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Morning Notes

Mattress Store Goes Night Night — From local tweeter @CartChaos22202: “The ⁦⁦Mattress Firm⁩ location along S. 15th Street in Pentagon City has closed… but try not to lose sleep over it.” [Twitter]

Santa Visiting Fairlington Next Week — “It was touch and go for a while, but it appears Santa Claus will be able to take part in an annual Fairlington tradition after all. The Fairlington Citizens Association is working to bring Saint Nick to the community for his annual ride on an Arlington County fire truck. The event is slated to take place on Saturday, Dec. 11.” [Sun Gazette]

Lane Closure for Bridge Maintenance — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Routine deck maintenance work continues on Shirlington Road Bridge through Dec. 11. One travel lane closed at a time, 7am to 7pm including weekends. West sidewalk remains open.” [Twitter]

Opioid Test Strips Are in Demand — “Months after Arlington County’s Department of Human Services started the pilot program to dispense 100 fentanyl-testing strips, the county is renewing its opioid response grant as demand continues to grow. ‘We were out of those test strips within the first couple of weeks. Since then, since the middle of August, we’ve dispensed 604 test strips,’ said Emily Siqveland, who runs the county’s new Opioid Treatment Program.” [WTOP]

Elections Office Ready for Rerun — “Yes, Virginia, there may be a rerun of all 100 House of Delegates races in the new year. Maybe not, but possibly. If so, personnel in the Arlington elections office will be ready, they say. ‘We’ll just have to wait and see how this process plays out,’ said Gretchen Reinemeyer, the county’s director of elections, in a look-back-and-look-forward report to the county’s Electoral Board on Nov. 30.” [Sun Gazette]

Reminder: Arlies Voting — Don’t forget to cast a vote for your favorite bakery, ARLnow commenter, coffee shop or brunch spot. Voting in the Winter 2022 Arlies awards closes on Monday. [ARLnow]

It’s Friday — It’s going to be a bit windy today, with sunny skies, a low of around 40 and a high near 58. Northwest wind 8 to 13 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph. Sunrise at 7:10 a.m. and sunset at 4:46 p.m. Saturday will be mostly sunny, with a high near 55 and wind gusts up to 20 mph. Sunday will be mostly sunny, with a high near 51. [Weather.gov]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The group has not disclosed who its donors are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morning Notes

Seattle Tax Could Advantage Arlington — “It wouldn’t shock us if Amazon started encouraging more of its executives to up and move their teams to HQ2, or a neighboring city in Washington state, now that the Seattle City Council has passed a progressive tax targeting the wealthiest companies in the city.” [Washington Business Journal]

Analysis of County Board Special Election — From @A_Hendel on Twitter: “Takis Karantonis received most of his share of the vote from South Arlington… In fact, almost no precincts north of I-66 cast 50% or more of their votes for Takis.” [Twitter]

Organizations Getting Big PPP Loans in Arlington — The American Diabetes Association, tech company ByteCubed, American Service Center, Bishop O’Connell High School and the Catholic Diocese of Arlington are among the Arlington-based organizations to reportedly receive $2+ million federal Paycheck Protection Act loans. [Patch]

Another Local Tech Firm Gets PPP Help — “Amazon.com Inc. may have posted record sales during the pandemic, but many third-party sellers on the platform foundered… Some of those sellers — like the Arlington-based Amify Inc. and Etailz Inc., based in Spokane, Washington — received millions of dollars worth of help from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.” [Washington Business Journal]

Water Main Repairs Today in Bluemont — “Thursday Emergency Water Main Repairs: Crews will replace 3 valves in separate locations tomorrow in Bluemont area. Some 100 customers have been notified of potential service interruptions 8 a.m.-5 p.m.” [Twitter]

Letter: W-L Renaming Happened at a Good Time — “The Arlington School Board’s renaming of Washington-Lee High School was autocratic, manipulative, adversarial and punitive. In retrospect, though, they unwittingly did the W-L community a favor.” [InsideNova]

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(Updated at 10:45 p.m.) Democrat Takis Karantonis will fill the late Erik Gutshall’s former Arlington County Board seat.

