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As Richmond Scandals Drag On, Arlington Democrats Urged to ‘Keep the Faith’

(Updated Tuesday at 9:50 a.m.) The head of Arlington’s Democratic Party is urging local activists to “keep the faith” in the wake of the cascade of scandals plaguing top leaders in Richmond.

Jill Caiazzo, the chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, penned an email to the party’s mailing list Sunday (Feb. 10), in the hopes of buoying spirits dampened by recent revelations about Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring.

While any one of the state’s top three elected Democrats could yet resign — Northam and Herring for admitting to wearing blackface as young people, Fairfax over allegations that he sexually assaulted two women — Caiazzo sought to remind party faithful that “the 2017 election was never about one or two individuals.”

She joined the growing calls for Fairfax to step down late last week, after a second woman accused him of rape, and has already demanded that Northam step aside. But, with all 140 state lawmakers and a variety of local offices on the ballot this fall, Caiazzo is urging her committee to work to “have an impact in our own community.”

Her full email to the committee is as follows:

We are all struggling to deal with the disturbing news from Richmond. I have sat down to pen this email to you multiple times over the past week, only to have my sentiments overtaken by the latest news cycle. I do not know how these controversies will end.

ARLINGTON DEMOCRATS’ ROLE IN NAVIGATING THIS CHALLENGE

But as I said at our monthly meeting on Wednesday, I do know that Arlington Democrats have a role to play in moving our community forward through these difficult times. We may not be able to affect the outcomes of the dramas happening in Richmond, but we can have an impact in our own community. We can reject hate and support sexual assault survivors. We can channel our collective anger that issues of racism and sexual assault still plague us into finding positive solutions for the manifestations of these issues in our own community.

We also can remember that the 2017 election was never about one or two individuals. It was about a movement of grassroots activists of all backgrounds and ages rising up to provide a badly needed course correction for our country. The rise of progressive activism was the central victory of the 2017 election. No subsequent controversy, however hurtful, can take that victory away from us. Only we have the power to do that — only we can decide whether we will allow this heartbreak also to break our activist spirit.

TOO MUCH TO ACCOMPLISH TO GIVE UP
To that question, Arlington Democrats, I say NO. I will not allow the failings of individual leaders to dampen my activist spirit. I cannot — there is simply too much work to be done to achieve a fairer, safer and more prosperous Commonwealth. The stakes are too high. As in early 2017, I am once again picking myself up and dusting myself off. Two steps forward, one step back: it’s time for the heart of the Democratic Party — its local activists — to keep moving forward again.

In that spirit, and mindful that Democrats must re-earn the trust of voters and volunteers that has been lost over the past few days, I respectfully invite you to join me at several upcoming events, detailed below. Some are organized by Arlington Democrats; others are community events. Now more than ever, we need both: to lead in our own right, and to meet our neighbors where they are. I hope that you will join me in the struggle to lead our Party, our community, and our Commonwealth forward.

Caiazzo is referring both to previous listening sessions held by activists on both race and sexual assault, and to some upcoming community discussions on the county’s history with Nazism and school desegregation.

Meanwhile, the situation in Richmond remains unsettled.

Arlington Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) made headlines this weekend for threatening to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax if he refused to resign, and circulated a potential resolution to start the process among his Democratic colleagues. But he backed off that threat this morning (Monday), writing in a statement that he is “open to discussions on other avenues” that would allow for a full investigation of the accusations against Fairfax.

Some reports have suggested that Hope faced resistance from within his own party for the move, particularly from members of the Legislative Black Caucus.

The lieutenant governor is still telling reporters that he does not plan to resign, and is currently looking for an FBI investigation into the claims against him — one incident is alleged to have happened in Boston in 2004, the other in North Carolina in 2000.

Northam also gave some of his first interviews since the scandal broke with the news that a racist photo appeared on his medical school yearbook, saying that he is “not going anywhere” and pledging a renewed focus to racial justice in the remainder of his term.

Herring has been silent, and criticism has been markedly more muted of his conduct, after he voluntarily admitted to wearing blackface once while in college, and apologized.

“I should additionally note that I have not called for the resignation of Attorney General Mark Herring, despite my strong disapproval of his conduct at age 19,” Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) wrote in a Sunday email to constituents. “Herring’s voluntary admission of his blackface representation of a rapper, his lack of racist intent and his profound apology all seem sincere to me.”

However, Levine did note that he is one of just a few voices calling on Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-3rd District) to step down, after reports that he edited a college yearbook that was filled with photos of students in blackface and racial slurs. Norment has denied any knowledge of the photos.

