Fulfilling a long-delayed promise, Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey dropped off a cashier’s check for $10,000 to the headquarters of the Amalgamated Transit Union International yesterday.
The action is, one would assume, the last chapter in the saga of a political donation that caused Dorsey to lose his seat on the WMATA Board and lose the trust of some of his constituents in Arlington.
Dorsey was ordered by the WMATA Board to return the $10,000 political donation to his Christian Dorsey for County Board political committee due to a conflict of interest — between his role in helping to run the transit agency and his acceptance of a donation from its largest labor union. He also faced ethics scrutiny for not disclosing the donation for four months.
Dorsey resigned from the WMATA Board in February after failing to return the donation; at the time, he did not have sufficient funds in his campaign account to do so. Most of Dorsey’s campaign cash in 2019 went to himself and his wife, in the form of loan repayments and payments for campaign services, respectively.
Dorsey filed for personal bankruptcy in October 2019. The bankruptcy case was still active in federal court as of last week.
Friends helped to raise additional campaign funds for Dorsey in February and March, despite him not being up for reelection until 2023. In addition to donations from fellow elected officials and from individuals, Dorsey accepted $1,000 from the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and $2,000 from Steamfitters Local Union #602.
Dorsey wrote a $10,000 check dated Feb. 24, 2020 and sent it to ATU International but, according to reporting by the Washington Post last week, the check was somehow lost when it was sent from the union to the bank.
In response to subsequent inquiries from ARLnow, Dorsey said on Thursday that he had dropped off a cashier’s check drawn from his campaign account. He provided a photo of the check, and ATU International spokesman David Roscow confirmed that it had been received.
“I’d like for this saga to be closed as well, and will cooperate as necessary to do so,” Dorsey told ARLnow earlier in the week, though he added that he saw it as closed “at least as it pertains to my responsibility in the matter.”
“My promise was to return the contribution, which I did, as evidenced through the certified mail receipt and acknowledgment by ATU in February/March,” he said. “That they didn’t process it is a matter I cannot speak to, nor can I reasonably be held responsible for.”
According to the Virginia Dept. of Elections website, Dorsey’s campaign initially submitted a campaign finance report on July 15 that did not include the February return of the donation. That report was amended on July 19, to include the $10,000 check as an expenditure. The Post reported on July 23 that the check was never cashed.
Hundreds of union members are expected to participate in a caravan from Ballston to the U.S. Capitol around lunchtime Wednesday.
The Workers First Caravan for Racial and Economic Justice is being organized by a number of major labor organizations. Participants will be gathering at the Ballston public parking garage at 627 N. Glebe Road — plus a second staging site in Silver Spring, Maryland — to affix signs to their vehicles. At 11:45 a.m., they will drive to and circle the Capitol building in D.C.
“More than one thousand union members will travel to Washington, D.C. for the Workers First Caravan for Racial and Economic Justice, the headline event of a massive national mobilization with hundreds of actions calling for bold policies to confront the three crises facing America: a public health pandemic, an economic free fall and long-standing structural racism,” organizers said in a statement.
“Representing those employed in health care, public education, public service, hospitality and more, workers will call on lawmakers to act now to save our nation, save our economy and save workers’ lives,” the statement continues. “The Workers First Caravan is organized by AFSCME, AFT, IUPAT, IBT, UFCW, UNITE HERE and the AFL-CIO.”
