inaccessible.

But with so many “repeal and replace” attempts in Congress, an open enrollment period only 45 days long and huge cuts to advertising and navigator funding by President Trump’s Administration, many Virginians are confused about their ability to access affordable coverage going into the health insurance enrollment season.

Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act is still in effect and affordable coverage options ARE available for Virginians shopping on the Marketplace.

Young Invincibles, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding economic opportunity for the Millennial generation, is helping Virginians get coverage at an affordable price, understand their plan options, and access high quality care.

We do year-round health insurance literacy education to ensure that Virginians know how to use their insurance, and to provide culturally competent health care options to some of the Northern Virginia’s most underserved communities.

This year, we will be at the forefront of Virginia’s open enrollment outreach to support consumers looking for affordable coverage options, particularly in light of the significant cuts to Virginia’s enrollment assistance programs such as Enroll Virginia, the Navigator consortium dedicated to helping people get coverage.

The Marketplace open enrollment season runs only from November 1 until December 15. Below, you’ll find some of the most frequently asked questions about open enrollment and affordability options so you’ll be ready to enroll on November 1st.

Has “Obamacare” been repealed?

No. The ACA — commonly known as “Obamacare” — has not been repealed.  Comprehensive coverage remains available and income-based tax credits are currently available to make plans more affordable.

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by Progressive Voice October 12, 2017 at 12:00 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Nicole Merlene

Outside of voting, most Arlingtonians do not participate in local civic life. Even fewer study key planning documents such as the Arlington Community Energy Plan or the Rosslyn Sector Plan.

Although county plans impact large numbers of residents, a relatively small number of civic group members, commission members and political party members shape the discussion around these topics.

While our county has been blessed with a remarkable group of civic volunteers and thought leaders, there is a danger of becoming too insular.

Proactive participants who often dedicate countless hours to Arlington civic life can come to overlap among many groups and have an outsized impact on the community’s consideration of a problem, plan, or opportunity.

While it is important to create and make use of a knowledgeable base of experts and advocates, we must acknowledge that this proactive group does not necessarily represent the viewpoints of a majority of county residents. This can lead to decisions that do not take views into consideration that are necessary to achieve a result that provides maximum benefits to the county as a whole.

It is incumbent upon the County Manager’s office and the County Board to put systems in place that seek input from additional sources so that we do not rely too heavily on those that have the ability to be and are proactive in their engagement.

If, for example, there is decision affecting field space up for consideration, the times of relevant public meetings should be posted at the field, similarly to how the county posts information when road work will be done.

Associations (such as the Arlington Soccer Association) that represent sports teams that play on those fields should be notified. Notes could be sent home with students.

A goal of a representative democracy should be broad-based consensus that enhances public trust in the decision making process and makes for easier and more successful implementation of public policy decisions.

Such consensus may be easier with broader participation that does not require the many hours of continuous volunteer time that is at times seemingly required for one’s voice to be heard. A proactive approach can avoid what often happens in today’s national politics – where the conversation is dominated by activists on polar ends of the spectrum.

I will use many of my peers as an example. One-third of Arlingtonians are between the ages of 20-33, and 56 percent of housing units in Arlington are rentals. Most do not know if they will live in the D.C. Metro region for the next five years, let alone in Arlington County. Most don’t own big ticket property items such as cars or homes.

Anecdotally, I would say they are not making close to median income and are paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent. They have a full time job and are working long hours to improve their economic situation.

There are few hours left in the day to engage in the civic process even if one was so inclined. Most people in the 21st century want and need to receive information in direct manners that are quick, digestible, and easily interactive.

Arlington County has a population of around 230,000 and has over 3,700 full-time county employees. Although 16 people are assigned to community engagement and marketing, most work in video/media production (11) or administrative support (3).

This leaves only two employees engaging directly with local communities. While most departments will present their work to the community upon request, we need a more comprehensive plan of engagement.

In a major step forward, the County Manager has developed a Draft Action Plan for Enhancing Public Engagement, along with a public survey that has now closed. Hopefully, the final approved Plan will include a proactive effort to engage people in newer demographic groups.

Another improvement relates County Board notices of action. Key items are posted as “public legal notices” that are hardly designed for a lay person. These notices should be presented in a digestible manner.

Creating broad consensus for county actions and priorities can also be facilitated if various top level working groups are brought together annually to develop joint priorities wherever possible – and not just operate separately – to create broader County unity.

While there is much work to be done, I commend the county for working toward an action plan for enhancing public engagement with broader participation and consensus.

Nicole Merlene is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington County Civic Federation, the Arlington Young Democrats and the North Rosslyn Civic Association, where she serves as liaison to the Rosslyn BID. She is Associate Director of Public Policy for Invest in the USA.

by Progressive Voice October 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Michelle Winters

In 2015, the Arlington County Board adopted its first-ever Affordable Housing Master Plan. Two years in, how are we doing?