Photo via Facebook

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Morning Notes

Hope: No Impeachment Filing Yet Updated at 9:50 a.m. — Del. Patrick Hope (D) says he’s delaying filing articles of impeachment against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who is facing two accusations of past sexual assaults. “An enormous amount of sincere and thoughtful feedback… has led to additional conversations that need to take place,” Hope said. [Twitter, TwitterTwitter]

More Trailers for Arlington Tech — “Students coming into the Arlington Tech program at the Arlington Career Center for the next two years may find themselves spending more time in trailers than they had thought, and more time than School Board members are happy about.” [InsideNova]

Auction for Restaurant Items — The former furnishings of now-shuttered Rolls By U are up for auction by Arlington County, to help pay its overdue tax bill. [Arlington County]

Car vs. Columbia Pike Restaurant — It appears that a car ran into the front of Andy’s Carry Out restaurant on Columbia Pike. [Twitter]

State Split on Northam’s Fate — “Virginians are deadlocked over whether Gov. Ralph Northam (D) should step down after the emergence of a photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page depicting people in blackface and Ku Klux Klan garb, with African Americans saying by a wide margin that he should remain in office despite the offensive image, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.” [Washington Post]

Beyer on Face the Nation — “Democratic Virginia Reps. Don Beyer and Jennifer Wexton renewed their calls for Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax to step down over their respective controversies” on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning. [CBS News]

Local Chef on CBS This Morning — Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse made an extended appearance on CBS This Morning Saturday, talking about his food, his restaurants and how his aunt inspired his love of cooking. [CBS News]

Flickr pool photo by TheBeltWalk

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BREAKING: Hope Threatens to Work to Impeach Fairfax, After Another Woman Accuses Lt. Gov. of Sexual Assault

(Updated at 9:30 p.m.) Arlington Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) now says he’ll introduce articles of impeachment to remove Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax from office on Monday if he doesn’t step down, now that another woman has come forward to accuse the second-most powerful Democrat in the state of sexual assault.

Hope announced the move tonight just a few hours after Meredith Watson accused Fairfax of raping her when the pair attended school together at Duke University in 2000. She wrote in a statement that the details of her assault mirrored those laid out by Vanessa Tyson, who previously said that Fairfax assaulted her in a Boston hotel room in 2004.

Democrats had been hesitant to call for Fairfax to step down since Tyson’s statement, but pressure is now mounting for the lieutenant governor to step aside. Friday night, the state House and Senate Democratic caucuses released a joint statement, urging Fairfax to resign.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a similar statement.

The bulk of Virginia’s congressional delegation has also demanded Fairfax’s resignation, including Arlington Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District).

“Lt. Governor Fairfax has also shown exceptionally poor judgment in his handling of these allegations,” Beyer and Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District), Elaine Luria (D-2nd District), Abigail Spanberger (D-7th District) and Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District) wrote in a statement. “He repeatedly attacked his accuser, he reportedly used vile and degrading language to describe her, he mischaracterized an investigation into the encounter, and he sought to blame others for events in his own past. These actions do not meet the standard to which we hold Virginia’s highest elected officers.”

For now, it would seem Fairfax is resisting pressure to step aside.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has been similarly steadfast in the face of calls to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page, writing an email to state employees today saying he does not plan to step down. The fate of Attorney General Mark Herring (D) is also unclear, after he revealed he wore blackface while in college.

Earlier today, Hope posted a video on Twitter urging Northam and Herring to learn from their experiences, but stopped short of demanding their resignations. He’d previously supported calls for Northam to step down, but was silent on Herring, who he previously endorsed in Herring’s early stages of mounting a campaign for governor in 2021.

Hope said in the video that he believed Fairfax’s first accuser and thought an investigation was necessary.

Around 9 p.m. Friday, Hope held a press conference in front of Arlington Central Library in Virginia Square, laying out his case for the impeachment of Fairfax, should he refuse to resign. The press conference was attended by CNN, CBS, NBC and local D.C. stations.

Photo via Facebook

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County Democrats, Activists Plan ‘Listening Sessions’ to Discuss Issues Fueling Virginia Scandals

County Democrats and local activists are planning a series of community forums to talk through the issues of race and sexual assault that have roiled Virginia politics for the past week.

With all three of the state’s top Democrats — Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring — now mired in scandal, many within the party are searching for a way forward. There’s no telling whether any or all of the group will resign, leading to quite a bit of uncertainty at the top ranks of the party’s leadership.

In the meantime, the county’s Democratic Committee is planning two “listening sessions” covering some of the matters at the heart of the scandals in Richmond.

The first will focus on “racial equity” and will be held tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th Street S.).

The revelation that a racist photo appeared on Northam’s medical school yearbook page, and the governor’s subsequent admission that he once wore blackface, kicked off the current crisis plaguing state government. Herring’s admission yesterday (Wednesday) that he too once donned blackface added further fuel to the political fire.

The next listening session will focus on sexual assault, after a college professor accused Fairfax of assaulting her in Boston in 2004. The lieutenant governor has faced a bit less pressure to resign than Northam, but some have started to ramp up calls that his accuser deserves to be heard.

The event will be held on Sunday (Feb. 10) at 6:30 p.m. at the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street).

A group of local activists also plan to hold a listening session to discuss the Northam controversy and its “implications for those who want to be allies in the fight for racial justice,” according to the event’s Facebook page.

The event will include four panelists, and will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (4444 Arlington Blvd) at 7 p.m. on Friday (Feb. 8).

Photo via Facebook

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GOP Ditches Proposal for More Affordable Housing Cash, Angering Advocates Concerned About Amazon

Republican lawmakers have scuttled Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposal to ramp up state funding for affordable housing, a move that’s irked advocates hoping for more state help as Amazon starts to move into Arlington.

