Arlington, VA

(Updated at 2:55 p.m.) A month and a half ago, the Arlington branch of the NAACP publicly called for the county’s logo to be changed. Over the weekend, members of the County Board voiced support for that change.

Arlington’s logo, along with its flag, depicts Arlington House, the county’s namesake that sits atop a hill in Arlington National Cemetery. The house was built by enslaved persons in the early 1800s on the orders of George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington’s adopted son.

The house was later home to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who married into the slave-owning Custis family, before the property was seized by the federal government during the Civil War and ultimately turned into the nation’s most hallowed military cemetery.

Julius Spain, Sr., head of the Arlington NAACP, spoke at Saturday’s County Board meeting and reiterated the branch’s call for the logo to be nixed — saying it should be done as soon as possible, rather than after a prolonged process.

“Let me be perfectly clear: atrocities were committed in the area of Arlington House,” he said. “That is a fact, and for that reason alone that should be enough.”

Spain’s remarks were supported by a half dozen other locals during the virtual meeting, including former Arlington School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez.

Recently-elected County Board member Takis Karantonis was the first to respond to Spain’s comments and the most forceful in agreeing that the logo has to go now.

“It is nothing more and nothing less than a plantation house, and we cannot look away from this,” Karantonis said. “This simply cannot represent our government. For sure it doesn’t represent me and I don’t think it represents any of you, my colleagues, the County Manager, our civil servants.”

Karantonis then held his County Board business card up to the camera.

“I cannot say that Black lives matter today, in this summer of 2020, and at the same time pull out a business card with a plantation house printed on it,” he said. “So I believe this is urgent and compelling, and we can… retire this logo. It is time to move on from this.”

Other County Board members who spoke agreed with the need to change the logo, but did not commit to doing so as quickly as hoped for by Spain.

“It’s critical that we begin this community conversation,” said Katie Cristol.

“Arlington’s seal and logo must be replaced as soon as is reasonably possible,” said Matt de Ferranti. “Both are visible representations of a building that’s principal legacy is as a slave plantation, and thus must be replaced to be consistent with the inclusive, diverse community we aspire to be.”

De Ferranti said the Board needs to consider the process and standard for replacing the logo, while also remaining focused on other racial justice matters.

Christian Dorsey, the only Black member of the Board, said the county must deal with systematic racism, including the logo, in a comprehensive manner.

“I’d take perhaps a broader view that there are other symbols and names in our community that predate the confederacy, that postdate the confederacy, that are nonetheless symbols of systemic racism and oppression,” Dorsey said. “To address one without addressing the other to me is beneath the capability of our community to actually move forward with a symbolic and a substantive approach to dealing with systemic racism. I hope people will be patient.”

County Board Chair Libby Garvey said the county’s logo will be the topic of further discussion during the Board’s meeting on Tuesday. Arlington is also planning community roundtable discussions on systemic racism, and has kicked off an effort to rename Lee Highway.

Spain, meanwhile, said that the county flag and street names are not nearly as meaningful as the county’s chosen logo, and the latter should take priority. In a letter, he said the Board should be able to remove the logo within 2-3 months.

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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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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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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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Jane Green writes a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

On May 6, a select group of Arlington Democrats voted to endorse Takis Karantonis as their candidate in the special election to fill the seat vacated due to the tragic illness and death of Erik Gutshall.

(Full disclosure: My husband was a member of the closed caucus and I serve with Takis Karantonis on the board of the Alliance for Housing Solutions.)

Erik was an advocate for Missing Middle housing during his campaign for the County Board in 2017. Following that race was what first brought me into local politics as a relatively new Arlingtonian. Erik also clearly understood the connection between housing and other zoning regulations and transportation policy, such as the role of residential parking requirements.

As Arlington’s population grows in the urban corridors, both those along Metro lines, but also along Columbia Pike and Lee Highway, the County Board will benefit from Takis’s direct experience with economic development in Arlington. (Although I am personally disappointed that we won’t have a renter on the Board.)

In their endorsement, Greater Greater Washington acknowledged Karantonis’s “long record of fighting for less fortunate people and an area of the county that has not gotten the planning or transportation investments it needs.” (I no longer work for Greater Greater Washington and I had no role in making the endorsement.)

In answering the candidate questionnaire released by the Alliance for Housing Solutions, Takis emphasized the specific, practical tools that he sees available for the County to expand the diversity of our housing options, while also creating affordable homes for low-income residents.

Takis recognizes that many types of housing are “compatible with the gentle transition from our commercial corridors to our established neighborhoods.” He sees the Form-Based Code model is a good way to provide a “level of predictability” for adding “missing middle” housing types into residential areas that border commercial zones – including micro-units, stacked flats, duplexes and triplexes.

As for committed affordable housing, Takis wants to use tools such as the recent zoning amendment “to incentivize the creation of more onsite affordable units on the land being developed.” Recognizing that our high housing costs are due to the high cost of land, he would explore land banking, Transfer of Development Rights, Tax Increment Financing, and Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing as opportunities to produce more affordable units. I am looking forward to learning more about his policies in the next two months.

Currently, two other candidates have stepped forward for the July 7 special election. Susan Cunningham also wants to emphasize planning in Arlington’s non-Metro corridors. Based on her candidate statement, she is interested in “selective upzoning to enhance business viability and housing choice and affordability.” She emphasized “long-term planning” to balance growth with facilities investment, open space, and County spending.

The Arlington Republican Party has also announced a candidate. While Bob Cambridge does not have a campaign website at the time of this writing, the Arlington GOP platform states a commitment “to maintain an ample supply of market-rate affordable housing, to avoid the need for housing subsidies.” Additionally, they support job creation in the County and “fair and reasonable zoning” — although what that means specifically remains to be seen.

It will be impossible to fill Erik Gutshall’s shoes, and it will be up to Arlington voters if they want an equally passionate advocate for diverse and affordable housing on the County Board when we vote on July 7. Regardless, the election will shape our County during this critical time, when we can look outward and be welcoming of new residents, or be insular and closed off. I hope everyone follows the campaigns and makes their voice heard. You can request an absentee ballot online here.

Jane Fiegen Green, an Arlington resident since 2015, proudly rents an apartment in Pentagon City with her family. By day, she is the Membership Director for Food and Water Watch and by night she tries to navigate the Arlington Way. Opinions here are her own.

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Takis Karantonis, the former director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, will be the Democratic nominee for County Board in the upcoming July 7 special election.

With just days to select a nominee ahead of Friday’s court-set filing deadline, the Arlington County Democratic Committee — despite efforts to get the election date pushed back — opted for a ranked choice voting process among party insiders.

Karantonis bested three other candidates seeking to fill the late Erik Gutshall’s County Board seat. Also seeking the nomination were School Board member Barbara Kanninen, refugee and military veteran Chanda Choun, and former state Senate candidate Nicole Merlene.

“Arlington Democrats are excited to announce Takis Karantonis as our party’s nominee for the Arlington County Board,” Arlington Democrats Chair Jill Caiazzo said in a press release. “Takis has the experience, acumen and integrity to build upon the progressive record of Erik Gutshall. We’ll hit the ground running today to ensure his victory on July 7.”

Karantonis will likely face at least one other candidate when voters head to the polls. Susan Cunningham, a civically-involved mother of two, announced her intention to run as an independent earlier this week.

The full Democratic press release is below, after the jump.

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