No Market Let Up – Thousands of market-rate affordable housing units have been lost to rent increases or redevelopment. The County’s most recent accounting shows less than 3,000 units remain affordable to households earning 60% of the area median income — about $45K (single person) and $65K (four-person household).

Worsened Political Environment – Proposed Trump administration budget cuts would devastate the support network for low-and moderate-income people, including affordable housing programs. We were spared the worst for the current fiscal year, but we can expect draconian cuts in each new proposed budget. Moreover, plans for a tax code revamp put at risk the nation’s only real affordable housing program – the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit – that responsible for almost all new or substantially rehabbed affordable rental housing in Arlington.

Local Funding Has Not Kept Up – Even with annual allocations to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund – the County’s revolving loan fund supporting affordable housing development and preservation – resources fall so far short of demand that the County can only partially fund the project selected through the recently enacted Notice of Funding Availability – APAH’s Queens Court development. Any other planned developments in the system will have to wait potentially several years.

This is the context for the County’s next budget planning round. The AHMP’s goal for affordable housing supply is simply to provide housing to match the demographic reality and prevent further loss. Adequate AHIF funding is the most fundamental step the County can take to support this goal. Annual AHIF allocations have increased to $15 million in the current fiscal year, doubling the allocation of just five years ago. However, even this increased annual allocation remains far below the amount needed. Supporting Arlington as a diverse and inclusive community requires support for an even higher AHIF investment.

The County is trying to move forward simultaneously on a number of other non-financial AHMP-related initiatives potentially making the climb toward affordability less steep.

Reduce Costs – This month, County staff plan to advertise a policy change to potentially reduce the amount of structured parking required for residential developments near Metro. At an estimated $45,000-$60,000 cost per space, parking requirements are a key example of local public policy impacting the cost of housing. Given ride sharing trends and overall lower levels of car ownership, this forward-thinking policy change can save thousands of dollars per apartment. This reduction is more justified and meaningful for affordable housing properties, potentially reducing public subsidy needs and producing lower rents or a larger number of affordable units.

Provide Incentives – Arlington and other inner-ring suburbs and cities have been undergoing a purging of non-subsidized affordable housing stock. Even were adequate AHIF loans available, saving this market affordable housing stock would be daunting. Individual property owners make their own decisions about the future of these properties based on what makes the most sense to them, not public policy priorities and needs. Setting up an incentive structure that aligns owners’ and developers’ interests with those of the public could be highly beneficial. Over the past year, County staff have been working toward a proposal, hopefully released very soon, to create a property owner incentive package to encourage preservation or replacement of these affordable units.

Create More Options – Another small-scale solution in the works would not rely upon public subsidies or incentives but could nonetheless provide a new, moderately-priced housing supply. The County’s accessory dwelling ordinance, originally adopted in 2009, has not worked as anticipated. Accessory dwellings are what many people refer to as “granny flats” or “in-law units” – standalone apartments within or on the property of a single-family home. The current AD policy contains so many restrictions that only 20 units have been approved. This year, the policy is getting a much-deserved second look with an eye toward removing many restrictive provisions keeping these units from being created.

Progressive Arlingtonians should support all of these efforts with enthusiasm, even if each is just a small step toward solving a large and daunting housing affordability challenge. After these proposals move ahead – and hopefully each will be successfully adopted by the County Board over the next few months – there are many more examples of similar measures that can and should be taken up promptly to achieve the goals of the Affordable Housing Master Plan. Full speed ahead.

Michelle Winters is the executive director of the Alliance for Housing Solutions in Arlington. AHS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization working to increase the supply of affordable housing in Arlington and Northern Virginia through public education, facilitation and action. Learn more about the Arlington for Everyone campaign at http://www.allianceforhousingsolutions.org/.

by Progressive Voice September 28, 2017 at 12:00 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Alfonso Lopez

When Virginians vote this year for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and House of Delegates candidates, one key issue should be redistricting and the importance of fair, competitive House districts. We need to elect candidates who will fix the detrimental impact that partisan gerrymandering has had on our country and Commonwealth.

A recent report by the Center for American Progress highlights how partisan gerrymandering and unfair district maps have skewed the legislative process.

When legislators pick their voters instead of the other way around, it creates a culture of divisiveness, partisanship, and lack of accountability that negatively affects every aspect of our democracy.

In Virginia, we’ve created a system where one party holds a 66-34 majority in the House of Delegates despite losing every statewide election for the last five years and when overall House votes cast across the state are roughly 50-50 between the parties.

Over the years Virginia has transitioned from a rural to a much more urban/suburban state. Indeed, our population growth and economy is increasingly driven by areas like Northern Virginia, Metro Richmond, Hampton Roads, Charlottesville, and Roanoke. However, gerrymandering with a software-driven, laser-like scalpel has ensured that rural areas wield outsized influence within the Richmond policy making process.

As a result, policies that are supported by voters in urban/suburban areas like Arlington and Fairfax County are often summarily rejected in the committee process before they ever reach the House of Delegates floor.