GOP leaders in both the state Senate and House of Delegates have now put forward budget proposals without the $19.5 million spread across two years Northam had hoped to see flow into the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, a program offering low-interest loans for developers hoping to build reasonably priced housing.

Though the fund would be available to applicants across the state, the governor’s effort to massively ramp up cash flowing into the fund was broadly seen as a small way the state could prepare for Amazon’s expected impacts on the housing market across the Northern Virginia region.

“We are outraged that selected members of Virginia’s money committees stripped this critical support for housing for Virginia families,” a coalition of 40 affordable housing advocacy groups wrote in a statement. Signatories include the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, the Arlington Housing Corporation, the Alliance for Housing Solutions, the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network and the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance.

“At a time when the state is approving $50 million in subsidies to Micron and $750 million to Amazon, it is wholly appropriate and necessary to invest $19.5 million in housing,” they wrote.

The Senate’s proposed budget includes just $1 million for the fund over the next two years, while the House proposal includes no cash whatsoever.

Northam had planned to fund the increase as part of a suite of proposals to use $1.2 billion in new revenue generated by the federal tax reform passed in 2017. But Republicans, who hold narrow majorities in both chambers in the General Assembly, have been steadfast in removing those spending proposals from the budget as part of a broader fight over the tax revenues, arguing that the state would be better served by sending the money back to some middle-class taxpayers.

“We started building our budget with guidelines to remove from consideration any revenue based on the federal tax changes and to eliminate any spending based on that revenue,” said Del. S. Chris Jones (R-76th District), the head of the powerful House appropriations committee. “We are continuing our multi-year efforts to responsibly invest in a stronger economy, provide more funding and flexibility to local schools and make college more affordable.”

Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) was hoping for an even larger, $50 million influx into the fund on a one-time basis, yet that push is seemingly facing an uphill battle given the latest GOP budget proposal. He’d also proposed a bill to establish a permanent funding stream for the fund to avoid yearly appropriations battles, but that died on a party-line, 4-3 vote in a House subcommittee.

The budget is still a long way off from being finalized, however. The House and Senate still need to reconcile the differences between the two proposals and, ordinarily, Northam would have a chance to negotiate for his spending priorities with Republican leaders.

But with the governor still facing pressure to resign, and Virginia’s two other top elected officials now engulfed in scandal, there’s no telling just how the remainder of the General Assembly session will play out. It’s currently set to wrap up on Feb. 23.

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Herring Admits to Wearing Blackface in College, Prompting Shock, Silence from Democrats

Democrats across Virginia have been shocked by yet another scandal today (Wednesday), after Attorney General Mark Herring admitted that he also once donned blackface at a college party.

Herring called a sudden gathering with the General Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus this morning to deliver the news, then released a statement to that effect shortly afterward. Herring said he dressed up in a wig “and brown makeup” in order to imitate a rap artist when he was in college, explaining it was due to a “callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others.”

“It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then,” Herring wrote. “That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt.”

His admission comes as politicians of both parties continue to press Gov. Ralph Northam to resign for similar reasons, after the discovery that a racist photo appeared on the governor’s medical school yearbook page and Northam’s subsequent admission that he once wore blackface rocked the state capitol. The man in line to replace Northam should he step down, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, has become mired in scandal as well since then, as a woman has come forward to accuse Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2004.

The attorney general’s disclosure leaves the state’s top three elected officials in limbo — should all three resign, Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox would be in line to become governor.

Herring said in his statement that he would have “honest conversations and discussions” about whether he’d seek to stay in office, as both Northam and Fairfax have so far sought to do. Herring joined virtually all of the state’s Democrats in calling on Northam to resign soon after the discovery of his yearbook page, but other Democrats have yet to demand that the state’s top lawyer step down with the same speed that they called for Northam’s job.

Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine expressed shock and surprise at the revelation when reporters questioned them about it this afternoon.

Other state lawmakers have yet to comment on Herring’s admission, including Arlington’s delegation or local Democratic committee.

The news could also torpedo Herring’s nascent campaign for governor — he’d already announced plans to run for the top spot in Virginia politics in 2021, and earned the early endorsement of local Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) a few weeks ago. Hope did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Herring’s admission.

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Northam Signs Amazon Incentive Deal, Finalizing Key Piece of Plan to Bring Tech Giant to Arlington

Embattled Gov. Ralph Northam has signed a bill to send up to $750 million in incentive cash to Amazon, quietly sealing the oft-discussed deal to bring a new headquarters to Arlington.

Northam put pen to paper on the legislation last night, a day before it was set to become law without his signature. An identical companion bill is still pending in the state Senate, but Northam’s approval and the General Assembly’s overwhelming support of both pieces of legislation likely means its passage is a mere formality.

Unlike the massive media circus Northam convened to herald Amazon’s selection of Crystal City and Pentagon City for a massive new headquarters, the governor signed the incentives bill without so much as a press release. The governor is currently facing relentless calls to resign, after the revelation that a racist photo appeared on his medical school yearbook page and his subsequent admission that he once wore blackface during a dance competition.