Karantonis, an economist and the former director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, captured 62.4% of the vote. He overperformed among absentee ballots, with 71% of the more than 10,000 absentee ballots cast amid the pandemic.

Susan Cunningham, who described herself as a “progressive Independent,” received 32.6% of the vote. A civically-involved professional and mother of two, Cunningham was endorsed in the race by John Vihstadt, the last non-Democrat to win a seat on the County Board.

Republican Bob Cambridge, a former CIA instructor, received 4.8% of the vote.

In all, 19,866 votes were cast — a turnout of 12.6% of the Arlington electorate. That’s below the 22,264 votes tallied in the 2014 special election, in which Vihstadt first won his seat on the Board.

Besides taking place during a pandemic, today’s election was also hampered by a relatively short campaigning period, and an election day just after the Fourth of July. Karantonis won the Democratic nomination in a closed caucus of about 250 local Democratic party insiders, as the party decried not having enough time to organize a broader primary or caucus.

Karantonis’ initial term on the Board will run through Dec. 31, 2021.

In a press release issued by the Arlington County Democratic Committee, Karantonis pledges “true progressive policies and effective leadership.”

“Arlington voters responded overwhelmingly to Takis’ positive, issues-oriented campaign, surmounting the unprecedented challenges posed by the coronavirus to elect an experienced leader to the County Board,” Arlington Democrats Chair Jill Caiazzo said. “Takis will be a leader for all Arlingtonians. He has the expertise and empathy to build on the impressive legacy of Erik Gutshall. We know he’ll serve Arlington well.”

During the campaign, Karantonis touted his status as an immigrant as a reason he’ll be particularly effective during these fraught times for the country. He has been a resident of Arlington for 14 years, currently living with his wife in the Arlington Village neighborhood.

“As an immigrant and a first-time candidate, I did not expect to receive the overwhelming amount of support from Arlingtonians throughout every zip code in our county,” Karantonis said shortly after the election was called. “Our victory is meaningful for two specific reasons: it is the recognition of my many years of civic engagement in Arlington and it serves as a testament to Arlington voters’ expectation of true progressive policies and effective leadership.”

Karantonis previously served as executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, and now directs micro-lending for the Ethiopian Community Development Council, an Arlington-based nonprofit. He serves as vice chair of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, and previously was president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association and board chair of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment (now known as EcoAction Arlington). A native of Greece, Karantonis lived and worked in several European countries before immigrating to the United States. He speaks eight languages.

Cunningham, in a statement, thanked her opponents “for a spirited and hard-fought race” and wished Karantonis well on the County Board.

“Tonight I want to thank each and every voter in Arlington,” Cunningham said. “And I also want to thank my daughters and my husband, along with an incredible army of volunteers, who pulled out all the stops during a pandemic. This was always an uphill battle — not just against my opponents but also against an entrenched one-party system in Arlington… I truly hope we started some important conversations about the perils of one-party rule and the need for greater accountability.”

“I hope all of our elected officials will get serious about transparency, accountability, and improved School-County collaboration,” Cunningham concluded. “I have been deeply honored to meet and talk with so many Arlington residents. I look forward to many more discussions in the future.”

More on the turnout from the county elections office:

File photo

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Morning Notes

Special Election Voting Today — Voting is underway in the three-way special election to fill the late Erik Gutshall’s County Board seat. Polls are open from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. The candidates are Takis Karantonis, Susan Cunningham and Bob Cambridge. “Don’t forget your photo ID, ballpoint pen, and face mask,” Arlington’s election office said this morning in a tweet. [Twitter]

No Incentive Payments for Amazon This Year — “Amazon.com Inc. won’t receive any direct cash payments from Arlington County, this year at least, for its HQ2 office leases… because Amazon’s incentive payments are tied to Arlington’s tourism industry. And many rooms remain empty to this day.” [Washington Business Journal]

