Outgoing Arlington School Board chair Reid Goldstein has endorsed School Board candidate Angelo Cocchiaro in the race to replace him.
While Goldstein is the first sitting School Board member to endorse a candidate thus far, his opponent Miranda Turner was endorsed by a former top-level administrator for Arlington Public Schools.
Cocchiaro announced news of the endorsement today (Monday), less than a week after quieting talk that he was pulling out of the race. He will be going up against Turner, a second-time candidate, to gain the endorsement of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
Goldstein said Cocchiaro’s youth and lived experience will be an asset to the School Board as it tackles issues plaguing students, including drug use and mental health.
We have seen critical student issues recently surrounding mental health, safety and security, and substance abuse — with many calls for our response to include student voices. With the distinct advantage of his youth, Angelo Cocchiaro is the candidate best positioned to listen, understand, and bring student solutions to student issues. Achievement will never progress until the issues impeding learning are resolved. He will uphold, defend, and advance the progress this School Board has achieved. Angelo has my full and complete endorsement to serve as my successor on the School Board.
ENDORSEMENT ALERT 🚨
Thank you, my friend @ReidForSchools, for your support, and your vote! I will work hard defend and advance the progress of this School Board.
— Angelo Cocchiaro (@AngeloForChange) April 17, 2023
Cocchiaro thanked Goldstein for his endorsement in a statement. He said he supports the progressive policy stances the Goldstein and the School Board have taken on grading for equity and removing School Resource Officers.
“I stand behind the progress that has been achieved,” he said. “I have also supported this School Board’s leadership in other areas, such as when they protected school communities from a premature pandemic reopening, and resisted calls to go the other way… And yet, I will differ from this School Board in bringing my unique lived experiences to the table, and I will push progress even further.”
APS closed in March 2020 and started to reopen on a two-day-a-week hybrid basis one year later, mandated by the state and then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and, added more days later at the urging of the School Board. Dueling parent groups formed to advocate for a faster return and greater caution.
Turner, a parent who has been involved with local PTAs and a superintendent’s advisory committee, made a name for herself calling for a quicker return to school. One of her top priorities now is learning loss attributed to pandemic-era educational disruptions.
She was endorsed by Brian Stockton, the former Chief of Staff for Arlington Public Schools.
“In every interaction I had with her, it was clear that she was committed to the notion that every student deserves the opportunity to achieve their full potential,” he said in a statement Turner’s campaign shared with ARLnow. “She has and will continue to be a highly-involved parent and community member who puts the needs of Arlington County children first and foremost.”
His endorsement continues as follows.
Miranda has shown dedication to children at all levels that was fair and equitable, and she has continually fought to ensure APS is seeking to maintain high standards for academic achievement for every student. Her display of love for the community demonstrates a genuine concern and kindness for the well-being of the children of Arlington. It is clear to me that she possesses the mastery and skills required for effective Board management and governance.
Furthermore, Miranda possesses the temperament, knowledge and commitment to Arlington County that is required for today and the future. I believe she will be a strong asset for Arlington County parents and students, and as such she has my unfettered endorsement.
(Updated at 12:55 p.m.) The Chair of the Arlington School Board just announced that he will not be running for reelection.
Reid Goldstein was first elected in 2015, after winning a two-way Democratic endorsement caucus. An Arlington resident for nearly 40 years, Goldstein participated in various local committees and civic groups prior to his election and is the father of two Arlington public school grads.
He said today in a statement that he is “excited to explore new ways of serving the community.”
After serving nearly eight years on the Arlington School Board, I have made the decision not to seek another term. I have always believed that building a healthy and desirable community is not a spectator sport and have been committed to public service in Arlington for almost 25 years. However, as this chapter of my life comes to a close, I am excited to explore new ways of serving the community.
I am deeply grateful to the Arlington community, students, teachers, support staff, administrators, parents, and colleagues who have made my time on the School Board so fulfilling. Together, we have made great progress and I am proud of what we have accomplished.
I will make a formal announcement about my decision not to run at the next meeting of the Arlington Democrats on March 1.
He was lauded on social media this morning by the 2022 School Board chair, Barbara Kanninen, who also chose not to seek reelection last year.