But even that scandal was not enough to derail the completion of the Amazon deal, which Northam and his staffers took the lead in negotiating alongside a small group of state lawmakers.

“This is an investment in the growth of Virginia,” Amazon spokeswoman Jill Kerr wrote in a statement. “It will help diversify the economy and serve as a catalyst for drawing in other businesses and sought-after jobs. We believe the establishment of our headquarters in Virginia and 25,000 new, high-paying jobs, is a benefit to the entire commonwealth, and we are excited for what the future holds.”

Under the terms of the deal, state officials will send the tech giant $550 million in grant money to defray the company’s tax burden, so long as Amazon comes through on its promise to bring those 25,000 jobs to Arlington between now and 2030. Amazon could earn another $200 million if it adds another 12,850 jobs at the new headquarters through 2034, but it’s not committed to doing so.

The legislation just approved by Northam may be the single largest piece of the county’s offer to Amazon, but it’s far from the only sweetener state officials dangled to attract the company.

Two transportation projects promised as part of the deal — a second entrance for the Crystal City Metro station and an expansion of the Crystal City-Potomac Yard bus rapid transit system to Pentagon City — recently won tens of millions in state funds, though three remaining transportation improvements still need to find funding.

Officials also agreed to invest $800 million over the next 20 years to help state universities hand out 25,000 degrees in high-tech fields, in a bid to provide a “tech talent pipeline” that could fuel Amazon’s new headquarters. A Senate bill establishing the program passed that chamber unanimously yesterday (Tuesday), while an identical companion in the House of Delegates also passed that body on a 92-5 vote.

Finally, Arlington officials need to sign off on their own incentive deal with the company, designed to send about $23 million to Amazon over the next 15 years. The money will be drawn from an increase in hotel tax revenues expected to be driven by Amazon’s arrival.

The County Board had long planned to consider the issue at the end of the month, but has since backed off that timeline in favor of examining the deal no earlier than mid-March.

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Morning Notes

Longtime Election Director Retiring — “Linda Lindberg, who has served for 16 years as elections chief in Arlington, on Feb. 2 formally announced she would not seek re-appointment and would retire over the summer. The move had been expected, and Lindberg’s service drew praise from members of the Arlington Electoral Board.” [InsideNova]

Northam Signs HQ2 Bill — “Amid fallout over a racist photo, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation which would carry out the state’s promise to Amazon for up to $750 million in incentives if it creates almost 38,000 jobs at its new Arlington County headquarters.” [Washington Post, Washington Business Journal]

Board Wants Project Labor Agreement for HQ2 — “[Arlington County Board member Katie] Cristol says that Northern Virginia is working on protecting labor during Amazon’s forthcoming development of Crystal City through what’s called a project labor agreement, which is a legal document that establishes the terms and conditions for employment on a construction project before it solicits bids.” [DCist]

Cycling Bill Advances in State Senate — A bill that would “classify cyclists as vulnerable road users deserving special protection under the law” has passed the Virginia State Senate. [Twitter, Virginia LIS]

Road Closures for 5K Race — “The annual Love the Run You’re With 5K will take place in the area of Pentagon City on Sunday, February 10, 2019. The Arlington County Police Department will implement [a number of] road closures to accommodate the race.” [Arlington County]

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Arlington Democrats Join Near-Unanimous Calls for Northam to Resign, As Governor Presses to Stay

Gov. Ralph Northam continues to resist an overwhelming chorus of voices calling on him to resign his post today (Monday), including virtually all of Arlington’s Democratic leadership.

Northam, a Democrat, has experienced a dizzying reversal in his political fortunes since revelations late Friday that a photo of one man wearing a KKK uniform and another wearing blackface appeared on his medical school yearbook page.

The governor initially released a statement acknowledging he was indeed pictured in that photograph, leading to near-unanimous calls for his resignation Friday night. But in a hastily convened press conference Saturday afternoon, Northam reversed himself, claiming he is now confident he is not pictured in the racist photograph and that it was placed on his yearbook page by mistake.

However, Northam did confess to once donning blackface as part of a dance competition in 1984 while impersonating Michael Jackson. That admission, combined with his sudden reversal, only served to intensify pressure from party leaders that Northam must give way to his lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District) was one of the few elected officials to stop short of demanding Northam’s resignation ahead of the press conference. But Arlington’s lone congressman released a statement immediately after the governor’s comments saying he’d expected Northam to resign Saturday, and instead wants him to go.

“Virginia has a painful past where racism was too often not called out for its evil. The only way to overcome that history is to speak and act with absolute moral clarity,” Beyer wrote in a joint statement with Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District). “It is for that reason that the governor must step aside and allow the process of healing to begin under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.”

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey added that Northam’s explanations at the press conference “strain credulity” and urged him to step down as well.

“Even after giving him the benefit of many doubts, I was struck by his inability to accept responsibility and articulate any concrete steps to promote healing in our state,” Dorsey wrote in a statement. “Someone who has grown as Mr. Northam professes would have recognized that he has lost the confidence of so many Virginians along with his most ardent supporters… And Democrats and progressives, please don’t think that a Northam resignation cures what ails us. Our work to build systems that recognize the dignity, value and importance of all persons remains unfulfilled.”

Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) wrote in a newsletter to constituents that he doesn’t believe Northam to be a racist, but that the governor’s changing stories undermined his confidence in Northam’s leadership going forward. State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) expressed similar concerns, saying that an “important bond of trust has been broken.”

“What Northam said Saturday may well be true,” Levine wrote. “But at this point, how can he possibly lead Virginia?”

Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner also issued statements pressing him to resign after the press conference, as has the rest of Virginia’s Democratic members of Congress. Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus, the House of Delegates’ Democratic caucus, Senate Democrats and Virginia’s Democratic Party all issued similar demands after Northam addressed the media.

The Arlington Young Democrats wrote in a statement that they believe “Gov. Northam can no longer serve effectively and must resign immediately” after the press conference, while the county’s full Democratic Committee called for his resignation before it (and its Twitter account has since retweeted a variety of demands that he resign after he spoke to reporters).

The rest of Arlington’s state legislative delegation has yet to re-up their statements demanding Northam’s removal, but they unanimously supported their caucuses’ calls for the governor to step down in social media posts ahead of his press conference.

County Board member Katie Cristol also issued a similar statement Friday.

Beyer’s predecessor and longtime Rep. Jim Moran was one of the few voices defending the governor Sunday.

“I do disagree with their judgment because I think it is a rush to judgment before we know all of the facts and before we’ve considered all of the consequences,” Moran said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Northam said Saturday he’d consider resigning if he felt he could no longer govern effectively, but it’s unclear what would happen should he refuse to do so. The General Assembly could look to impeach Northam, though constitutional scholars are split on whether this controversy would rise to the level of misconduct required for impeachment.

Should Northam ultimately step down, Fairfax would become just the second African American governor in Virginia’s history, and its second youngest as well.

Virginia governors are generally limited to one term in office, but Fairfax, who was widely expected to run for governor in 2021, could be in the unusual position of filling out Northam’s remaining two years in office, then running for a full four-year term. Scholars are also debating the logistics of that matter, and just how Fairfax would find a new lieutenant governor should he ascend to Northam’s seat.

Photo via @GovernorVA

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Lawmakers Revive Push to Raise Taxes for Metro Funding, A Key Priority for Arlington Officials

A pair of state lawmakers are pushing to revive a proposal to raise some Northern Virginia tax rates to fund Metro, a key priority of Arlington and other localities around the region feeling a budget squeeze.

A bill now backed by Del. Vivian Watts (D-39th District) and Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) would bump up taxes slightly on real estate transactions and hotel stays in the jurisdictions that benefit from Metro service. The legislation is broadly similar to Gov. Ralph Northam’s push to raise those rates last year, as lawmakers squabbled over the best way to find a dedicated funding stream for the troubled transit service.

That effort failed, even as state lawmakers did agree on a bill to send $154 million to WMATA annually, as part of a first-of-its-kind, three-way deal with Maryland and D.C. to send dedicated money to Metro each year. Republicans, led by Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District), insisted on pulling cash away from other sources instead of raising taxes to pay for the deal.

Primarily, that change redirected funds from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body that hands out sales tax money to help localities fund major transportation projects. Arlington officials, in particular, were irked to see the group lose cash, as many were counting on the NVTA to help the county fund major transportation projects while Arlington’s own budget picture grew a bit grimmer.

One of the main projects the county was hoping to fund with NVTA money — a second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station — is now set to receive millions in state funds, thanks largely to its inclusion in the deal to bring Amazon to the area.

But Arlington officials have also had to push out plans to build new entrances at the Ballston and East Falls Church Metro stations, in part due to the NVTA’s money problems. The County Board included a request for just this change as part of its legislative wish list for the new General Assembly session, and local Democrats have broadly been receptive to renewing this fight in the months since Northam’s effort failed.

The governor himself previously told ARLnow that he’d seek to bring back the tax increases to restore money for the NVTA — his spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this piece of legislation.

Should it pass, the bill would send about $30 million back into the NVTA’s coffers each year, according to documents prepared for the Commonwealth Transportation Board. However, the NVTA has estimated its annual funding losses due to the Metro deal as closer to $100 million each year.

“We appreciate Del. Watts’ efforts to restore funding to the NVTA,” Executive Director Monica Backmon told ARLnow via email. “We have not conducted a detailed analysis of the bill at this time. However, we anticipate discussing this bill and others at the Feb.14 authority meeting.”

A NVTA spokeswoman added that Watts’ bill is the only one introduced this session to restore the group’s funding via the tax increases.

But with Republicans still holding narrow majorities in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, the bill could well face an uphill battle.

Notably, House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-66th District) assigned the legislation to the House’s Rules Committee, a group of powerful lawmakers. While other committees are balanced to reflect the partisan makeup of the House, the Rules Committee is dominated by Republicans on an 11-6 margin, leading many Democrats to accuse Cox of sending bills to the committee to expedite their failures.

