Home Local Politics Former ACDC Deputy Chair Maureen Markham rips “loud,” “small minority…slinging mud”

Former ACDC Deputy Chair Maureen Markham rips “loud,” “small minority…slinging mud”


I agree with almost everything Maureen Markham says here (click to “embiggen”; article appears in this month’s Arlington County Democratic Committee “Voice,” just released a few minutes ago).

First off, in a low-turnout special election like the April 8 contest for Arlington County Board between Alan Howze (D) and John Vihstadt (“R” pretending to be an “I”), it is almost inevitably going to be the, loudest, angriest people who show up, which means that those folks “wield disproportionate power” over the “complacent and satisfied majority” (reminds me of the expression, “evil flourishes when good people do nothing”).

Second, I agree with Maureen that despite being an overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal place, where 92% of residents are satisfied with their quality of life, Arlington is “not immune to the current anti-government fashion of the times.

Third, I agree that if you “repeat a lie often enough…you can get people to believe it.” In this case, it was a relentless campaign of distortions and falsehoods about a bunch of things, first and foremost the Columbia Pike streetcar project and the supposed alternative of “Bus Rapid Transit” (BRT). I say “supposed alternative” because, of course, BRT is not possible without a dedicated lane, which is not possible on Columbia Pike. So much for that idea.

As for the cost/benefit calculus on the streetcar project, this study made it clear that the streetcar “would spur $3.2 billion to $4.4 billion in development over the next 30 years in Arlington and Fairfax counties, triple the amount that would be triggered by improving bus transit.” Of course, you’ll never hear that from John Vihstadt or his supporters, who prefer to rant and rave about what a supposed boondoggle this project is.

Having said all that, I DO think there are legitimate questions with a variety of projects in Arlington County in recent years with regard to cost, and those should be seriously addressed. For instance, following criticism, however “over the top,” of the infamous “million-dollar bus stops,” the County Board addressed the issue and slashed the costs significantly, to where they are now comparable in price or actually LESS expensive than similar transit stops in other cities around the country.  

With regard to the Long Branch aquatic center project, criticism and concern about the cost has put that project into limbo, with County officials looking at “downsizing, delaying or discarding plans for the facility.

So, sure, it’s not like the Arlington County government hasn’t made mistakes (and been called out, LOUDLY, for doing so!). But that doesn’t mean Arlington County isn’t one of the best places to live in the world. Nor does it mean that these problems rise to the level of concern that the Vihstadt folks claimed/pretended they did. Sorry, but an aquatic center running over budget doesn’t quite rank up there with sequestration, Arlington’s economic challenges at a time of federal and state government austerity, the need to slash our greenhouse gas emissions, etc., etc. It just doesn’t.

Last but not least, I don’t fully agree with Maureen that the perception of the County Board not listening as well as they should, being “arrogant, insular and noncommunicative” as the Vihstadt supporters’ refrain went this past spring, is completely imaginary by any means. For instance, how many of these folks use social media to communicate with people, given that the vast majority of Arlington County voters are on Facebook, Twitter, etc? How many of these folks don’t respond to emails, phone calls, etc.? How many of these folks, when they DO respond to questions, sometimes do so in a condescending, arrogant fashion (I experienced it myself, back in April)? Too many, that’s all I’ll say on that subject.

Of course, none of this represented ANY REASON AT ALL not to vote for Alan Howze, who last I checked is not a member, present or past, of the Arlington County Board. So tarring him with the “arrogant/insular/non-communicative” criticism is not accurate or fair. In fact, Howze would be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And, frankly, it’s time for Howze’s supporters to step up their game in communicating that concept, or we could well see Republican John Vihstadt win in November, just as he did in April, even in spite of the big increase in Democratic voters expected at the polls to vote for Mark Warner and the 8th CD Democratic Congressional nominee. That would be a really bad move for the future of what has, heretofore, been one of the best places to live in the country.

  • dave.s.

    A very large fraction of my Dem friends voted for Vihstadt, so  I kind of expect that a lot of the votes Vihstadt will get in November will be from Dems.  Whether the Dem voters who turn out in November vote for Vihstadt in a lower proportion than did the Dems voting in the special is the question here, but he got a whole lot of Dem votes.  