A prime example — supported by the majority of Virginians – is Medicaid expansion.

Despite the undeniable benefits expansion would bring to rural hospitals struggling to stay open, legislators representing rural areas have drawn themselves into such partisan districts that supporting anything associated with Obamacare threatens a serious primary challenge. The same is true for legislation to raise the minimum wage and increase K-12 education funding.

The irony is that often the constituents of these rural districts have the most to gain from these policies.

Hospitals in rural areas are struggling with the costs of uncompensated care. Lee County lost its hospital in 2013 and, just two weeks ago, Pioneer Community Hospital in Patrick County announced that it will close.

What company wants to move their operation, manufacturing plant, or call center to a county without a hospital?

The same is true for state K-12 education funding, which makes up a significant portion of public education funding in rural areas.

Northern Virginia can rely on a strong local tax base in building world class public education systems. Unfortunately, rural parts of the state don’t have the same local revenues.

If districts in Virginia were drawn to be more competitive, more legislators in Virginia could buck party dogma in favor of legislative solutions with broad, bipartisan public support such as raising revenue for public education or expanding access to health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

In times past, partnerships in the General Assembly developed between rural and urban/suburban legislators – merging urban/suburban support for measures to spend resources on core services for rural areas with rural support for economic development and transportation initiatives needed to keep urban/suburban economies moving forward. The result was enhanced revenues for core services across the Commonwealth.

Instead, we have ideological gridlock and stagnation that holds Virginia back.

That is why Virginia needs an independent, nonpartisan Redistricting Commission that takes into consideration natural geographical boundaries, jurisdictional boundaries, communities of interest, and competitiveness when creating district boundaries.

If we want to create reasonable districts that fairly represent the values and priorities of all Virginians, we need to remove politics from the redistricting process.

2017 represents a major turning point in the push for nonpartisan redistricting. The next Governor of Virginia will oversee the 2020-2030 redistricting process and can veto any plan that uses partisan gerrymandering to rig our democracy for the next decade.

The choice could not be clearer.

As the head of the Republican State Leadership Committee in 2010, Ed Gillespie led the Redistricting Majority Project (REDMAP) with the expressed purpose of flipping state legislatures having the largest impact on Congressional redistricting. Gillespie publicly stated that their goal in drawing new lines was to “maximize gains” for Republicans.

In contrast, Lt. Governor Ralph Northam has been a strong advocate for nonpartisan redistricting and even cosponsored nonpartisan redistricting legislation when he was a member of the State Senate.

It’s time to break the cycle of partisan gerrymandering that has skewed our democracy and our legislature’s public policy priorities.

Make your voice heard by voting for Ralph Northam for Governor on November 7.

Alfonso Lopez represents Virginia’s 49th District in the House of Delegates, which includes South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax County. He serves as the Democratic Whip in the Virginia House of Delegates. He and his family are long-time Arlington residents.

by Progressive Voice September 21, 2017 at 12:30 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Krysta Jones

A few years ago I had the pleasure of being invited to serve on the Women’s Monument Commission of Virginia, which is leading awareness and fundraising efforts for a first of its kind monument on the Capitol Grounds in Richmond. The monument will honor 12 women who have made an impact in Virginia.

Coincidentally, the monument is scheduled for completion just shy of 2020, when we will celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. There are several initiatives around the country to highlight and share years of research exploring how a movement of a diverse group of women fighting for the right to vote succeeded in securing the right to vote – primarily for white women.

After the Women’s March in January 2017, which galvanized a new energy and birthed a growing crop of activists, I have been even more aware of divergent movements within the women’s movement. While some saw the march as an opportunity to celebrate all women, others were disappointed with the lack of diversity among the organizers and the attendees.

It is no surprise that the “women’s movement” has been historically been run by white females, often older, who have become the stalwarts and spokespeople for what it means to fight for equal pay, reproductive rights, affordable childcare, or other traditional women’s issues.

As I have worked to motivate more women from all backgrounds to take an active interest and leadership role in all fields, and advocate for women’s issues, I have always noticed that many don’t see women like themselves on the front lines. While it is true that there is something special about seeing yourself in those who lead, it’s even more important for the overall good and progress of society to build relationships and learn from those who are different from ourselves.

The Women’s Monument Commission of Virginia seeks to do just that. The Commission selected women to honor with a view toward diversity of races, professional backgrounds, ages, time periods and geography. A major goal was to help us move past traditional stereotypes of what it means to be a woman leader.

When people walk up to the monument and read or hear about each statue, we want them to see some of themselves — as well as people different from themselves — as they reflect on the accomplishments of the women honored and at the same time reflect on what they can aspire to in their own lives.

Some of the women featured in the monument include:

Maggie L. Walker, who was one of the great entrepreneurs of her time and, with the founding of the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, the first woman to charter a bank in the United States.