The group is also unique among House committees in that it can send bills directly to the floor for a vote, rather than casting a ballot on whether or not to advance the legislation. That allows Cox to force a vote from the full House on a bill, should he choose to do so.

The committee has yet to schedule a hearing on the bill, however.

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Lopez Refuses Campaign Cash from Amazon, As Company Prepares to Move into His District

As Amazon moves into Arlington, it seems the company is ready to start spreading some of the wealth around to local lawmakers — but, so far, one has already turned down the tech giant’s cash.

Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) told ARLnow that Amazon sent him $1,000 in late October to back his re-election effort this year, just before announcing that it plans to set up a new headquarters in Pentagon City and Crystal City. In fact, Lopez’s South Arlington district covers some of the locations that the tech firm eventually plans to call home.

Yet Lopez says he quickly returned the contribution once Amazon formally selected Arlington, in order to avoid any implication that the company will influence his decision making in Richmond, no matter how small.

“While I would never allow a campaign contribution to affect my judgement as an elected official, trust in the government is essential,” Lopez wrote in a newsletter to constituents today (Monday) announcing his decision. “Constituents should have no doubts about the independence of my judgement, or think there are any motivations beyond doing what is right for the community. This is the right thing to do. Fostering trust in government is more important now than ever.”

Lawmakers are currently gearing up to vote on an incentive package that could someday send anywhere between $550 million and $750 million in state grant money to Amazon, so long as the company comes through on its promise to bring at least 25,000 jobs to the area. Legislators will also be charged with signing off on hundreds of millions more in transportation and education spending designed to lure the company to Arlington, likely to be included as part of a bill adjusting the state’s biennial budget.

Though the company has attracted plenty of criticism locally, the General Assembly is broadly expected to approve the incentives (negotiated primarily by Gov. Ralph Northam’s staff) by a wide margin. Yet Lopez’s move comes as Democratic politicians all over Virginia wrestle with the influence of corporations on the state’s politics.

A growing number of Democrats, Lopez included, have pledged to refuse money from state-regulated monopolies like Dominion Energy, long the biggest political donor in the state. Northam has also backed a ban on corporate donations of any kind in state elections, and Lopez has recently drawn a primary challenger pledging not to accept any cash from corporations.

In a separate bit of controversy, activists have targeted Lopez for scorn after he reported earning thousands of dollars from a company that runs an ICE detention center in Central Virginia.

In general, however, Amazon has yet to chip in much money for Virginia lawmakers, even though the company has long operated a variety of offices and data centers around the state.

But the tech firm did send Lopez $250 back in October 2017, and donated $5,000 to Northam’s inaugural committee last January. Amazon has also contributed $11,000 to the influential Northern Virginia Technology Council, and currently retains the services of nine lobbyists registered in Richmond, according to state records.

As for how much money the tech company has since donated to other state lawmakers, that won’t become clear until legislators submit final campaign finance reports covering the second half of 2018 tomorrow (Tuesday). All 140 lawmakers will be on the ballot this fall, and will soon begin reporting campaign contributions on a more regular basis.

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State Lawmakers Kick Off Process to Hand Over Up to $750 Million in Incentives to Finalize Amazon Deal

State lawmakers are now setting the wheels in motion to approve at least $550 million in grant money to Amazon, a process that should help seal the deal to bring the tech giant to Arlington.

Legislators in both chambers of the General Assembly have now introduced bills to make good on the deal that Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration helped strike with Jeff Bezos’ firm, promising hundreds of millions in incentive cash if Amazon comes through on its promise to bring 25,000 jobs to Pentagon City and Crystal City between now and 2030.

Arlington is set to chip in some cash of its own to make the deal work (about $23 million in grant money over 15 years, drawn from a projected increase in revenue from the county’s tax on hotel stays) and new investments in transportation and education programs beef up the state’s offer to Amazon by hundreds of millions more.

But the new legislation lays out the clearest look yet at what Northam’s team promised the tech company — and makes it clear that Amazon could earn another $200 million if it adds another 12,850 jobs at the new headquarters over the years, bringing its haul to $750 million in total.

The identical bills are backed by primarily by state Sen. Frank Ruff (R-15th District) and Del. S. Chris Jones (R-76th District), the powerful head of the House of Delegates’ appropriations committee.

Each would establish a “Major Headquarters Workforce Grant Fund” to lay out the payments, attaching a $22,000 price tag to each new job Amazon brings to the area over the next 15 years. To qualify for the grant, the jobs will need to come with an average wage of $150,000 per year starting in 2019, increasing by 1.5 percent each year after that.

The legislation lays out a schedule for how the state pays out the grant money, with Amazon set to earn $200 million by 2024, then $300 million by 2025. The figure jumps by $50 million increments before topping out at $550 million in 2030.

Then, if the company can deliver on the additional 12,850 jobs beyond the original 25,000 it promised, it will collect another $50 million each year through 2034.

The bill also requires Amazon to provide evidence to state officials each year that it’s meeting the requirements to earn the grant payments.

The legislation generally seems like a sure bet to pass, considering that several influential state lawmakers have already had a chance to help shape the incentive package.