Fire Union Raises Alarm About Lack of Quarantining — “An Arlington County firefighter tested positive for coronavirus this week and the union is concerned that colleagues were not told to quarantine.” [NBC 4]
The Toll for First Responders During the Outbreak — “We are starting to see the mental and physical toll that this pandemic is having on our members and their families. Please continue to practice social distancing and listen to the local leaders.” [Twitter]
Signs of Support From the Community — Signs and other expressions of appreciation for first responders have been popping up around Arlington, as have signs urging continued social distancing. [Twitter, Twitter, Twitter]
GMU Prof Trying to Spur Coronavirus Solutions — “George Mason University professor Tyler Cowen hopes to incentivize a stronger response to the coronavirus by distributing more than $1 million in prizes for research leading to immediate help in fighting the pandemic.” [George Mason University]
Beyer Supports Relief Bill — Said Rep. Don Beyer, regarding the record 3.3 million new unemployment claims: “These numbers are far worse than anything we saw during the Great Recession. We need to move quickly to help those that are getting hurt… That is why the bill passed by the Senate to increase unemployment insurance by an extra $600 a week for four months and make billions available for small business grants and loan payments is so important.” [House of Representatives]
Local Testing is Taking a Long Time — “An Arlington, Virginia, resident told Axios he got tested a week ago, but his results have now been delayed twice; he’ll likely end up waiting nine to 10 days for his results.” [Axios]
Ambar Offering Family-Style Meals to Go — “Street Guys Hospitality, renowned for its neighborhood restaurants that offer set price, next-level Balkan & Mexican dining without limits, is stepping up with a plan to help feed the communities it serves while supporting its staff members during this crisis.” [Press Release]
Transit Union Gets Its Money Back from Dorsey — “Union verifies (to me, 5 minutes ago) that it has received [embattled County Board member Christian Dorsey’s] repayment of $10,000 campaign donation.” [Twitter]
Board Advances Reeves Farmhouse Plan — “The [Reeves] farmhouse will be preserved and protected as a historic site, the parkland around the house will stay as parkland, and the County will get much needed housing for people with developmental disabilities without our taxpayers footing the bill. It’s a win-win-win.” [Arlington County]
Va. Legislature OKs Amazon Delivery Bots — “Amazon.com Inc. package delivery robots could soon hit Virginia’s sidewalks and roadways. The General Assembly has made quick work of a bill that would clear the way for Scout, Amazon’s six-wheeled delivery robot, to operate in the commonwealth.” [Washington Business Journal]
Airport Helper Service to Launch Tomorrow — “Goodbye, airport chaos… SkySquad is launching this week at Reagan Airport to improve the airport experience for anyone who needs an extra hand. Travel is stressful for most people, especially families with young kids; and senior citizens who need extra support.” [Press Release]
A Look at Arlington’s Oldest Families — A series of articles profiling long-time local families takes a look at the Parks, the Shreves, the Smiths, the Syphaxes, the Birches and the Thomases. [Arlington Magazine]
Sheriff’s Office Welcomes New K-9 — “The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office recently welcomed its newest K-9 officer – Logan, a one-and-a-half-year-old black Labrador retriever who is paired with handler Cpl. Matthew Camardi. The duo will work in narcotics detection and other specialized fields. [InsideNova]
(Updated at 4:20 p.m.) Arlington County Board member and now-former Metro board member Christian Dorsey cruised to easy election victories in 2019 and thus didn’t need to spend much on his campaign. He did, however, direct campaign cash to himself and his wife.
Dorsey, who is currently trying to resolve a personal bankruptcy, is not accused of wrongdoing in his campaign spending. But it does raise questions amid news that he has not yet fulfilled a promise to repay a $10,000 campaign contribution, deemed unethical by the Metro board after Dorsey failed to notify the board of the donation in a timely manner.
Dorsey has since resigned from the Metro board, the Washington Post reported Thursday afternoon.
It was just after the Nov. 2019 election that it was revealed that Dorsey had declared bankruptcy in October. He told ARLnow in December that he regretted not informing the community earlier.
The campaign was otherwise a breeze for Dorsey. He ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and easily defeated a pair of independent candidates, who sought his and fellow incumbent Board member Katie Cristol’s seats, in November.
Dorsey raised nearly $40,000 in 2019, including the aforementioned $10,000 from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 — Metro’s largest union — as well as $10,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, $5,000 from a carpenters union, and $1,000 from a laborers union.
As of Dec. 31, according to Dorsey’s latest campaign finance report, his campaign had $3,298 on hand. So where did most of the cash go? Just over $25,000 went to Dorsey and his wife, documents show.
Dorsey began 2019 with a balance of $17,547 on loans he had provided his campaign during the 2015 election. He repaid all but $200.99 of that to himself by the end of the year. He also paid $8,000 to his wife over the summer for campaign management graphic design work.
There has thus far been no suggestion that any of the payments were in any way illegal or improper, though a nearly $2,000 loan repayment was made after Dorsey was ordered to return the transit union donation.
The campaign’s other major expenses were $4,825 in donations and sponsorships to the Arlington County Democratic Committee and $4,399 to a local printing company for yard signs and grip cards, paid in September. Fundraising and web hosting expenses, along with other donations and food and drink purchases for events and volunteers, made up much of the remaining expenses.
Prof. Jennifer Victor, who researches campaign finance at George Mason University’s Schar School Policy and Government, said the pattern of payments amid personal financial problems and the union donation controversy at Metro at the very least “raises some ethical eyebrows,” regardless of whether or not state campaign finance laws were violated. Victor added that hiring a spouse for the campaign “looks nepotistic” and is something most candidates would avoid doing.