    I think one of the best discussions I’ve seen is the one at the Not Larry Sabato blog – Tribbett is generally keeping quiet while he works on the Hope campaign, but he did post about this election.  His views were very like mine and like those in the original ACDC Voice article, against which Markham is railing.

    Vihstadt is also an extremely good politician, speaks well, has a feeling for crowds, remembers names and faces.  Not that Howze isn’t – I think he ran a good race, but the electorate was and is grumpy.

  • essequamverderi

    I felt compelled to create an account just to respond to this article. While I generally agree with the majority of what you post on here I find the tone of this post way-off the mark when it comes to Democratic opinions on the Columbia Pike project. I live in South Arlington, am a life-long Democrat, and am generally supportive of major infrastructure projects (here and across the country). Yet, I simply can’t imagine that the streetcar will be good for Columbia Pike. Some of the reasons include:

    You note that a dedicated lane isn’t possible for the BRT system. How would a streetcar fare any better without a similar dedicated lane? Are there plans to widen the Pike included with the streetcar proposal or will the streetcar simply take up space in an existing lane? If the latter, how would this alleviate traffic and why wouldn’t a bus achieve the same public transportation at less cost?  

    Everyone agrees that the population along Columbia Pike is going to increase but I simply can’t imagine there will be a corresponding decrease in the number of cars transiting the Pike. What assumptions does the streetcar plan make regarding the number of cars transiting the Pike?

    How does the Columbia Pike streetcar fit into a plan for South Arlington that maintains affordable housing in the area? How does the project benefit current residents beyond what a BRT would provide? Columbia Pike isn’t metro-convenient (I would say, others may feel free to disagree) but it does provide relatively affordable housing. Indeed, I would argue that one of the major issues we have in Arlington is the lack of affordable housing. Proponents of the streetcar argue that it will spur greater economic growth than other alternatives but what kind of growth and to who’s benefit? If I lived along the Pike, why should I support new apartment units I can’t afford or an increase in my rent simply because the metro is now that inkling more accessible to me? What difference does it make to me if I take a reliable bus or a streetcar? Greater economic growth may benefit the County but what does that matter to local residents who are the ones getting squeezed?

    The cost of the streetcar, compared to other alternatives, shouldn’t idly be dismissed simply because it supports a public infrastructure project. The price tag is already large and probably will grow (though, by how much, we don’t know). Moreover, it seems like the County is moving toward a period of having to make tough budget decisions (given the issues with our schools, etc) unless there is an increase in tax receipts. What budget trade-offs are we making to move forward with a streetcar?

    As you can tell, I’m deeply skeptical about the streetcar project but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to changing my mind on the subject. Also, I don’t have an opinion on whether the current County leadership is “listening to me” or not. I could care less about the personalities involved. I want to hear what proponents and skeptics have to say and I want all of us to have an intelligent conversation on the subject.  I hope we all get as much information on the project as possible before the election. Yet, Howze should know that, for voters like me, this will be one of the most important issues that decides whom I vote for.  


  • Carole

    While Maureen lists her dem credentials, she fails to mention she is an Arlington County employee who obtained her job from the members on the board who support the streetcar. Truth in advertising please!

  • Novamama

    Look, the purpose of this election is to choose members for the Arlington County Board, not to reward the nicest or most liberal guy. So I disagree that the existing composition of the board, and the decisions they’ve made, aren’t a valid reason not to vote for Howze. I like Howze. If the election were for state delegate, or state senator, or just about anything other than Arlington County Board, I’d vote for Howze over Vihstadt. And if there were already one or two non-Democrats on the Arlington County Board, I’d vote for Howze over Vihstadt. But it isn’t and there aren’t. He’s running for election to a 5-seat board, four seats of which are already held by Democrats. And I’m sorry, but they do get a little kooky over spending sometimes. I would never want the board to have a Republican majority, but to have one board member to at least raise some questions and other points of view is, in the view of this Democrat, a better government than 5-0 lockstep. It’s not like he can block anything, or force anything, without persuading two of the four Democrats to join him. So I voted for Vihstadt and I will again. It does not indicate anger with the board or anything wrong with Howze. It indicates a belief that you get better government when there’s at least a little serious consideration of other points of view.