They broke the mold when they created @ReidForSchools – an independent thinker, huge believer in our kids, schools, and community, great cook & friend. I appreciate his forever commitment to Arlington & the @APSVirginia community. https://t.co/zvMhyjZCPL
— Barbara Kanninen (@BarbaraKanninen) February 21, 2023
This afternoon (Tuesday), Arlington parent Miranda Turner announced the launch of her second bid for a seat on the School Board.
Turner made a name for herself during her first campaign in 2021, calling for a quicker return to in-person learning when APS was still virtual due to Covid. She dropped out after her opponent, Mary Kadera, won the endorsement of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
“I’m running because we have students in our schools now who need more from APS,” Turner said in a statement. “From quality instruction, resources to recruit, support and retain teachers, equitable support, high expectations for all, and oversight that asks tough questions — these are the cornerstones to a quality school system.”
Others may also make announcements at the upcoming Wednesday, March 1 meeting of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
Tech Startup Moving to Ballston — “MarginEdge Co., a local tech startup with a restaurant management platform, is now reserving more headquarters space for itself. The 7-year-old company is shifting its home base from Fairfax County to larger Arlington digs at 4200 Wilson Blvd., MarginEdge co-founder and CEO Bo Davis told us. It’s building out the top floor of the office building, above Ballston Quarter mall, where he said the company will be closer to Metro and a central point to and from the District and suburbs.” [Washington Business Journal]
Update on Construction Projects — From Arlington County: “Multiple projects are in progress or have been completed around Arlington in the first half of 2022, with more on the way! Take a look at the latest edition of Projects to Watch.” [Twitter]
Goldstein Wants to Restore Trust — “Arlington’s new School Board chair for 2022-23 has tacitly acknowledged frayed relations between county leaders and the constituents they serve, and in remarks kicking off his tenure seemed to ask both sides to work toward repairing them. ‘I’ve seen community trust in our governing institutions erode,’ Reid Goldstein said during six minutes’ worth of remarks after being tapped as School Board chair July 1.” [Sun Gazette]
New Names for Ballston Beaver Pond — The Ballston Beaver Pond is being converted into a wetland and the four finalists for its new name were just revealed: Crossroads Wetland Park, Ballston Wetlands, Thaddeus Lowe Park and Wetlands Vista Park. [SurveyMonkey, Patch]
It’s Thursday — Updated at 7:45 a.m. — Cloudy throughout the day, with chances of showers. High of 81 and low of 74. Sunrise at 5:51 am and sunset at 8:38 pm. [Weather.gov]
Raytheon, Boeing Mostly Moving Execs — “The real answer is that these are relatively easy shifts for both new companies — each of which already had a sizable presence here for years. They are both racing to be closer to their top customer, the federal government, in what appears to be a pretty simple change for each. Based on the little that the companies have shared publicly thus far, it’s essentially relocating a few key executives and support staff from one existing office to another.” [Washington Business Journal]
Wardian Completes Coast-to-Coast Run — “Around sunrise on Friday, July 1, 2022, ultrarunner Mike Wardian completed his run across America… [he] was greeted by the soft waves of the Atlantic Ocean and a beautiful sunrise at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.” [iRunFar, Instagram, Washington Post]
Arlington SUV Used in Crime Spree — “An Arlington County man whose vehicle was stolen after thieves went inside his home to take the keys was surprised to find out his car was connected to a pursuit where three teens were charged with the attempted murder of an officer. The man, who asked to remain anonymous, said his BMW was stolen out of his driveway in the overnight hours of June 17 after thieves went into his home and took the keys.” [WUSA 9]
Fawn Finds Way Out of Stairwell — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “Earlier today Officer Barrett responded to a call for a fawn stuck at the bottom of a stairwell. It turns out the fawn wasn’t really stuck, but just needed a little encouragement!” [Twitter]
Colonial Place Listed for Sale — “A trio of Arlington office buildings dubbed Colonial Place at Courthouse Metro, which haven’t changed hands in going on three decades, hit the market this week. Colonial Place, located at 2101, 2107 and 2111 Wilson Blvd., weighs in at more than 750,000 square feet, immediately across the street from the Courthouse Metro station… the four parcels that comprise the total property, sitting on 7.1 acres, assess altogether at more than $315 million, per public records.” [Washington Business Journal]