APS Working to Offer Free Internet Service — “In May, the Arlington County Board allocated $500,000 of funding for a joint County/School Internet Essentials Grant Program to provide broadband internet access to APS students in need. The grant, allocated as part of the federal [CARES] Act, will provide free, high-speed internet access to low-income families who qualify for Internet Essentials from Comcast. Arlington is the first community in Virginia to partner with Comcast to offer free broadband services to students and their families.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Flying Squirrel Rescued from Chimney — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “This little flying squirrel had been stuck in a local resident’s chimney since Saturday, but thankfully, Sgt Ballena was able to remove him and release him safely nearby!” [Twitter]

Synetic Organizing Joint Fundraiser — “Synetic Theater has partnered with the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) to raise $20,000 during the month of July to be split evenly between the organizations. This partnership was initiated by Synetic Theater to help fulfil the company’s desire to invest in their local community while they are unable to host live performances at their Crystal City/National Landing theater space.” [Press Release]

Interview With New Poet Laureate — “When Hollynd Karapetkova learned that she had been selected as Arlington County’s poet laureate, she saw it as a wonderful piece of good news and positive recognition at a time when everything in the world seemed so chaotic. ‘I’m really grateful that Arlington has gone ahead with this program in spite of all the chaos that’s unfolding,’ she said.” [Patch]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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This week, we asked the three candidates in the County Board race to write a 750-word essay on why our readers should vote for them in the July 7 special election. 

Here is the unedited response from Independent candidate Susan Cunningham.

I am running for Arlington County Board as a progressive Independent. As a community advocate, mother, and business owner, I know Arlington needs experienced, practical, and effective leadership right now. Professionally, I have led business, government, and nonprofits through crises and change. Here in Arlington, I have worked closely with every County and School Board member, while leading the Hamm Middle School construction (BLPC) and the Historic Interpretation Committee for the Stratford Junior High site, and as a founding member of both the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) and the Lee Highway Alliance.  Grounded in 25 years of professional and community experience, I will ask good questions, bring people together, and get the right things done for Arlington.

Two months ago, I started this campaign with clear priorities around accountability, collaboration, innovation, and practical investments. But the last eight weeks have taught me much more about what Arlington really needs in a new County Board Member. I have talked with Arlingtonians who come from very different places – geographically, politically, demographically, and economically. I’ve listened to their concerns, contemplated their advice, and learned even more about what Arlington needs and wants. And so now, just days before this election comes to a close, I want to share with you what I’ve learned and what I will focus on as your next Arlington County Board Member:

  1. Arlington needs to prioritize our core services. Schools, infrastructure, transportation, housing, and health must be at the top of every agenda during our recovery and beyond. In particular, we must bring APS and County together to innovate and deliver. If we don’t get these right, our future prospects are in peril.
  2. Arlington wants to reconnect our communities. We have to focus on both the visible connections and those that impact our daily lives in other ways. We must physically connect through planning and transit, economically connect through support services, and emotionally connect through facing tough realities about racial equality and justice.
  3. Arlington needs to simplify. For both residents and businesses, our community engagement process is burdensome and unequal for too many. We need to streamline, ensure more representative participation, utilize virtual meeting options, and actually heed community input instead of moving forward with predetermined outcomes. We have innovated during COVID to make it easier to do business — shifting permits online and helping restaurants with grab-and-go parking, signage, and outdoor seating — and should continue to innovate all of our government services for greater ease and efficiency.
  4. Arlington wants bold leadership, during COVID and beyond. Instead of upholding the status quo, I will bring to the Board a focused eye and an open mind. Drawing on decades of experience leading change in government and business, I will challenge our County Board to think differently, hold staff accountable, and be more fiscally responsible and results-oriented in its deliberations and action. Arlington has a $1.4 billion annual budget — we deserve professional management and professional results.
  5. Arlington needs to move away from one-party control. This is the biggest thing I’ve heard — the issue that many blame for an increasing deafness from the County Board and a reluctance of highly qualified candidates to run for local office. Every elected official in Arlington today has been blessed by a single party. This encourages groupthink and discourages tough questioning and drilling down on the details. As an Independent, I will challenge the status quo, probe assumptions, and prioritize critical infrastructure and fiscal discipline over gold-plated projects.
    I am confident I can deliver all of these wants and needs as your next County Board Member. My campaign is heading towards the finish line with incredible momentum, widespread support, and a real shot at upsetting what many assumed would be a predictable sleeper race. Arlington deserves better than a predictable outcome and I’m willing to put in the work to make us better. I humbly ask for your vote on July 7th.