Dorsey Hasn’t Returned Union Donation — Arlington County Board and WMATA board member Christian Dorsey, “who promised three months ago to repay a $10,000 campaign donation that violated the board’s ethics policy, has not yet refunded the money and is likely to be replaced as Virginia’s representative on the regional board. Dorsey said Wednesday that he is working on a wire transfer to return the money to a transit union that routinely negotiates with Metro.” [Washington Post]
Beyer Slams Impeachment Trial — “Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) issued the following statement… ‘Today Senate Republicans ended their impeachment show trial. It will go down as one of the most craven events in American history.'” [Press Release]
County Board Race Fundraising Update — “The two Democrats vying for Arlington County Board entered 2020 with roughly the same amount of cash on hand, according to figures from the Virginia Department of Elections. Incumbent Libby Garvey had $16,823 in her campaign kitty as of Dec. 31, while challenger Chanda Choun had $16,155, according to data reported after the Jan. 15 filing deadline.” [InsideNova]
West Glebe Road Bridge Open House — “The deteriorating West Glebe Road Bridge, on the Arlington border near I-395, will be the topic of an open house next week. The bridge is currently closed to large vehicles weighing more than 5 tons due to structural deficiencies. It’s set for a major rehabilitation project, likely starting later this year.” [ALXnow]
Forum to Discuss Repealing Second Amendment — “Encore Learning will present a forum on ‘Repeal the Second Amendment: The Case for a Safer America’ on Monday, Feb. 10 at 3 p.m. at Central Library. The speaker, American University professor Allan Lichtman, will discuss his perspectives on gun safety and will argue for national legislation and the potential revision of the U.S. Constitution.” [InsideNova]
Dirt Closes Restaurants in Miami, Too — “On Thursday at 11 p.m., employees were told via a text message from DIRT Regional Director of Operations Aaron Licardo that both the Sunset Harbour and Brickell locations were closing for good. The two Miami spots closed on the heels of the Virginia location shuttering; that restaurant, located in Ballston, lasted less than a year. The message employees received claimed the company ‘found no other way to keep these locations open.'” [Miami Herald]
The following op-ed was written by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington).
The Labor Day holiday may have passed but the rights of workers remain at the forefront of my agenda.
When Democrats flip the General Assembly this year, it will be the first progressive legislature in modern history. Democrats will finally be in position to make government work for all Virginians, not just the wealthy few and big corporate donors. While Virginia may be the best state for business, it is the worst state for workers and that needs to change.
At the very top of the progressive agenda is to repeal the so-called “Right-to-Work.” Eradicating this law is both a civil rights issue and a matter of economic justice. Hopefully, it will also be at the top of Governor Ralph Northam’s list, and that of his newly established Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law. This commission is charged with reviewing the Virginia Code and administrative regulations to address the Commonwealth’s remaining policies that promote or enable racial discrimination or inequity. Its report is due to the Governor by November 15th.
A little history: the origins of Virginia’s right-to-work law is based on discrimination. Virginia passed its right-to-work law in 1947 during the tenure of Governor William Tuck, an avowed segregationist and union buster. Right-to-work spread across the south and mid-western states after World War II to block workers of all races from coming together to fight for better wages and benefits.
Dr. Martin Luther King understood the true nature of right-to-work. Dr. King said, “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone… Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped.”
So why hasn’t this law been repealed sooner? A lot of right-to-work’s staying power has to do with its name, and the support received from the business community and the Republican Party.
Right-to-work may sound positive but it is far from it. People mistakenly think “right-to-work” means “right to a job,” and that they cannot be fired without cause. This is the exact opposite of what it means. Right-to-work prohibits union security agreements between companies and labor unions. It creates an unfair environment where employees cannot be compelled to join a union or pay union dues, but still may receive the benefits and protections of unions if they work in a unionized environment.
The purpose of right-to-work is to starve unions and make it harder for them to be effective advocates for things like: living wages, employer-sponsored family health insurance, vacation and sick leave, and pensions – all things Arlingtonians support. And make no mistake: while right-to-work hurts all workers, this policy has an outsized effect on people of color because they are the segment of the workforce mostly likely seeking to organize and fight for better wages and benefits.
Virginians are not fooled. When Republicans and business groups led an effort in 2016 to enshrine right-to-work in the Virginia Constitution, it was rejected by Virginia voters 54 percent to 46 percent. In Arlington, it was soundly rejected 62.5 percent to 37.5 percent. When Virginia Democrats take the majority in 2020, it’s time to repeal Right-to-Work and put Virginia workers first.