A panel known as the Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission signed off on the bulk of the details in tandem with Northam’s staff, and that group included some of the most senior members of both parties in the House and the Senate. As Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) told ARLnow, the incentive package “may not face much opposition, but it’s still meaningful.”

Nevertheless, some of Amazon’s fiercest opponents in Arlington are urging state lawmakers to reject the deal. A group of advocates dubbing themselves the “For Us Not Amazon” coalition, including organizers from Our Revolution Arlington, the Metro D.C. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Latino rights group La ColectiVA, is calling for legislators to vote down the incentive package in its entirety, and organized a demonstration at the county’s Amazon-focused listening session Saturday (Jan. 12) to underscore that point.

“There should be no incentives for Amazon, and city and state grants and funding should go to protect communities at risk,” the group wrote in a statement. “Public officials need to hear our communities’ concerns about Amazon’s current and future impact on residents.”

But a vote on the incentive bills will be only one piece of the puzzle in finalizing the Amazon agreement, lawmakers say. The state promised transportation improvements all around the company’s proposed campus, and a huge influx of cash into tech-focused higher education programs, and that money will likely be included in adjustments to the biennial state budget.

That means cash for everything from Metro improvements in Crystal City to money for an expansion of George Mason University’s Virginia Square campus will all be wrapped up in one massive budget bill.

Of course, Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) points out that any lawmakers hoping for a seperate vote on the Amazon-specific portions of the budget could move to “sever” those sections from the rest of the spending plan. Hope says he generally supports the deal, but he fully expects there to be some discussions over the course of the remainder of the General Assembly’s 46-day session about the issue.

“I believe it has the votes to pass, but there could be some debate on that on the floor,” Hope said. “I suspect we will see that, in fact.”

Arlington officials are set to sign off on their portion of the Amazon deal no sooner than the County Board’s Feb. 23 meeting.

The legislature is set to adjourn that same day, meaning that any Amazon bill will likely have cleared the General Assembly well in advance of that gathering — however, budget debates have been known to linger well past the proposed end of each year’s legislative session.

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Arlington Democrats Push for Redistricting Debate, But Special Session Hopes Fade

Arlington Democrats say they’re pushing for an open debate down in Richmond on a redrawing of some of the state’s electoral lines, but hope seems to be fading among state lawmakers that a special session convened on the issue will yield many results.

Gov. Ralph Northam reconvened the General Assembly today (Thursday) for its second gathering outside of normal business this year, with the avowed purpose of approving a new map governing district lines for 11 districts in the House of Delegates.

A three-judge panel on a federal court ruled last month that those districts, concentrated in the Richmond and Norfolk areas, were improperly drawn to pack African American voters into safely Democratic districts. The court gave lawmakers an Oct. 30 deadline to correct the problems it identified, or else it will appoint an independent arbiter to do so.

House Democrats introduced their own attempt at crafting a new map yesterday (Wednesday), but Republicans have so far declined to do the same. They’re appealing the federal court’s ruling on the districts all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the GOP’s slim, 51-49 majority in the House potentially hanging in the balance ahead of next November’s elections.

“We just feel Republicans are delaying, delaying on this,” Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) told ARLnow. “The fact is, we’ve gone through four cycles with racially unconstitutional maps, and that’s eight years too long. It’s high time that we changed these maps.”

Republicans have charged, however, that Democrats haven’t engaged in the process in good faith. They argue that the map lawmakers presented is simply gerrymandering the map in the direction of Democrats, claiming that it would imperil five Republican-held districts while further shoring up margins of four Democratic districts.

“It’s clear that this is hypocritical partisan power grab that would fail to pass legal muster,” House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-15th District) wrote in a statement. “For almost a decade Democrats have pushed for so-called independent redistricting commissions. Yet when they had the chance to do so, they drew a partisan plan in secret without any input from the public or Republicans.”

Yet local Democrats like Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) point out that Republicans controlled the General Assembly by wide margins when these lines were first drawn back in 2011, creating these “constitutional infirmities” in the first place.

Lopez, who doubles as House minority whip, believes there are a whole host of reasons why the Democratic proposal is worth considering — arguing it creates districts that are “compact, contiguous and protects community interests” — but he also notes that Republicans have so far declined to offer their own alternative.

“They’ve shown indication they’ll propose their own map,” Lopez said. “Even the court is calling them out for stalling, so we are in an interesting place right now. Hopefully, it’ll all work out.”

House Republicans agreed to debate the Democratic map in committee this afternoon, and Lopez and Sullivan would both like to see them bring it to the floor for debate in the coming days.

Yet Lopez’s hope is flagging on that count. The Supreme Court has already sent back a previous appeal of a ruling on the district lines to a lower court, but that was before then-Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. With President Donald Trump’s nomination for a replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, expected to receive Congressional consideration next month, the GOP could hold out for a hearing from a court with a newly replenished conservative majority — and Lopez added that Democrats proposed setting a firm date to return and debate the maps, but Republicans defeated that measure.

“It’s up to the call of [Speaker Kirk Cox] for when we come back for next steps,” Lopez said. “We just don’t know right now.”