Please join me at susanforarlington.com to volunteer, donate, or find your polling place.

Thank you.

Susan Cunningham

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This week, we asked the three candidates in the County Board race to write a 750-word essay on why our readers should vote for them in the July 7 special election. 

Here is the unedited response from Republican candidate Bob Cambridge

Bob Cambridge has been an Arlington resident for over 40 years. He has had a varied background, Captain in the US Army (Military Intelligence Branch), three years with the Central Intelligence Agency as an information science instructor, and over 40 years as an attorney, both corporate and as a litigator. Ideas developed over that period appear to be relevant to a lot that is going on now, and the opportunity to run for Arlington County Board was an opportunity to get those ideas out where they might do some good.

My website, https://BobCambridge.com, has articles which provide more detail supporting what I will say here. I invite you to check that site out too. I read a lot, and my website brings together several ideas I have shamelessly plagiarized to support other ideas I wanted to share that may be useful.

The website refers to the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant which illustrates the fact that people often disagree without necessarily disagreeing about the same thing. My experience has also been that we all have different perspectives about just about everything. The website refers to a book by Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, which offers some interesting suggestions for why there was male dominance for so long and why the recent emergence of a more balanced (and rational) arrangement should not be surprising. The website also provides observations that support the argument that we do better together because different perspectives properly solicited and actually considered can be a powerful tool for doing almost anything better. Please see https://bobcambridge.com/we-do-better-together/.

The one-party County Board we have had for forty or so years has not had incompetent or narrow-minded members. But that one-party board could have easily been better. Complaints I am hearing now often emphasize a perceived unwillingness of the Board to effectively consider a broader base of ideas. I hear of waiting three hours to speak two minutes at a Board meeting only to see no apparent effect that speech had on anyone. Promises are made, such as budgeting more for parks and Arlington’s tree canopy, only to see nothing actually budgeted and requests for information about that stonewalled by Board insistence that a Freedom of Information Act request be submitted. FOIA requests can be expensive and when our tax dollars pay for a study, why should we pay a second time to see the results of what we paid for?

My platform is different because while I definitely have preferences on some issues, I also freely acknowledge that I do not know everything and will not pretend that I do. The best decisions are made by decisionmakers who listen more than they talk. There seems to be a concern that comments and criticism of Board action will not be seriously considered. That concern will definitely act to suppress suggestions, many of which might actually be very effective and actually get us a bigger bang for some of our tax dollars. Five Board members, even supported by the County Staff, cannot provide number or quality of ideas anything near to what the quarter million Arlington residents supported by many more individuals who work in Arlington can provide. My platform, better laid out in my website, https://BobCambridge.com, is not so much support or opposition to specific issues, as to getting more transparency on the part of the Board and more involvement from a broader group of interested individuals. Why? Because that is a management process that has shown significant success in the private sector and it clearly should be used to make our government more successful too. The process is also oriented not to put in place a perfect solution – there is no such thing, promises of politicians notwithstanding – but to start and continue a process that makes unending improvement the goal. That is a goal shown to be achievable. Corporations have done it, continue to successfully do it, and there is no excuse why the Arlington County Government should not implement similar programs.

I ask that you vote for me if you choose, but please check out my website in either case. If you agree with the ideas, please pass them on. If you disagree, or if you can suggest an improvement (an inevitable occurrence) please send comment or criticism to [email protected]. I will do my best to respond, even after July 7.

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This week, we asked the three candidates in the County Board race to write a 750-word essay on why our readers should vote for them in the July 7 special election. 

Here is the unedited response from Democratic candidate Takis Karantonis

My name is Takis Karantonis and I am the Democratic candidate in the special election for the Arlington County Board on July 7. I was born in Greece and emigrated to the United States to join my wife, Lida, upon completion of her Ph.D. studies. Since moving to Arlington in 2007, I have experienced and appreciate the values that Arlingtonians hold important: safe and walkable neighborhoods; excellent schools; great public places and facilities; accountable governance; ethnic and cultural diversity; an unwavering commitment to community involvement; and neighbors who uphold and sustain these values.