Cockacoeske, who was a Pamunkey chief and an astute politician and ruled the Pamunkey for 30 years until her death in 1686. As Chief, she signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation on May 29, 1677, restoring important rights to native Virginia tribes and commemorated in an annual ceremony among the chiefs of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes and the Governor of Virginia during Thanksgiving week in November. 

Laura Lu Copenhaver, who as Director of Information of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation helped expand southwestern Virginia’s agricultural economy by emphasizing cooperative marketing of farm products to improve the standard of living for farm families.

On October 4 at the Woman’s Club of Arlington, I will moderate a conversation with former State Senator (and former Arlington County Board chair) Mary Margaret Whipple about her leadership journey, her service as Commission vice chair, and stories of the women who will be featured with statues as part of the monument.

My hope is that we can encourage additional dialogue in Arlington in advance of the completion of the monument to inspire an appreciation and celebration of the true power of all women.

Krysta Jones is founder and CEO of the Virginia Leadership Institute and former Chair of the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women. In 2014, Krysta was named by Leadership Arlington as a Top 40 Leaders Under 40 awardee.

by Progressive Voice September 14, 2017 at 12:30 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Maggie Davis

With back-to-back record setting hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there is no mistaking it: climate change is real, and it’s here. Our fellow Americans and others living in or visiting the Caribbean and along the Gulf coast now face the massive task of recovering and rebuilding.

In rebuilding, community and governmental leaders should make every effort to “build back better”  to replace the destroyed damaged infrastructure with new materials better equipped to withstand the storms our changing climate is making more intense and more damaging.

The ability for a community to come back better from a disaster — weather related or otherwise — is directly tied to the investments a community makes well before a disaster. In the urgency of rebuilding from an immediate disaster, it is incredibly difficult for a community to identify and implement new design or technology when rebuilding.

Instead, community resilience requires us to be proactive, adaptable and diverse in our investments so we can withstand the next weather-related disaster as well as other adverse events.

Proactive. Arlington leaders have proactively addressed environmental concerns in planning. From its 2013 Clean Energy Plan to lower greenhouse gas emissions to improving road intersections to make transit easier for bicyclists and pedestrians, Arlington is making a concerted effort to curb climate change.

But an even larger part of community resilience is proactively addressing the needs of our residents’ ability to thrive. This includes addressing systemic issues that are more difficult for residents to sustain through a disaster.

Resiliency in the face of an adverse community event — whether it is a hurricane, a terrorist attack like the one we experienced on 9/11, or an economic crisis — often depends on the overall stability in a person’s life as well as access to resources a person has before that event.

If it is difficult for community members to make ends meet during the best of times, it highly likely that a disaster would set them back even farther. This is why we need to proactively address long-term underlying issues such as low and stagnant wages and housing affordability.

Adaptable. In building a more resilient Arlington, we must be willing to adapt to changing times. This includes both general policy and the underlying reality that to invest in the future the county needs to have revenue to invest.

Arlington has struggled with a large commercial vacancy rate for at least the last five years, and in an era where many jobs can be completed with a laptop and a wifi connection many companies are increasing productivity while decreasing the physical space need to operate.

Moving forward, the county should critically examine the current vacancies and continue to pursue flexibility in how certain vacant or nearly-vacant are used. By being more flexible, we may be able to lower the commercial vacancy rate and increase tax revenues to further invest in the community.

Diverse. Arlington needs a diversity of skills, abilities, and resources to grow and thrive in these tumultuous times. In recent years the county has done a good job at diversifying our underlying economy, with the Nestle Corporation moving its headquarters to Rosslyn and the county’s intention to entice Amazon to open its second headquarters here, Arlington is moving toward an economy somewhat less reliant on federal agencies, workers and contractors even while remaining competitive in the federal space given Arlington’s location next to the nation’s capital.

This economic diversity makes the County less susceptible to threats of federal budget cuts and government shutdowns. It also provides a workforce with a greater diversity of skills by drawing in tech entrepreneurs, engineers, marketers, artists and more alongside the many bureaucrats, lawyers, and policy makers who have called Arlington home for years.

In sum, emergencies can come in many forms and without advance warning. Arlington is known and respected for its planning. We are more resilient than many communities for that reason. But waiting for emergencies to create sufficient resiliency is a mistake. That is why it is important to be proactive and adaptable while diversifying our skills, abilities and resources.

Maggie Davis is President of the Arlington Young Democrats. She lives in the Radnor Heights- Ft. Myer neighborhood and works as an emergency management law and policy analyst.

by Progressive Voice September 7, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By John Grant

Labor Day is in the rearview mirror, students are back in school, and football is in the air. Fall is here and — since we live in Virginia where we have elections every year — that means we have another election in just a few short weeks.

On November 7, the eyes of the nation will be on Virginia as we elect our next Governor. This will be the first major statewide election since the 2016 Presidential election.

If you’re disheartened or angered by what’s happening across the Potomac River, you have a chance to send a message to America — and the world — by making sure we send the right person to the Governor’s mansion.