Sullivan, however, is a bit more hopeful. While he’d greatly prefer to see an independent commission of some kind draw district lines instead, he claims that Democrats are committed to “address the court’s concerns until the process changes.”

“I’m sort of a cockeyed optimist,” Sullivan said. “I would hope that the Republicans would engage on this issue, would debate the map we put in or put in one of their own. The court has asked them to do that, I think the citizens of Virginia want them to do that, and hopefully that’s what they’ll do.”

File photo

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Morning Notes

Heat Advisory in Effect — Arlington and D.C. are under a Heat Advisory from noon to 8 p.m. today. The heat index this afternoon is expected to reach between 100 and 105 degrees. [National Weather Service, Twitter]

Hacked Sign Causes County Concern — ARLnow’s report about an electronic road sign near Shirlington being hacked to display a vulgar video game meme prompted a serious conversation at county government headquarters. “To some this is a ‘prank’ to me it is an indication of a lack of security on a portion of our [technology] infrastructure,” Arlington’s Chief Information Officer wrote in an internal email chain. “What if the message was ‘Terrorist Attack in Washington, please leave the area'[?]” [State Scoop]

Flag at Gov’t Buildings to Be Lowered for McCain — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered the state flag lowered to half-staff until sunset on Sept. 2 in honor of the late Sen. John McCain. The order applies to all local, state and federal buildings in Virginia. [Twitter]

Late Night Ramp Closure Planned — “The ramp from the southbound George Washington Memorial Parkway to eastbound I-66 and westbound Route 50 (Arlington Boulevard) will be closed Wednesday night, Aug. 29 and Thursday night, Aug. 30 from midnight to 4 a.m. each night for work on the I-66 overpass, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.” [VDOT]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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As Nestle Arrives in Rosslyn, County Leaders See a ‘Turning Point’ for Arlington’s Economy

(Updated Aug. 1, 9:15 a.m.) For Rosslyn, and perhaps Arlington itself, Nestle’s arrival could represent a bit of a breakthrough.

As the federal government’s cut back on office space and more companies shift to telework, the neighborhood has seen its office vacancy rate skyrocket over the past few years, straining the county’s finances in the process. But the packaged food giant’s decision to relocate its corporate headquarters from California to Arlington, bringing 750 jobs to a high-rise at 1812 N. Moore Street, could very well signal the reversal of that trend.

Or, at least, that’s what local leaders are counting on.

“We were in a long kind of slump,” County Board member Libby Garvey told ARLnow, reflecting on Nestle’s impact as the company officially opened its Rosslyn offices today (Tuesday). “But this is really a turning point, and I think it’s really positive.”

Garvey points out that the building Nestle is moving into was built “on spec,” without any tenants locked in before its construction, and sat vacant for years after its completion in late 2013.

But since Nestle announced last year that it’d be moving to Arlington, she’s seen a domino effect in the neighborhood. The company’s not only brought one of its subsidiaries to Rosslyn, announcing Gerber’s relocation to the area this spring, but Nestle’s arrival also helped convince the Grocery Manufacturers Association to move to get closer to the company, Garvey says.

“It just put us on the map,” Garvey said. “You just start to attract birds of a feather.”

While those businesses may very well help fill the county’s coffers, they didn’t come without a cost. The Board handed out about $4 million in performance grants and committed to $2 million in infrastructure improvements to woo Nestle to Rosslyn in the first place, earning criticism from people all along the political spectrum in the process.

Yet Garvey points out that the county’s denied relocation incentives for some smaller companies looking to come to the area in the wake of Nestle’s move, only to win their business anyway. She has full confidence in county staff to make sure that Nestle is living up to the economic benchmarks laid out in the grant requirements, noting “if there’s a problem, I assume they’ll tell us.”

“But I don’t think there’s going to be a problem,” she said.

Incentives for corporations are a touchy subject around the county these days, with much of the debate around Arlington’s bid to win Amazon’s second headquarters centered on what exactly the county’s offered the tech company to move here.

Officials have largely been silent on the subject, citing the fierce national competition to win HQ2 and its promised 50,000 jobs. But with other states publicly offering billions in incentives and transportation improvements, Virginia leaders have noted that the county’s surest path to luring the tech giant may be highlighting its highly educated workforce and top-ranked schools.

Steve Presley, Nestle USA’s chairman and CEO, repeatedly highlighted the quality of the school system in laying out why his company picked Arlington, and that’s the sort of feature the county’s boosters believe could prove similarly persuasive to Amazon.

“They’ll be thinking not only, ‘Can we find the qualified workers we need?’ but, ‘How do our workers feel about coming to Virginia?'” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) “Workforce and the education system go hand in hand. That’s what we always need to focus on to attract businesses and we need to sell the fact that we have a really good education system compared to other states. That’s a real strength.”

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has certainly been involved in making that pitch to Amazon, reasoning “the more talent we bring in here, the more folks that follow.”

But he says there’s no telling when Arlington might know if Nestle is the biggest fish the county will land, or if there are more ribbon cuttings in its future.

“I think they’re keeping their cards pretty close,” Northam said. “I don’t know anything you don’t.”

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