Ed. Dept. Rules Against APS — From Arlington Parents for Education: “US ED’s Office of Civil Rights ruled against APS, finding that online platforms and paper packets used during remote instruction posed barriers to individuals with disabilities, particularly those with vision disabilities or who use assistive technology.” [Twitter]
New School Board Leadership — “The Arlington School Board held its annual organizational meeting for the 2022-23 school year and elected Reid Goldstein as Chair and Cristina Diaz-Torres as Vice-Chair. The terms for the new Chair and Vice-Chair begin immediately and will continue until June 30, 2023.” [Arlington Public Schools]
It’s Tuesday — Rain and possible storms in the afternoon and evening. High of 86 and low of 71. Sunrise at 5:50 am and sunset at 8:38 pm. [Weather.gov]
Workers Threatened During Rosslyn Theft — “At approximately 4:54 a.m. on June 30, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny in progress. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect allegedly entered a work site and attempted to steal equipment. When confronted by workers, the suspect produced a large wooden stick and threatened them. Responding officers located the suspect on scene and he was taken into custody.” [ACPD]
New School Board Leaders Chosen — “Today, the Arlington School Board held its annual organizational meeting for the 2021-22 school year and elected Dr. Barbara Kanninen as Chair and Reid Goldstein as Vice Chair. The terms for the new Chair and Vice Chair begin immediately and will continue until June 30, 2022.” [Arlington Public Schools]
APS Appoints First COO — “The School Board appointed Dr. John Mayo as the first Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Arlington Public Schools at its July 1 organizational meeting. Dr. Mayo currently serves as a Deputy Superintendent for Petersburg City Public Schools in Petersburg, VA. The COO is a new position that is part of the Superintendent’s reorganization, designed to strengthen operations and provide schools, students, teachers and staff with the needed supports and resources.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Arlington GOP Gets Post-Trump Boost — “The Arlington County Republican Committee continues to see a resurgence in membership – driven, perhaps counterintuitively, by the results of the 2020 national election. ‘We’re close to 100 members,’ said Matthew Hurtt, communications chairman… It’s a major increase since the start of the year, and ‘a testament to excitement and enthusiasm that is happening here in Arlington,’ Hurtt said.” [Sun Gazette]
No Fireworks Viewing Access from DCA — From Reagan National Airport: “July 4 fireworks viewing… Due to major construction impacting our roadways and sidewalks, there is no pedestrian access to Gravelly Point and the Mount Vernon Trail from the airport.” [Twitter]
GMU Launching Center on Race — “George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government will launch its new Race, Politics, and Policy Center in Fall 2021 under the leadership of Professor Michael Fauntroy. Fauntroy, who taught at Mason for 11 years before joining the faculty at Howard University in 2013, returned to Mason in June.” [George Mason University]
Clarendon Nightlife Reminder — “As the region continues to emerge from the pandemic and more patrons participate in nightlife activities, Arlington County is reminding the public about designated weekend pick-up and drop-off zones in Clarendon.” [Arlington County]
Arlington Public Schools has asked nearly 6% of all staff who have reported in-person for work to stay home temporarily because they tested positive for COVID-19.
Among in-person students, the percentage who have been kept out of school after testing positive is 5%.
APS Superintendent Francisco Durán presented data on those excluded from school based on reported positive tests or contact with positive cases during the School Board meeting last night (Thursday). These new data, for the period from Nov. 1, 2020 to Jan. 21, 2021, come after weeks of teachers and staff asking for more transparency regarding coronavirus tests and exclusion rates.
“This year’s exclusion to date for in-person instruction is the most detailed information we can provide,” Durán said.
Durán assured School Board members that APS monitors for high concentrations of cases in a single building, though he declined to reveal building-level data.
APS meets with Arlington County Public Health Division twice weekly to go over case rates and cross-check numbers, APS Emergency Manager Zachary Pope said. Since COVID-19 is spreading through community transmission, he said it is hard to tell if it spreads inside or outside a school.
“The data provided by APS doesn’t answer the burning questions we all have: are our mitigation strategies actually working? Are our rates the same as or higher than community rates?” a Yorktown High School teacher said. “They have obscured the data by lumping together all staff.”
She said she wants APS to find the infection rate among in-person, student-facing staff.