I believe Dr. Ralph Northam is the right person for the job. He’s a pediatric neurologist who also served as a U.S. Army physician from 1984-1992. He is also our current Lt. Governor, having previously served two terms in the Virginia State Senate.

Dr. Northam has the right experience to keep Virginia moving forward and continue the great work of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). He has worked side by side with McAuliffe in strengthening and diversifying Virginia’s economy — particularly in communities like Arlington that have substantial federal spending as part of their local economy.

Dr. Northam is a thoughtful listener and a pragmatic problem solver. Given what we’re all seeing on the news every day, doesn’t that sound like a breath of fresh air?

My grandmother always said you can tell a lot about people by the company they keep. Dr. Northam’s endorsements show that his agenda and his values fit well with Arlington — the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, NARAL Pro Choice Virginia, the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia Professional Firefighters and Equality Virginia are some of many organizations endorsing Dr. Northam’s candidacy. Ralph’s company is Arlington’s company.

Dr. Northam grew up on the Chesapeake Bay. Stewardship of our natural heritage is in his DNA. In his time in Richmond, Dr. Northam has taken steps to combat the climate crisis, promote the new energy economy and the jobs it creates, and advance clean energy solutions.

Dr. Northam’s vision for our environment stands in stark contrast to the efforts by Ed Gillespie to take Virginia backwards in terms of energy production. That led Tom Perriello to recently highlight the importance of electing Ralph Northam in this piece on Blue Virginia.

I know a lot of people are just realizing we have an election this year. There’s plenty of time to do your homework. You can learn a lot more about Dr. Northam here. I believe you’ll agree with me that Dr. Northam is the right person to stand up for Arlington values in Richmond.

While you’re learning more about Ralph Northam, keep in mind that Virginia Democrats also have great candidates for Lt. Governor (Justin Fairfax) and Attorney General (Mark Herring). Their values and positions on the issues also align with the majority of Arlingtonians.

Here are a few things you can do right now:

1) Make sure you’re registered to vote. Moved recently? New to the Commonwealth? Out of town on Election Day? You have until Monday, October 16 to update your registration and until Tuesday, October 31 to request an absentee ballot. I know we’re all busy, so consider this your five-week warning. You can find information about voting in Arlington here.

2) Out of town on Election Day? You have until October 31 to request an absentee ballot. Or you can vote in-person absentee at Courthouse Plaza starting on Friday, September 22.

3) Feeling fired up and ready to go? You can volunteer via the Arlington Democrats or via the Northam campaign here.

John Grant is a past Chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission. He lives in Nauck with his wife, toddler and Alaskan Malamute.

by Progressive Voice August 31, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Emma Violand-Sánchez

On the morning of Thursday, August 24, I stood at Courthouse Plaza next to Lizette A., an extraordinary young woman, as she led a press conference to announce that she and 10 other Dreamers and their allies would spend the weekend marching from Charlottesville to Richmond to advocate for the immigrant community.

Lizette said that she and her fellow Dreamers could not continue to sit and wait as politicians “use our futures as a bargaining chip while having our families and communities torn apart.”

Lizette was referring to the agonizing uncertainty about whether the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs will be ended by the current administration and Congress. These programs, instituted under the Obama Administration, have allowed nearly 800,000 students and young working adults to contribute to the country that is their home.

Lizette is an inspiration. I have known her since she graduated valedictorian from Wakefield High School. She was only two months old when her parents brought her to the United States. Lizette qualified for DACA, earned a scholarship to attend college and now works at an educational non-profit.

But instead of rejoicing in their success, Lizette and other DACA recipients live under stress because Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other attorneys general have given President Trump an ultimatum that if he does not phase out DACA by September 5, they will sue the federal government.

How can it be that an exceptional professional who has lived virtually her entire life in Arlington and considers herself an American – it is the only country she has known – faces such a threat to her future and that of about 800,000 DACA recipients? Without DACA, these young people will lose work permits, their defense against deportation, and their chance to go to college at in-state tuition rates.

More than 600 college and university presidents wrote to the President to uphold and continue DACA. It is not just a moral imperative but an economic benefit to the nation: The Center for American Progress has calculated that the country would gain $433.4 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) if DACA is continued.

What is to be gained by pulling the rug out from under the feet of these hard-working young people? What is the source of this bigotry? Sadly, recent events in Charlottesville reminded us all of how strong are the forces of hate and division in this country.

And shortly after Charlottesville, the President of the United States pardoned a sheriff who was convicted of using racial profiling to target immigrants. Think about that: Our president pardoned a man who was found guilty of discrimination and contempt of court.

Lizette is one of the founding Board members of the Dream Project. The Project’s mission is to empower students whose immigration status creates barriers to education — by working with them to access and succeed in college through scholarships, mentoring, family engagement, and advocacy.

The Dream Project has awarded 77 scholarships for the 2017-18 academic year. This past year, we had an exceptional retention rate in college of over 83 percent and 24 of our Dream Scholars have graduated from college. They currently are working as engineers, medical professionals, researchers, and journalists.