My voice, my way of thinking, and my politics are rooted in civic engagement and day-to-day involvement with our community. I am running for County Board because I am proud of what Arlington is and stands for and because I truly believe in the importance of inclusivity of all voices in our governance. During the 60 days of this campaign two larger-than-life issues dominated my actions and thoughts: the permanence of COVID-19 conditions and their long-term effects on every aspect of life and the stark reminder, spurred by the murder of George Floyd, of racial inequity and divides in our community. To make Arlington a just and equitable place for all, I pledge to work with you to tackle inequities in housing, education, health, and life outcomes in our county. We must:

  • use the lessons of the COVID crisis to address the inequalities that COVID has revealed that have led to a disproportionate impact on our marginalized communities and communities of color;
  • actively advocate for a strong local social safety net that helps our less prosperous neighbors and all locally-owned businesses;
  • bring an equity lens to County Board work to identify metrics to chart progress; examine every decision to uncover who is helped, who is hurt, who benefits and who is left behind;
  • prioritize support for our small businesses by instituting a permanent revolving microloan program, which will also leverage private investment to boost small business creation and sustainability in the long term.

I am an economist and urban planner with over 25 years of urban and regional planning experience. I work for a non-profit micro-lender, currently helping Arlington’s small businesses recover from COVID-19. I have been involved with several Arlington non-profit organizations, appointed to advisory commissions and participated in many planning processes affecting progress in our community. My experiences as Executive Director of the ColumbiaPike Revitalization Organization, past chair of Eco ActionArlington and Vice Chair of the Alliance of Housing Solutions add to the vision, practical knowledge and insight I would bring to our Board. Politically, I have been an active and vocal supporter of local, progressive campaigns that challenged and changed the status quo (e.g., Erik Gutshall and Parisa Deghani-Tafti).

This campaign has been like no other due to the compressed timeline imposed by Virginia law and by COVID-19: to substitute for face-to-face conversations, meetings, and debates, I became adept at online media and hosted 20 Zoom-and-Greets covering all neighborhoods in Arlington in 40 days.

I responded to multiple questionnaires that allowed me to express my vision on many issues: arts, education, environment, housing, mental health, and more. The diversity of organizations which submitted questionnaires is just one indicator of the diversity of priorities in our community. As a Board member, I would have an obligation to listen to and provide a seat at the table for all, as we move forward with discussions and policies to equitably address our community needs.

I believe in democratic values, collaborative leadership and inclusive planning expressed in the four pillars of my platform: equitable governance; fiscal sustainability and resilience; environmental sustainability; and principled and inclusive long-term planning. I have earned the endorsement of Arlington’s elected officials from the County and School Boards to the General Assembly to Congress; professional organizations; citizen-led advocacy groups (representing the African-American community, Latino community, Seniors, and the Immigrant community; supporting multi-modal transportation; cycling; public education; affordable housing; environmental sustainability; and mental health services) and more than 200 community leaders. These endorsements are the result of years of working on Arlington issues and a testament to my passion for good, responsive and responsible local governance.

I hope to earn your vote and the opportunity to serve as your next County Board member on July 7.

Photo via Takis for Arlington/Facebook

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While many elections are spaced out over months, sometimes even years at the presidential level, three Arlington candidates have been running for County Board in a 61-day sprint towards the special election on July 7.

Takis Karantonis (D), Susan Cunningham (I) and Bob Cambridge (R) are all first-time candidates in the most unconventional race in recent memory.

“It’s unprecedented and extremely short,” said Karantonis. “We have the COVID-19 [pandemic] and it is a special election [held] right after Fourth of July. Everything you can imagine that is non-typical for an election is typical for this one.”

The 61-Day Campaigns

The special election was triggered by County Board member Erik Gutshall’s resignation in April. Ten days later, Gutshall died after a battle with brain cancer. On May 7, Karantonis bested three other candidates to be chosen as the Democratic nominee in a closed caucus.

Karantonis, and economist and the former director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, faces opposition in the election from Cunningham, a business executive and independent who has been involved in several major planning efforts, and Cambridge, a Republican and former instructor in the CIA.