Durán anticipates releasing more granular data after APS rolls out a new app for reporting health metrics. He anticipates it will be ready for teachers next week and for families later on.
Meanwhile, 192 students enrolled in select Career and Technical Education courses will be returning next week. Their teachers are already reporting to the Arlington Career Center building, Durán said.
Students will be split up into multiple groups to keep down the number of students on the bus and in the building, said Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Bridget Loft. All will have access to lunch.
More teachers are expected to return to their buildings for two days next week, but School Board member Reid Goldstein suggested holding off until community health statistics improve and more staff are vaccinated.
“Both those things are likely to be accomplished in likely not much longer,” he said. Nearly 1,800 APS employees received vaccine doses this past holiday weekend.
Goldstein and other School Board members recalled President Joe Biden’s call for unity as APS works to get everyone back in-person, while addressing online and emailed vitriol.
“I’m calling on everyone to stop this uncivil behavior,” he said, of anger on the part of both teachers and parents.
Meanwhile, both sides — parents who want in-person classes to resume, and teachers who want the opposite — have been holding demonstrations and protests.
This Saturday, a number of Arlington parents and students plan to participate in a public, outdoor event organized by Arlington Parents for Education. The group says it will “highlight calls from parents, teachers, concerned community members and most importantly students, in support of a safe-reopening of Arlington Public Schools.”
Last Saturday, about 85 cars, with more than 100 parents, school staff and students, rallied in favor of continued virtual learning. They honked horns and drove around the Washington-Liberty High School parking lot, advocating for improvements to ventilation, vaccinations for staff before they return, transparent infection data from APS, better accommodations for at-risk staff, outdoor-only lunches, and 100% masking indoors.
Goldstein Fends Off Challenger — “Incumbent School Board Chair Reid Goldstein emerged as the victor Saturday night in the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s [School Board endorsement] caucus… Goldstein received 1,231 votes out of 1,999 ballots counted, or 61.6%… Challenger David Priddy received 763 votes.” [Arlington Democrats]
Car Runs Off Glebe Road Into Ditch — “At 1:54pm Sunday, units were called for a car off the road in 4500 blk of N Glebe Rd. Crews were able to walk 1 patient out with minor injuries. Patient was transported to local hospital while Hazmat team worked to contain leaking fluids. Please watch your speed on the wet roads.” [Twitter]
Del. Hope Not a PAC Man — Del. Patrick Hope (D) has joined a group of Democratic state Senators in announcing “their intention to introduce legislation in the 2020 General Assembly legislative session to limit excessive campaign contributions from influencing Virginia elections.” The proposed bill is in response to a PAC contributing nearly $1 million to the commonwealth’s attorney primaries in Arlington and Fairfax. [Blue Virginia]
New Additions to Amazon HQ2 Job Page — There are now 47 open jobs listed on Amazon’s HQ2 jobs page. Among the positions Amazon is hiring for in Arlington are hardware, system and software development engineers; recruiters; and numerous Alexa-related technical positions. [Amazon]
Middle School Project Running Behind — “It might be a little cramped for the first few months as students settle in at Arlington’s Dorothy Hamm Middle School… County school officials have known for months that the expansion of the school won’t be ready for occupancy when classes begin in September… On its website, the school system now pegs completion of the expansion at next March.” [InsideNova]
Wardian Places Third in Horse Race — “Mike Wardian, 45, of Arlington, Va. did not succeed at outrunning all the horses at the 40th anniversary of Whole Earth Man v. Horse Marathon in Wales yesterday, but he did pretty well nonetheless, placing third among the humans and finishing in 2:34:03.” [Trail Running]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
(Updated at 4:50 p.m.) The Arlington School Board has agreed to sign a settlement with the federal government promising to provide more services for English-learning students in county schools.
Board members voted to allow Board Chair Reid Goldstein to sign the document during a meeting last night (Thursday), two weeks after first announcing the Department of Justice (DOJ) sought a settlement with the school district.
Goldstein, who is currently running for re-election, asked Dr. Tara Nattrass, Arlington Public Schools’ assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, how many of the DOJ’s 33 requirements APS will implement “systemwide.” Nattrass said she didn’t have the number “off hand” but stressed the intention is to apply improvements to all schools.
“This is a resolution with the Department of Justice,” Nattrass said, when asked if she had comments to add earlier that evening.