Op-eds are written by local newsmakers on local topics of interest. The views and opinions expressed in the op-ed are those of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.
A rally for airline workers rights drew hundreds to Reagan National Airport, including a number of Democratic presidential hopefuls.
Labor union UNITE HERE helped organize the rally in support of airport catering workers, who are planning a large-scale strike if their demands for better wages and benefits are not met. Presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were among those on hand to support the workers, along with other labor unions and local officials.
“No one should have to choose between healthcare and paying the rent,” Warren called out amid cheers.
The Massachusetts senator’s speech on Tuesday echoed her support for more corporate regulations.
“Giant corporations believe if they just push hard enough the unions will just go away,” she said. Since entering the race in February, Warren has since risen in recent polls to second among the crowded field.
Tuesday’s crowd was equally loud for two-time presidential candidate Sanders, who was ushered to the podium among chants of “We Love Bernie!”
“At a time when corporate profits are a record-breaking level, our demands are simple,” said the senator, who rose to popularity for his stance on economic inequality. “Pay your workers a living wage and provide… affordable healthcare for your workers,” Sanders said.
Sanders noted workers in the D.C. area “cannot live on $10 hour” wages due to the rising costs of living and housing.
Presidential hopeful Bill de Blasio also received a warm welcome and led the crowd in chanting of “working people first!”
“I hear they made $15 billion in profits last year,” de Blasio said of recent airline earning reports. “Are are they sharing that?”
The catering workforce authorized the strike earlier in June, but airline workers must gain approval from the federal National Mediation Board for large-scale strikes due to the potential impact on travelers. Workers are seeking to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with the private companies who contract them to assemble the food for airlines: LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet.
The companies have said they cannot meet the demands for increased wages and benefits, telling the Huffington Post that could “more than double” their costs.
About a thousand union members in red shirts with slogans like “One Job Should Be Enough” gathered in Terminal A to hear the speakers. But it’s not the first time DCA has seen labor unrest. In 2016, service workers nearly went on strike for a $15 minimum wage.
“We’re going to fight like hell,” UNITE HERE president D. Taylor told the cheering crowd Tuesday night. “We’re going to kick the hell out of American [Airlines].”
Workers at several other airports nationwide are also asking for permission to strike, according to a map shared by the union.
Catering employees Tenai Stover and Eric Brightley, who said they prepare the food and beverages served on DCA and Dulles flights as part of their work at LSG Sky Chefs, each described to ARLnow difficulty making ends meet given the meager pay.
Amazon Talking to Unions — “Amazon.com Inc., JBG Smith Properties Inc. and union representatives in the D.C. region have met a few times in the last six weeks to discuss benefits and wages for the workers who will build HQ2 in Pentagon City.” [Washington Business Journal]
Changes Coming to Arlandria? — “For decades, developers have eyed Arlandria, the working-class neighborhood near Reagan National Airport where a transplanted Hispanic culture flourishes amid Northern Virginia’s upscale condominiums… Now, crime is down, the economy is humming, and Amazon is moving in virtually next door, with plans to hire thousands of well-paid workers, who’ll be in search of easy commutes.” [Washington Post]
Local Strategist Sued by U.S. Rep Raising Funds — Political strategist and Arlington resident Liz Mair is being sued by Rep. Devin Nunes, in a bizarre defamation suit that also names Twitter and two parody Twitter accounts as defendants. Mair is raising money for her legal defense. [Donorbox, Twitter]
Op-Ed: Nix Arlington Arts Cuts — “If the 2020 budget that Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz submitted to the County Board is implemented, it will prove to be devastating to the Arlington arts community.” [Washington Post]
Arlingtonians Help Save Bird — A pair of Arlington residents, including former Arlington Outdoor Lab executive director Neil Heinekamp, “came to the rescue of a distressed bird” found on a nature trail in The Villages, Florida. [InsideNova]
Kitchen Fire in N. Arlington High Rise — “Units called to 4300 blk of Lorcom Lane for oven fire on 6th floor of a residential high rise. Fire is out with minor extension to surrounding cabinets. Crews working to ventilate smoke and scaling back response.” [Twitter]
Nearby: Halal Butchery Controversy Continues — “Letter-writer compares proposed halal butchery in Alexandria to *slave auctions*: this is the same brutality…’ Even by the standards of Alexandria micro-controversies, the rhetoric around this thing is remarkable.” [Alexandria Times, Twitter]
Amazon is showing an increasing willingness to sign a collective bargaining agreement with local unions before it sets to work building new office space in Arlington, perhaps meeting a frequent demand of activists concerned about the tech giant’s labor practices.
