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Who I’ll Be Supporting to Replace Chris Zimmerman on the Arlington County Board

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With all the big news and hoopla in Virginia the past few days, a major story in Arlington County probably hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. I’m talking about this announcement yesterday:

Arlington County Board Member Christopher Zimmerman today announced that, after nearly two decades of service, he will be stepping down from the County Board in early 2014. Zimmerman, who was re-elected to a fifth term in 2010, is the second-longest-serving Board member in the County’s history. He said he is stepping down to become Vice President for Economic Development of Smart Growth America, a national non-profit organization.

Zimmerman’s announcement, made in the County Board Room, was broadcast live by the County’s cable television station, ATV. A special election will be held in Spring 2014 to fill Zimmerman’s seat for the remainder of his four-year term.

“Much has been accomplished” in the County since he joined the Board in 1996, Zimmerman said. “And I am proud to have been a part of it.” Still, he said, “I never planned to be a County Board member indefinitely.”

Arlington is fortunate to have had an extraordinary  public servant in Chris Zimmerman, who provided and dedicated his time and energy to improve our quality of life,” said Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada. “Arlington has made tremendous strides under Mr. Zimmerman’s leadership and his departure is a loss for Arlington, but happily, he remains an Arlington resident and a leader in the Smart Growth community.”

First off, congratulations to Chris Zimmerman on his new job, which sounds like a great fit. Second, thanks to Chris for his many years of excellent service – not just to Arlington County, but also to the region as a whole, particularly via his work on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (which he served on for 12 years and chaired in 2002 and 2008). These will be large shoes to fill, no doubt about it.

With that, I wanted to lay out who I’ll be supporting to replace Chris Zimmerman on the Arlington County Board. Not a specific individual, that is, but the criteria I’ll be looking for.

*Arlington is a rock-solid “blue” County (e.g., voting 72%-22% for McAuliffe over Cuccinelli this Tuesday), so it should go without saying that there is no reason why we shouldn’t nominate the strongest progressive and environmental champion, on a broad range of issues, as possible. Given that basically anyone the Democrats nominate will be an almost absolute lock to beat the anemic Arlington Republicans in the general election, “electability” should basically not be a consideration in this race.

*All of which means, let’s nominate someone who’s a super-strong supporter of everything Chris Zimmerman was super-strong on:

Mr. Zimmerman has been an advocate of the County’s legacy of transit-oriented development and managed growth, and a proponent of the principles of the New Urbanism. During his tenure on the Board, he has emphasized traffic calming and neighborhood conservation, transportation infrastructure, affordable housing, schools and programs for youth, economic development, public safety, protecting open space, and enhancing recreational facilities.  He has worked to improve transit service and to make Arlington more pedestrian-friendly.  He has devoted much of his effort to ensuring the availability of affordable housing in the County.  Regionally, Mr. Zimmerman has worked to promote the concept of “smart growth” as the Washington area seeks to cope with the problems of traffic congestion and environmental pollution.

*We also should be looking for someone with the ability to bring together all parts of Arlington (e.g., north and south), all races/ethnicities and income groups, etc. I’m not saying the person has to be from any particular part of Arlington, be of any particular ethnic/racial background, or be a particular gender, but all else being equal, no doubt diversity – and respect for diversity – is a good thing.

*Ideally, it would be best if we nominate someone who has the desire and ability to communicate well with people, including via the use of social media.

*I will certainly not be supporting anyone who is running because they want to change course dramatically from the generally sound one Chris Zimmerman laid down. If you’re basically on the right course, why change it in any major way? Having said that, I’m not looking for a clone of Chris Zimmerman, and Arlington needs to continually adapt to changing times, changing conditions, changing challenges, and changing opportunities. It may be that what we’re facing in years to come will be quite different from the what we faced in the past, and that a different skill-set might be in order.

*It also should go without saying that we need someone who adheres to the highest ethical standards, both in their personal life and (even more importantly) in their public life. Arlington County should be a model for Virginia on how to govern for the people, not the powerful and wealthy. And we certainly don’t want anyone EVER making important decisions based on campaign contributions or their own personal financial interests.

*Yet again, it should go without saying that we want someone who isn’t using this position as a stepping stone to other (“higher”) office, or is only running for this job because there’s nothing else to run for, etc. To the contrary, we want someone who really cares about county-level governance, is committed to it, and plans to put their heart and soul (and sweat!) into it for as long as they’re on the Board.

*All else being equal, it would be great to get someone as smart and knowledgeable as Chris Zimmerman, with some “gravitas” as well. No need for lightweights – intellectual or otherwise – for this position; let’s get the best and not “settle.”

*Last but certainly not least, as much as I think Arlington’s been strong on environmental issues, I would like to see an even greater focus on that area. Obviously, we have to act within the constraints of a strong Dillon Rule state, but within those constraints we should do whatever we can to encourage buildings at the highest energy efficiency standards, a robust system of parks and nature centers, the adoption of clean energy in all forms, the promotion of walkability/bikeability and transit-oriented development (e.g., building a streetcar system), and innovative water management policies (e.g., permeable pavement wherever feasible) that preserve and protect our streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.

With that, I’m looking forward to what the candidates – and I’ve heard there may be a lot of them! – have to say in coming months. May the best person win.

  • amber waves

    Chris has been an outstanding visionary.

    He has not been particularly a leader in funding for the schools. He has been slow to support the school’s needs for new additions and schools.  Schools are going through enormous growth and change and we need someone who understands this. e.g. De Blasio is calling for universal pre-k in NYC.

    Of the school board members who might jump, Abby Raphael is probably the most impressive. Hard worker. Good listener. Sharp. Does she have Zimmerman’s vision….I don’t know. Very few candidates have that capability.

    Both Noah Simon and Sally Baird are competent, hard working, and very ambitious. They are also political sharks. I expect Sally to jump in. James Landers is also ambitious and may jump.