For each candidate, it’s been a struggle to adapt over the span of weeks to national and local changes — from the phased reopening to the Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd.

“It was right at the end of April [when Gutshall resigned], ” Cunningham said. “I mulled it over, talked it over, then filed before the end of the month and before the party caucuses. It was not particularly premeditated — it was an unusual time with a lot of grieving and a lot of need. The rest of us were shaken by Erik’s death and we had to get a lot of signatures in the middle of the pandemic.”

Without a party infrastructure to back her up, Cunningham said she has had to take a grassroots approach in a compressed election cycle when traditional door-to-door campaigning grassroots tactics weren’t viable. Cunningham considered throwing her hat into the ring for the Democratic primary but said she felt more comfortable running as an independent.

“I thought long and hard about whether to run as an independent because there’s only, like, one example of that working,” Cunningham said, referring to independent John Vihstadt’s victories over Democratic candidates until he was bested in 2018. “It really was a values-based decision. I’ve always through local government should be non-partisan. The issues are not the national party issues; it’s potholes and schools.” Read More

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Former Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt has endorsed a fellow independent in the July 7 County Board special election.

The race, to fill the seat of the late Erik Gutshall on the Board, features three candidates: Democratic nominee Takis Karantonis, independent Susan Cunningham, and Republican Bob Cambridge.

Vihstadt, who won a historic victory in 2014 before losing his reelection bid in 2018, said in a statement today that Cunningham is a civic leader who will “bring a renewed focus on valuing what’s essential in an open, transparent, and equitable way.” Cunningham said she welcomed the endorsement and is committed to nonpartisan governance.

More from a press release:

“I came to know and respect Susan’s community accomplishments during my County Board tenure. As demonstrated by her collaborative leadership on the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) and on the planning body for the renovated and expanded Dorothy Hamm (formerly Stratford) Middle School, she has a knack for bringing diverse minds together, cutting to the chase, and getting things done,” said Vihstadt.

Vihstadt continued, “We live in precarious times. Susan’s sober, well-informed and independent outlook on what local government can and can’t afford is exactly what the Board needs right now. She’ll speak truth to power and bring a renewed focus on valuing what’s essential in an open, transparent, and equitable way.”

“I am very proud to have earned John’s endorsement,” said Cunningham. “Like John, I’ll bring inclusive, non-partisan leadership, listen to all perspectives, and ask tough questions,” Cunningham added. “John proved that an Independent candidate can win in Arlington. Serving on the Board is not about advancing partisan agendas or political stepping-stones. It’s about doing what is right for all of Arlington — full stop.”

Cunningham’s campaign website — which adopts Vihstadt’s signature purple color — describes the Yale-educated mother of two as “a seasoned executive, entrepreneur, engineer, education reformer, and community leader” who “builds collaborative solutions that break through the status quo without breaking the bank.”

“From COVID-19 to school capacity and Amazon, the next few years will be among the most challenging in Arlington’s history,” the website says. “Susan brings the context and skills Arlington needs now, to act swiftly on top priorities for residents and businesses.”

Among the two other candidates in the race, Karantonis is an economist by training and the former director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization. His website says he is “committed to ensuring that our community builds on our legacy of safe and walkable neighborhoods; ethnic and cultural diversity; excellent schools, public places and facilities; fiscal responsibility and accountable governance; and an unwavering commitment to community involvement.”

Cambridge’s website acknowledges the long odds of a Republican being elected in deep blue Arlington, and adds a bit of self-deprecating humor.

“While success is unlikely – there have been no Republican members of the Arlington County Board since 1983 – it is an opportunity to share some ideas and that is to my mind well worth doing,” the website says. A banner at the top reads: “Committee to Elect Bob Cambridge: So far that’s just me, but I am working on convincing my wife.”

Cambridge, an Army veteran who now works as an attorney, says he wants “to see more effective and efficient use of the taxes that I pay each year” and “more ideas can advance that agenda.”

The deadline to register to vote, in time for the July 7 special election, is today (May 26). Early voting is currently underway and absentee ballots can be requested through June 16.

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