Though the company cautions that nothing is set in stone until county officials formally sign off on an incentive deal to bring the tech giant’s new headquarters to Crystal City and Pentagon City, Amazon is sending signals that it’s open to the prospect of striking a “project labor agreement” with construction workers who could someday erect the company’s future home in Arlington.
Should the company someday strike such a deal, commonly known as a “PLA,” the agreement would set out the employment conditions for all workers involved in Amazon’s construction efforts (whether or not they belong to a union) before the company starts accepting bids for the project. The PLA could govern everything from pay rates to workers’ compensation claims, and the agreements are generally designed to ensure labor peace during a major project while also improving conditions for workers.
“We’re definitely open to it,” Amazon spokeswoman Jill Kerr told ARLnow. “But this is all still pretty early. We really have our heads down, focused on working with the community on this initial package for approval before county officials.”
Kerr says that company has already held an initial meeting on the topic with representatives from the Baltimore-D.C. Building Trades, a coalition of unionized construction workers, and JBG Smith, the company’s future landlord at some existing buildings and development partner for other properties.
A spokesman for JBG Smith declined to comment on the deliberations, but Kerr stressed that discussions were “all hypothetical” and remain very much in the earliest possible stages of debate. Amazon plans to both build new offices in Pentagon City and renovate others in Crystal City, and Kerr believes it’s too early to say how any future PLA would apply to that range of projects.
However, Steve Courtien, the D.C. field representative for the building trades, came away from the meeting cautiously optimistic about the prospects of someday striking a deal with Amazon.
During a Feb. 3 town hall on Amazon convened by Arlington Democrats, he said the company seemed generally “positive” about the idea, particularly because the tech firm has worked out PLAs for some of its other projects around the country — Kerr said she was unable to confirm that latter assertion.
As for JBG Smith, Courtien said the idea of a PLA was more of a “mind bend” to them, but he fully expects the development firm to follow Amazon’s lead, given the size of the company’s investment in the area.
“That’s what they have to get past,” Courtien said. “Amazon basically has to tell JBG, ‘this is what we want,’ then they say ‘OK’ and negotiate the PLA with private contractors.”
The County Board is signaling that it’s broadly supportive of those efforts, and members have said in the past that they’ve encouraged Amazon to strike a PLA before moving into Arlington.
But Virginia law prohibits government agencies from requiring PLAs as a condition of allowing new construction (in keeping with the state’s tradition of pro-business, anti-union regulations) and county officials are cautioning that they’ll only have a limited role to play in the discussions.
“I think I speak for the whole Board in saying it’s something we’re all supportive of,” County Board member Erik Gutshall said during the town hall. “But it’s not something we can legally mandate from them.”
Anti-Amazon activists have been similarly enthusiastic about the idea of a PLA for the company’s construction work, considering the frequent concerns raised about how the tech giant treats its warehouse workers.
Stories of employees being unable to take bathroom breaks without risking their jobs or warehouses filled with boiling heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter have spooked many county residents. Roshan Abraham, a leading Amazon critic as part of his leadership role with the progressive group Our Revolution Arlington, also points out that the company has pledged to oppose any unionization efforts it encounters at its other new headquarters in New York City.
That’s why Abraham believes it will be crucial for Arlington workers to secure a PLA before Amazon comes to town, though he fears it might not be enough to combat the huge company’s power.
“We shouldn’t stop just at a PLA,” Abraham said during the town hall. “We should be pressuring them even further to stay out of their union-busting behavior, which has been pretty well documented elsewhere.”
Ultimately, Abraham is so skeptical of the company’s business practices that he believes it’s a poor fit for Arlington’s values (even though he is “not that deluded” to believe that the county will turn down the company’s new headquarters).
Board members say they have their own concerns about Amazon’s ethics, whether it signs a PLA or not, but they don’t believe they’re substantial enough to justify barring the company from moving in.
After all, Gutshall pointed out that Arlington is also home to Boeing, a major military contractor, and while he may not like that they “manufacture equipment that is designed to kill people all over the world,” he hasn’t tried to chase the company away.
“We’ve not made it a condition of a corporation locating here or a resident locating here to abide by our progressive values for how you conduct your business,” said County Board member Katie Cristol. “Some 10 or 15 percent of Arlingtonians voted for Donald Trump. I’m not a fan of that, but I’m not going to try to kick them out of Arlington County or say they can’t live here.”