“It’s an issuance that doesn’t have any adverse findings attached to it,” she said, but acknowledged that “there are some things that we need to be doing differently.”
The settlement identified several problems at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. As part of the agreement, the DOJ mandates that the county not use Google Translate in place of interpretation services, begin translating special education and disability plans, and submit annual reports to the federal agency on its progress, among other requirements.
“Many of the solutions outlined in the agreement are in practice in Jefferson” Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy said of the middle school.
He added that APS was “committed” to serving students learning English as a second language, and his administration will report to the Board quarterly about APS’ progress on meeting the DOJ’s requirements.
Both Murphy and Nattrass stressed that APS has already adopted some of the recommendations, such as surveying families for the home language.
Board members Monique O’Grady and Vice Chair Tannia Talento were not present for the Thursday night vote.
The vote was part of the evening’s consent agenda, a placement usually reserved for items expected to pass without debate.
Two parents shared their concerns over APS’ English-language learning resources Thursday night, one saying her adopted daughter had to request any accommodations she needed, like a bilingual dictionary.
“One teacher even told me she was doing her a favor by granting her accommodations,” said the parent, adding that she believed “there are systemic issues across the county” when it comes to services for students learning English.
“I’m sorry about all of this,” said Board Member Nancy Van Doren, who noted that she’d long heard from advisory committees about problems with APS’ English Language Learner programs.
“I wish that we would more assiduously listen to those committees when they tell us there’s a problem, so we can get out ahead of these things,” Van Doren said.
The School Board is expected to sign a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations that Arlington Public Schools has provided inadequate help for students learning English.
“In 2015-2016, a complaint was filed regarding service concerns for our English Learners at Jefferson,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia, referring to Thomas Jefferson Middle School (TJMS).
“The settlement provides specifics on actions that APS will continue to take to meet the needs of our English Learners,” he told ARLnow in an email Monday. “This settlement agreement provides a mutually agreed upon resolution in lieu of litigation.”
DOJ’s 19-page settlement gives APS 33 requirements to comply with, including that TJMS teachers and administrative officials be trained in English Learning (EL) program requirements. It also seeks to “ensure that ELs are not over-identified as needing special education services based on their language barriers in elementary schools and are not denied timely evaluations for suspected disabilities at TJMS.”
Bellavia said APS already has procedures in place to prevent English-learning being confused with special needs.
“For example, through the Arlington Tiered System of Support, all students are provided with core instruction and interventions based on their needs,” he said.
The settlement also stipulates that APS begin to translate copies of special education documents like Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans for disabilities into the languages spoken by EL students’ families.
“As part of the settlement agreement, we will now translate the framework into the four major languages of our families (Spanish, Amharic, Arabic and Mongolian),” said Bellavia, who added that the IEP framework is now only translated into Spanish. “We will also let parents know that the full IEP or 504 will be available for translation if requested.”
“Except in an emergency, the District will not use students, family or friends of limited English proficient parents, or Google Translate for interpretation of District- or school-generated documents or for any other translation or interpreter services,” the settlement notes.
Nineteen percent of APS students in 2017 were enrolled in EL learning programs, according to the most recent reports shared by the School Board. Among students in Pre-K through high school that year, Spanish was the most common foreign language spoken (22.8 percent of students), followed by Amharic (2.4 percent), Arabic (2.2 percent), Mongolian (1.8 percent), and Bengali (1 percent).
Although the new federal settlement only names TJMS, it notes that the recommendations apply to all of APS’ EL programs.
The document is currently listed on the consent agenda for the School Board’s Thursday meeting, a place usually reserved for items expected to pass without debate.
The settlement will not be finalized until DOJ officials and School Board Chair Reid Goldstein sign it.
If Goldstein signs the document, APS would also agree to do the following:
- Tracking each student’s progress in EL programs and record the information in their permanent record.
- Reporting compliance updates to the DOJ for review starting this October and until July 2022.
- Conducting a three-year “longitudinal analysis” of all its EL programs, due for DOJ review by August 2022.
- Develop a plan to “actively recruit” English as a Second Language (ESL)-certified teachers within 90 days of signing the settlement.