In times of such darkness as we face today, it is tempting to give in. In times of such hatred as we face today, it is easy to hate back. But as Martin Luther King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This is why we must continue to shine light on our work so that more people can see what our Dreamers are striving for, what they aspire to achieve, how they hope to contribute to this great nation, and what inspiring young men and women they are.

And we must resist the desire to hate back at those who hate us: The rightness of our cause will be proven by our deeds, by our values, by our character. Our Dreamers don’t have time to hate – they are too busy building productive and creative lives, caring for their families, and contributing to their communities and their country.

Dr. Emma Violand Sánchez is the founder and President of the Dream Project Board. She is a former chair of the Arlington School Board member and retired administrator. In January 2017 she was selected as a Washingtonian of the Year and in June 17 she received the Woman of Vision Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women.

by Progressive Voice August 24, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Paul Friedman

It was said by some that Barack Obama’s election and presidency was a reflection that America had become a post-racial society.

For many people, that was a positive, hopeful – albeit optimistic — statement. For others, it was a reason to discredit diversity and inclusion efforts and declare that institutional racism no longer existed; that discrimination against people of color could not exist in a land that had elected an African American president.

For still others — including President Donald Trump – President Obama’s election was illegitimate. It was the culmination of societal change favoring people of color and foreigners at the expense of white Americans who had made this country great. President Obama was to be opposed and delegitimized. The attack on white America was to be exposed. America was to be made great again.

These forces led to the election of Donald Trump. In August 2017, they led to the invasion of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK. They led, in turn, to a President signaling support for those invaders.

What a far cry from March 1965, when America recoiled from the racism of state police nearly killing marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. The brutal display – almost exactly 100 years after the end of the Civil War – led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The post-racial society illusion would underlie a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 decision stripping the Voting Rights Act of Section 4, one of its most important provisions that required certain states to get advance federal approval before making any changes impacting voting.

Led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court claimed that states with a long history of slavery, segregation, racism and voter suppression had evolved and were no longer in need of close federal supervision. Contrary to the Chief Justice’s unjustified and convoluted logic that Section 4 was no longer necessary, the result of the decision has been a concerted push to eliminate from the voting rolls African Americans and other people of color.

Those who felt the need to oppose and delegitimize President Obama provided the political catalyst for Donald Trump, who boldly launched his campaign against President Obama in March 2011 on “The View” by asking: “Why doesn’t [Obama] show his birth certificate? There’s something on that birth certificate he doesn’t like.”

On Fox News five days later, he said, “I’m starting to wonder myself whether or not he was born in this country.” Two days later, he went on Laura Ingraham’s radio program and declared: “He doesn’t have a birth certificate, or if he does, there’s something on that certificate that is very bad for him. Now, somebody told me … that where it says ‘religion,’ it might have ‘Muslim.’ And if you’re a Muslim, you don’t change your religion, by the way.”

Off to the races, Trump has not looked back. He initially declined to disavow the support of David Duke. He used Twitter to send coded messages, sometimes via his family members, about his support for racists and anti-Semites – amazingly despite his daughter becoming Jewish, marrying a Jew and raising Jewish children.

Then, in the wake of the hatred and anti-Semitism on display in Charlottesville, America saw its elected national leader take his strategy, and the expression of his personal views, to a whole new and previously unthinkable level. President Trump actually said that there were “many fine people” among the neo-Nazis and KKK’ers despite videos of them chanting racist and anti-Semitic epithets as they marched with torches. He has not backed away from his statement.

And he wants to ensure that we keep monuments in place to uphold our “heritage.”

Think back to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March 1965. Pettus served as a Confederate general during the Civil War. After the war he was a Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan and a Democratic U.S. Senator. The bridge was named for him in 1940 to send a message of support for his involvement in the KKK. It was one of many such acts by those seeking a return to a world in which white people were viewed as superior to African Americans in the law and in daily interactions.

Is this the heritage President Trump wants to preserve?

We have an opportunity in Virginia in 2017 to send a strong signal to President Trump that his vision does not reflect our values. I hope voters will send that signal on November 7.

Paul Friedman is an attorney and a long-time resident of Northern Virginia. He has been active in nonprofit organizations, civic organizations, and as a business consultant. He is currently the Executive Director of a national advocacy organization.

by Progressive Voice August 17, 2017 at 2:30 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Graham Weinschenk

At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, I stood in front of the Arlington School Board along with fellow members of the Student Advisory Board leadership team and declared that we had just experienced “The Year of the Student” in the Arlington Public Schools.

Multiple times throughout the school year, large numbers of students had expressed themselves in front of the School Board and attempted to influence policy; something unseen before this year.

Most notably, on February 16 over 100 students, parents and staff from Yorktown High School walked into the Arlington Education Center and took their places facing the School Board. Nearly 40 of those students spoke out, providing over an hour and a half of testimony. They spoke out because after dozens of incidents of racism, homophobia, xenophobia and hate, the response from the Yorktown High School administration appeared to be non-existent. There was either no punishment or little punishment for those who made inappropriate and callous remarks. Targeted students had no tangible support from their school administration.

