As you may know, long-time Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman has announced that he’ll be stepping down in the next few weeks, which means (joy oh joy!) it will soon be special election time in Arlington. To date, there are three Democratic candidates (Peter Fallon, Alan Howze, Cord Thomas), one Republican running as an “independent” (John Vihstadt), one Libertarian (Evan Bernick), and one Independent Green (Janet Murphy). This past Wednesday evening, the Democrats debated at the Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting; for video of that event, click here. There are a number of additional debates scheduled, followed by the Democratic caucus (unassembled, using instant runoff voting) on January 30 and February 1 to select the nominee.
As is often the case, people send me information that may or may not be interesting or relevant to a particular race. For instance, the other day, I was given Cord Thomas’ voting record (note: I don’t have access to the voter file, but many people do; it’s also public information WHETHER you’ve voted or not, although certainly not WHO you voted for exactly). Given that Thomas’ political views have, at least until recently, been mostly unknown by Arlington Democrats (Thomas hasn’t been active with the Arlington Democrats, mostly focusing on his business ventures), I certainly found this information to be interesting and relevant. Here’s what jumped out at me:
1. Thomas – who has lived in Arlington since 2005 or 2006 – didn’t vote in a “municipal” (aka, Arlington County Board, School Board, Constitutional Officer) election until 2012. (UPDATE: Ben Tribbett points out to me that Thomas did vote in the 2009 general election, in which Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette was on the ballot along with the gov, LG and AG races…)
2. Prior to 2012, Thomas only voted in one non-presidential election, and that was for Virginia governor in 2009. For instance, Thomas didn’t vote in the crucial 2006 U.S. Senate election (Jim Webb vs. George Allen), the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, or the hotly-contested 2009 Democratic gubernatorial primary (Terry McAuliffe, Creigh Deeds, Brian Moran).
3. Thomas DID vote in the 2012 Virginia Republican presidential primary between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.
4. There is no record of Thomas being involved in the Democratic Party or as a Democratic volunteer throughout the time he’s lived in Arlington.
I contacted Thomas for comment on this, and he almost immediately called me back. Here are a few highlights of our approximately 3/4-hour conversation, which was cordial and friendly (I find Thomas to be personable and likable, even if we don’t agree on all the issues).
*He apologized for not getting back to me when I first emailed him a month or so ago, saying he was deluged with hundreds of emails at the time. He told me to call him any time.
*He said he did vote in the 2012 Republican Virginia primary – for Ron Paul over Mitt Romney. Why did he do that, I asked? He responded that he voted for Paul because he wanted to keep the conversation going on getting out of Afghanistan. I’m not sure exactly what that means, as it seems to me that the conversation IS going on Afghanistan, and that we’ve been steadily pulling our troops out. Regardless, I told him I couldn’t imagine any Democrat voting for Paul, as the guy holds extremist, bigoted, crazy views on a wide variety of subjects (e.g., he advocates nonviolent tax resistance, rejects the core American principle of separation of church and state, and had stuff in his newsletter like “If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be” and “gays ‘enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick'”). I pressed Thomas on his support for Ron Paul, given those offensive views, and he responded that he’s not a “Ron Paul guy” and hoped I wouldn’t say that he was (he was clearly worried about this one, and i can’t say I blame him, given what a lunatic/extremist/bigot Paul is).
*Thomas hedged a bit on the Columbia Pike streetcar project, which has been hotly debated for months now in Arlington, and which very well could dominate this election. At the ACDC debate, Thomas came out strongly against the streetcar, which means there are two pro-streetcar Democrats (Fallon and Howze) and one anti-streetcar Democrat (Thomas) in the field. In our conversation earlier today, however, Thomas backtracked a bit, saying he wasn’t totally against the streetcar, but that now’s simply not the right time to build it. Instead, he feels that for now we can add more buses. Given that I’m a strong supporter of the streetcar, let’s just say we agreed to disagree on that one. 😉
*Thomas neither confirmed nor denied rumors floating around that he had done some polling and switched his position on the streetcar from “pro” to “anti” in recent weeks.
*As for his lack of involvement in local, state, and national elections, Thomas said he was busy working 100 hours per week on his business and wasn’t focused on politics. Same answer, basically, for his lack of involvement in the Democratic Party, volunteering for campaigns, etc. He added that everyone contributes/is an “activist” in their own way, and his way of doing activism was to create jobs in Arlington.
*I asked him whether he sees this as a referendum on the streetcar, as that’s what I thought he’d said on his tele-townhall the other day. He said he’d have to go back and listen to the call, but that he believes there are a number of issues facing Arlington in addition to the streetcar. I went back and re-listened to his tele-townhall. For the record, Thomas’ exact quote was: “Having a referendum is not an issue for me…if the people want to build it we can build it, but I think that this election’s almost a referendum on whether or not we’re gonna support the streetcar.”
*I also asked why he thought Libby Garvey and other Democratic Vihstadt supporters hadn’t switched their support to him, given that their professed reason for supporting Vihstadt is centered on opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar project. Thomas said he’s apparently not enough of a purist (not sure if he said “purist,” “absolutist,” or a synonym for those adjectives, but that’s the gist of it) against the streetcar to get their support.
*He said he voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, that he loves Obama and looks forward to voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016. He stressed multiple times that he’s a Democrat.
Is any of this interesting? Obviously, the voters will have to decide that, but I did think this was newsworthy and worth putting out publicly.
P.S. I definitely believe that Cord Thomas is a strong candidate, as he could certainly tap into anti-streetcar sentiment. This raises the question I keep raising, and which others I’ve talked to also have wondered: where on earth are the smart-growth proponents, the environmental groups, and the streetcar supporters? So far, they’ve been verrrrry quiet.