Photo via JBG Smith
How might lowly local officials be able to bring one of the world’s largest companies to heel?
And while county and city leaders are optimistic that the tech giant will prove to be a reliable partner in the region, they’re also admitting that they don’t have all that many tools to push Jeff Bezos and company around.
“We have to focus on using the policy tools that we do have,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol at an Amazon-focused town hall in Crystal City’s Synetic Theater last night (Monday).
Public speakers at the event, which was hosted by WAMU 88.5’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, fretted over how localities might address everything from the company’s labor practices to its commitment to hiring a diverse workforce.
Leaders in attendance sought to reassure nervous neighbors that localities will be able to extract community benefits from the company as it builds new space in Pentagon City and Crystal City. County Board member Libby Garvey even expressed optimism that “Amazon is going to affect us, but we’re going to affect Amazon too” when it comes to changing the company’s culture.
But concerns abound that Amazon’s status as the new economic engine for the area will give it unprecedented bargaining power in any dispute with local leaders.
“The County Board works really hard and wants to do the best they can for us, but Amazon, at any point, can say ‘No,'” said Roshan Abraham, an organizer with Our Revolution Arlington, a progressive group that has opposed the county’s pursuit of Amazon. “They always threaten to pack up and leave, it’s what they always do… We have very little leverage, particularly at the political level.”
Part of the problem for local leaders is that state law limits their ability to pursue some of the most aggressive pro-worker measures favored by Amazon skeptics. Virginia’s legislature, long dominated by Republicans, has adopted a series of measures designed to make the state more business friendly — perhaps most notably, Virginia is a “right to work” state, limiting the ability of unions to charge workers fees for representing them.
Several members of local unions urged officials to press Amazon to sign “project labor agreements” ahead of any new headquarters construction, or a contract with a union to lay out the working conditions for a project before construction gets started.
But Virginia has laws on the books designed to limit government agencies from requiring such agreements, and Cristol pointed out that “the state has made it very clear that we can’t use those” in many situations.
However, she did pledge to urge Amazon to work with unions and offer fair working conditions on its construction sites — and the question gave her a chance to underscore just how meaningful it might be if her fellow Democrats seized control of the General Assembly in next year’s elections.
Other attendees were similarly nervous that the county won’t be able to force Amazon to fork over cash to spur the development of more affordable housing, particularly as the arrival of the company’s planned 25,000 workers strain the region’s housing market.
On that front, however, Arlington officials are confident that they’ll be able to use their existing development process to require Amazon to chip in more money for its Affordable Housing Investment Fund, a loan program designed to incentivize reasonably priced development. Of course, that will have to wait until the company starts building new facilities, which could take years yet.
In the meantime, housing advocates are optimistic that the tech giant is committed to the issue of housing affordability, and could agree to some select contributions on its own.
Carmen Romero, vice president of real estate development with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, said both Amazon and its major landlord in Arlington (JBG Smith) have told her they “want to be at the table” when it comes to discussions about creating new affordable developments. She even suggested that JBG could agree to donate some small portion of the large swaths of land it owns in Crystal City and Pentagon City to a nonprofit like her group, allowing for new affordable homes in the immediate vicinity of the headquarters.
“It’s very fair to ask Amazon to join us at the table as part of the philanthropic community,” Cristol said. “If they’re going to be a major player here, we’re very interested in seeing a big commitment from them.”
Alexandria Mayor-elect Justin Wilson added that the mere fact of Amazon’s interest in the region has already changed the conversation at the state level. He noted that state lawmakers were previously reticent to commit to major affordable housing funding, despite Northern Virginia leaders “banging our heads against the wall in Richmond,” but officials agreed to send an additional $15 million to the Virginia Housing Development Authority as part of the offer to Amazon.
“This was important to Amazon,” Wilson said, drawing a few laughs from skeptics in the audience. “But we were able to make the argument to the state government that this was something that had to be part of the package to help us attract a major employer.”
For Amazon opponents, however, it’s not enough that the company and state might voluntarily agree to measures to offset the impending impacts on the county.
Abraham’s group is pushing the concept of a “community benefits agreement,” a deal that a coalition of neighbors would strike directly with the company to ensure it invests in the community’s priorities, as an alternative to government officials haggling on their behalf.
It may not be enough to answer all their concerns, but he expects it may be a better path to pursue than hoping local politicians can win battles with a company owned by the world’s richest man.
“If we get Amazon to make these commitments to our community now, that, I believe, is the best way we have of protecting ourselves,” Abraham said.