So, the students took their concerns to the School Board. Thirty-nine speakers later, the members of the School Board gave their responses. The Superintendent of the Arlington Public Schools, Dr. Patrick Murphy (whose contract was recently renewed a year early), said, “I am stepping up. This is not acceptable.” Yet, what has come to fruition from the outrage expressed by parents, teachers and, most importantly, students?

Speaking as the former Vice Chair of the APS Student Advisory Board, my conclusion is that seven months later we have yet to see a single proposed policy change. The School Board and the Superintendent heard, but they did not listen.

Today, we continue to hear a lot of talk, but there remains no tangible commitment by the Arlington Public Schools to make changes on this issue. The frustration that still exists among students, especially on this topic, leads me to call for a student representative to the Arlington School Board.

Student representatives are nothing new, and it would be fairly easy to introduce one to the Board. The Virginia Code (§22.1-86.1) has allowed for the appointment of student representatives to local school boards since 1999. The Alexandria School Board has had two appointed student representatives since 2013 while the Fairfax School Board has had a student representative since 1986.

Under state law, student representatives are eligible to sit with school boards during public and closed meetings, introduce resolutions for consideration, and be able to say how they would have voted. However, there are still some restrictions. Student representatives are not allowed to vote on matters before the board, and they are not allowed access to confidential information, including information related to a specific student, teacher, or employee.

Last school year was a hallmark year for student involvement in the Arlington Public Schools. Like never before, students were able to translate their anger and disappointment on numerous issues into direct action – at times flooding the board room to make their voices heard on multiple occasions and for numerous issues.

The frustration that many students feel goes beyond not feeling included; it stems from a feeling that not only is the student voice not wanted, but that it is also not an important factor for consideration in the decision-making process. The relationship between the Arlington School Board and the Student Advisory Board is similar to the relationship between a teacher and a student and as long as that attitude of keeping students at arms-length exists, the voices of students will never truly be heard.

Now more than ever, students need a sign from APS that they matter, and a student representative on the School Board would show that the student voice is important. Student apathy toward the Arlington Public Schools is dead. It is time to include us in the decision-making process.

Graham Weinschenk is a former Yorktown High School student who graduated in 2017. He served as the Vice Chair of the Arlington Public Schools Student Advisory Board for the 2016-2017 school year. Outside of APS, he serves as the Secretary of the Virginia Young Democrats and will be attending the College of William & Mary in the fall.

by Progressive Voice August 10, 2017 at 1:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Andres Tobar

Today’s national media attention on immigration is primarily focusing on the deportation of undocumented immigrants and on the building of a border wall and who will pay for it.

Less attention is focused on the positive work being achieved in local jurisdictions where immigrants are viewed as an asset, not a liability, and the work that they do to bring a civil tone to the immigration debate.

In Arlington County, many Latino activists have worked over the years with other community and civic leaders to ensure that Arlington remains a place of welcome and inclusion. One outstanding leader is Leni Gonzalez, a Latina from Mexico who came to the United States several decades ago to study on a Fulbright scholarship. She later moved to Arlington when, in 1986, she married her husband, Lee Niederman. Later this month, Leni will leave Arlington to move to El Salvador, where her husband has accepted a job.

During her time in our community, Leni has always worked to improve the lives of immigrants and new Americans. In the last decades, her experience and compassion for others has made her an important leader on numerous fronts.

For example, Leni was one of the founders of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center (SEEC), a day laborer center established in 2000 to help immigrants find employment by matching them with employers who are in need of temporary labor. She has been a member of the Executive Board, including serving as its Chair for the past several years. Leni has worked closely with SEEC’s community partners to strengthen SEEC’s programs and build upon its successes.

SEEC is the only local nonprofit organization in Virginia that works with the County government in providing a welcoming venue for immigrants seeking temporary employment and a convenient process for employers.

As SEEC Board Chair, Leni’s leadership helped expand SEEC’s mission to train immigrant women on using green cleaning products in their housekeeping businesses, improve their marketing and safety, and increase their business opportunities. Leni also championed a SEEC program to train Latinas on starting their own businesses, an initiative that SEEC has hosted in partnership with El Poder de Ser Mujer (The Power of being a Woman).

Leni was one of the founders of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO), a coalition of Latino organizations advocating for immigrant rights and in opposing anti-immigrant legislation in the Virginia State legislature. Leni served on its Executive Committee and for more than 10 years helped organize advocacy activities in Richmond by bringing immigrants, many of them students, as well as members of the faith community, to meet with General Assembly members to express opposition to numerous anti-immigrant bills.

A number of these bills focused on immigrant students and higher education. These bills were intended to block immigrant students, even if they graduated from our local schools, from entering college or paying in-state tuition. The testimony of the students helped humanize immigrants before legislators, most of whom had rarely encountered this community in their everyday life.