Failure to comply could mean APS violates the 1974 Equal Educational Opportunities Act, which requires schools provide the same opportunities for all students regardless of race, gender, or language.
DOJ did not respond to a request for comment for more information about the settlement.
Bellavia told ARLnow that compliance with the settlement would not affect APS’ budget for the next fiscal year.
An Arlington Heights parent is launching a challenge to School Board Chairman Reid Goldstein, arguing that the county school system needs a more transparent, comprehensive planning process to match the county’s persistently rising student enrollment levels.
David Priddy told ARLnow that he’s filed papers to compete in the upcoming caucus to win the Democratic Committee’s endorsement in the race. School Board seats are nominally non-partisan, and candidates don’t run under party labels, but local parties frequently endorse candidates for the Board.
Goldstein announced his re-election bid in early January in the race for the lone Board seat on the ballot this fall. He’s seeking his second term in office after winning the seat in 2015, replacing retiring Board member Abby Raphael.
Democratic Committee Chair Jill Caiazzo says that Goldstein and Priddy were the only candidates to file for the caucus ahead of last night’s deadline. Considering that every School Board member for the last 15 years has won the party’s endorsement before going on to win the general election, the caucus will likely decide the outcome of the race.
Priddy wrote in an email that he’s an Arlington native, and grew up attending Arlington Public Schools. He serves on Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s Advisory Committee on the Elimination of the Achievement Gap and he has two children currently in the county’s school system: one at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and the other will attend Alice West Fleet Elementary School when it opens next year.
He hopes that, as “a product of APS as well as an APS parent,” he’ll have a unique perspective to bring to the job.
“Priddy is running for the School Board because he believes better transparency into School Board decision-making is needed, along with comprehensive planning for growth to enable fiscally-responsible financial investments in both new and renovated educational facilities,” his campaign biography reads. “He is not afraid to directly confront the tough issues – from technology to inclusion to capacity challenges – that Arlington’s schools are currently facing.”
Priddy’s Arlington Heights neighborhood has a bit of a fraught history with the school system, and Goldstein, in particular.
The process of determining how, exactly, the school system will add new space for high schoolers at the Arlington Career Center has frustrated many parents in the neighborhood, who argue that the school shouldn’t open as a high school serving the South Arlington neighborhood unless APS can guarantee it will boast the same amenities as the county’s other comprehensive high schools.
Similarly, the recent redistricting process to divvy up students from nearby elementary schools and send them to Fleet as it opens next year sparked conflict in the community.
Parents at Patrick Henry Elementary School, which will soon become the exclusive home of Drew Model School’s Montessori program, argued that Board members (Goldstein, in particular) repeatedly promised them that the school community would move as one to Fleet. School officials dispute their account, and the Board ended up directing about a fifth of Henry’s student body elsewhere, prompting plenty of hurt feelings.
However, Priddy does not make any direct reference to those controversies in his campaign materials, and he said he will launch his campaign in earnest in mid-March.
Goldstein and Priddy will square off in a three-day, “unassembled” caucus in June.
Democrats hoping to vote in the race can do so on June 4 at Drew Elementary (3500 23rd Street S.) from 7-9 p.m., June 6 at Key Elementary (2300 Key Blvd) from 7-9 p.m. or June 8 at Washington-Liberty High School (1301 N. Stafford Street) from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Anyone hoping to vote in the race will be required to sign a pledge indicating that they are a Democrat and don’t plan to support any other candidate in the race.
Caiazzo stresses that this process is different from a primary, which Virginia law does not allow to decide nominations in School Board races.
Courtesy photo of Priddy, right, file photo of Goldstein, left
Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos has officially kicked off her bid for re-election, looking to rebuild bridges among her fellow Democrats after repeatedly endorsing independent John Vihstadt and drawing a primary challenger from her left flank.
Stamos emphasized that she’s “been a Democrat since I was holding up signs for Hubert Humphrey on the south side of Chicago” in a speech announcing her run for re-election last night (Wednesday) at the county Democratic committee’s monthly meeting.
The county’s top prosecutor has ruffled plenty of feathers among party leaders in recent years, becoming one of just three elected Democrats in Arlington to back Vihstadt’s independent bids for County Board.