Leni’s understanding of the Latino community and the need to participate in the political process led to her being the first Latino leader to Co-Chair an Arlington Democratic Joint Campaign in 2000.

In 2002, Leni worked in Gov. Mark Warner’s Administration, followed by a similar appointment in Gov. Tim Kaine’s Administration. Most of her work was in the Department of Motor Vehicles, where Leni was a Department Liaison to the community. She did extensive work in clarifying the driver’s license eligibility requirements for legal residents. Leni also promoted through the Latino media information to help immigrants navigate DMV processes.

For Leni’s years of service as a multicultural outreach worker, she has received recognitions and honors, including Northern Virginian of the Year in 2016, Distinguished Latina Women Life Achievement Award in 2014, and Arlington County’s James B. Hunter Human Rights Award in 2015.

There are few Latinos in Virginia who have demonstrated over time the ability to work effectively with both state and local government agencies and in the immigrant community. Leni is one of those few. Fortunately, she has set an example that other Latinos have learned from and will be able to follow.

Leni will be dearly missed by both the immigrant community and those in government circles who had the privilege of working with her.

Andres Tobar has been the Executive Director of SEEC for the past 13 years and has worked and served with Leni on many Latino advocacy and political organization efforts.

by Progressive Voice August 3, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Matt de Ferranti

In recent months, this column has highlighted a positive, progressive agenda advanced by the 8th Congressional District Democratic Committee. We now turn to county-level issues.

Schools, Metro and transportation, housing affordability, parks and open space and Arlington’s Energy Plan are all important issues worth discussing in detail.

I believe each is linked to economic opportunity, so that’s where I begin.

Economic Opportunity in Arlington is Strong: At our county’s core, just like our country’s, is the idea that the American Dream is achievable for those who work hard. By that standard — how achievable is the American Dream — Arlington is a great place to live.

Measures of economic opportunity confirm this. Our unemployment rate is 2.2 percent. Our population is amongst the most educated in the country. Our median household income is fifth highest in the country.

Arlington Faces Economic Challenges: Despite being a place where most can realize their versions of the American Dream, we do have challenges. Our commercial vacancy rate over the last five years has been between 18-20 percent, reflecting the reality that many federal tenants left Crystal City and Rosslyn in the aftermath of September 11 and that the economy is shifting from heavy reliance on office buildings to working from home and the technology-driven workplaces of the 21st century.

Arlington’s 8.8 percent poverty rate is another challenge we must face. In 2015, the poverty line for a family of four in the County was $24,250. In such a great county, we should take measures to help our neighbors in need — many of whom already work full time — above the poverty line.

Embrace The 21st Century Economy: As the workplace changes, we will need to be a great place to work and play to retain and attract businesses and talent. We must embrace the technology based economy and the green economy as they lead to new economic growth in the years to come. That means embracing Arlington’s Energy Plan and driving toward even more renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Acquire Land Necessary to Grow: The newly formed Joint Facilities Advisory Committee has recommended that we acquire the land necessary to provide public services important to all Arlingtonians. I believe the County Board should approve the purchase of the land on S. Carlin Springs Road and the Buck Property. We will need both properties to facilitate public safety and transportation services needed to serve our people and keep our economy growing.

Invest in Metro: Metro has enabled many of us to get to work and has brought many businesses to Arlington. While there have been significant problems over the past few years, it’s also true that Metro is an investment in the middle class that has paid off many times over and that Metro’s role in businesses success and accommodating population growth make it indispensable. We must be committed stakeholders, demanding accountability while investing wisely. We cannot let Metro fail.

Commit to Building a Fourth High School: Over the long-term, economic growth will be heavily influenced by the quality of our schools. To keep our schools world class, I believe we must work to reduce construction costs and find efficiencies, while also committing to providing funding necessary to build a fourth, full-service high school.

Protect and Preserve Housing Affordability: Arlington must be a place where the middle class and those who want to work their way into the middle class can afford to live. Teachers, police officers, nurses, restaurant workers and construction workers must be able to afford to buy a home or rent. Seniors seeking to age in place must be able to find a way to stay here. Millennials must be able to afford to rent and realize their dreams of owning. And, yes, we must fully commit to funding the Affordable Housing Investment Fund so that we maintain affordability and diversity as Arlington continues to grow.

Practice Fiscal Restraint: Over the last two years, the County Board has made good, hard decisions on the budget such as choosing to close Artisphere and focus our funding for the arts on Signature Theatre as well as deciding to sell the Reeves Farmhouse while keeping the surrounding land as parkland and for historic uses. We will need to make similar hard decisions in the years to come so that we can have the resources to serve those in need and invest wisely in our future.

Conclusion

Arlington truly is a great place to live. Progressive ideas can make our community even better.

Matt de Ferranti serves on Arlington County’s Housing Commission as Vice Chair, is a member of the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission and is Chair of the Budget Advisory Council to the Arlington School Board.

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