And with Parisa Tafti (a former public defender who’s served in leadership roles for the local Democratic party) hoping to win the party’s nomination for the post this June, Stamos began her campaign on a bit of a conciliatory note. After all, the committee threatened to boot County Board member Libby Garvey out of the group over her support for Vihstadt, leading her to briefly resign instead.
Accordingly, Stamos primarily cited her long history with the entire Vihstadt family in explaining her support for the independent, who won a pair of elections in 2014 to become the first non-Democrat on the Board since 1999. Vihstadt lost his bid for re-election last year to Democrat Matt de Ferranti, returning the Board to one-party control.
Stamos regaled the audience with memories of relying on the Vihstadts, her neighbors for years, to look after her kids as they were growing up. She says her family and the Vihstadts still celebrate holidays together, making her backing of his candidacy as personal as it was political.
“Back in 2014, when John asked, and again last year, if I would support him, I wasn’t going to say to him, ‘You know, I’ll support you privately but I can’t do it publicly,'” Stamos said, according to a video of the event posted on the Democratic blog Blue Virginia. “I didn’t want to do that. And, as President [John F.] Kennedy once said, and it’s an important thing to remember, ‘Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.’ And my support for John was one of those times.”
However, Tafti has so far chosen to base her challenge to Stamos on policy disputes, rather than any party infighting. She claims that Stamos, who was first elected in 2011, has been insufficiently committed to reforming the county’s criminal justice system, and even exacerbated some of the system’s racial disparities.
“Safety is justice and justice is safety,” Tafti said Wednesday night in formally announcing her own campaign. “In Arlington, it is long past time that we start leading on this issue.”
Tafti, who recently won the backing of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, has pledged not to seek the death penalty if she’s elected in Stamos’ stead, and to end the practice of requesting cash bail for all criminal defendants. Stamos has pledged to end cash bail for most defendants accused of misdemeanors, but both Tafti and other local public defenders believe that change doesn’t go far enough.
Tafti also took aim Wednesday at Stamos’ relationship with local legislators, arguing that they need “an honest partner who understands, even outside of campaign season, the need to support policies important to Democrats” in order to pass criminal justice reforms at the state level.
She specifically singled out Stamos’ comments to ARLnow back in June for criticism, after Stamos dismissed a letter by the state’s legislative delegation urging her to do away with cash bail entirely.
“When our delegation seeks my help to reform the bail system, I shall do so with an open mind, not dismiss the request as ‘silly’ and ‘misguided,'” Tafti said.
But Stamos also took some time to defend her record heading up the prosecutors’ office in her kickoff speech, claiming she’s “led our office on a set of values that any Democrat would support.”
“I’m proud to say that, as of last Friday night, the inmate population in the Arlington County jail is the lowest it’s been in the past five years, and that’s not by accident,” Stamos said. “It’s because of smart policing and smart prosecution, because of innovations that I’ve supported and championed.”
She also pointed to her decision to not seek jail time for people convicted of their first marijuana-related offenses as a move toward reform, and her embrace of diversion programs to keep people struggling with addiction or mental health issues out of jail.
“The core mission of our office will always remain the same: the principled prosecution of criminal defendants, the vigorous protection of victims’ rights and never losing track of the public’s and community’s safety,” Stamos said.
Local activist Nicole Merlene also formally announced her primary challenge to state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) at the meeting, while Treasurer Carla de la Pava proclaimed her own bid for a second full term in office.
Unlike Stamos, de la Pava did not address her support for Vihstadt in her speech. She has yet to draw a challenger this year, and has never run a contested race for the post — she was appointed to replace retiring treasurer Frank O’Leary, then won a special election and general election in consecutive years to retain her role.
School Board Chair Reid Goldstein also used the meeting as a chance to announce his bid for a second term, as he hopes to once more win the party’s endorsement for the nominally nonpartisan role.
Only one seat on the Board is up for grabs this year and Goldstein has yet to face any challengers in the race, though he has attracted some criticism for his handling of the controversial process of drawing new boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools last year.
Nevertheless, Goldstein used his speech as a chance to present the school system’s challenges as issues arising from the quality of county schools.
“These are tough issues, but we have to be in a situation where people aren’t eager to leave our schools,” Goldstein said.
The committee is set to select a Democratic School Board nominee in a caucus sometime in May or June. A June 11 primary will decide the other races on the ballot this year.
Photo via Facebook