Home 2016 elections Erik Gutshall for Arlington County Board

Erik Gutshall for Arlington County Board


1605_Erik Gutshall_6197_1500On Tuesday, Arlingtonians will hold a primary to select the Democratic nominee for County Board. The campaign between County Board Chair Libby Garvey and first-time candidate Erik Gutshall has been hard fought but Gutshall is by far the better choice.

Gutshall is a 20-year resident of Arlington with a distinguished record of civic voluntarism. As vice-chair of the Planning Commission, he has faced some of the most contentious land-use issues in the county. He’s also served on the Transportation Commission, as president of the Lyon Park Civic Association, and on the board of Doorways for Women and Families.

A successful small-business owner, Gutshall has seen firsthand how Arlington County policies can impact the growth of businesses we need to thrive. He’s a father of three children who attend Arlington schools and is committed to breaking down the silos between the County and School boards that for too long have plagued our planning process.

To be sure, Erik Gutshall is not a perfect candidate. A successful candidate must articulate a vision that connects personal values and experience to the challenges we face in this political moment. In short, it’s the ability to cogently explain why me and why now. Whether from political inexperience or poor campaign advice, his message has sometimes been more about how he is not Libby Garvey than why he is the right person for the County Board.

But Garvey has given Democrats even fewer reasons to support her. A 25-year veteran of both the County and School Board who has also run unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates and State Senate, Garvey has a knack for reading political tea leaves but a reputation for shirking detailed policy work. And she does not play well with others; in races from the School Board to the County Board, Garvey has rarely enjoyed the support of her colleagues. After a long career in public life, and a controversial first term on the County Board, it’s not at all clear what she wants to accomplish in another term.

Many Arlington Democrats have a legitimate beef with Ms. Garvey. After all, she committed political treason when she backed Republican-cum-Independent John Vihstadt over Democratic community activist Alan Howze in the special election to fill the board seat vacated early by Chris Zimmerman. This apostasy led to her resignation from the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) after the party’s Steering Committee acted to remove her. Although she has now rejoined ACDC, her decision to oppose the party’s nominee in the last election is reason itself to oppose her nomination.

This election, however, is about a great deal more than past political slights. Arlington’s commitment to citizen-driven government is at stake. In Arlington, we aspire to involve our bright and knowledgeable citizens in the workings of government. We ask them to evaluate issues and inform decisions before they are made. The payoff from all those meetings and public processes is supposed to be better decisions with broader community support.

The recent kerfuffle over the proposed Blue Ribbon Panel on Strategic Priorities is a prime example of a difference in approach that recommends Gutshall over Garvey. The Arlington Community Facilities Study Group, on which I served as former chair of the Arlington Public Schools Facilities Advisory Council, spent a year discussing how to satisfy diverse expectations with limited land and resources. The group made concrete recommendations to achieve more open, systematic and coordinated County Board and School Board decisions, including a process to improve communication and cooperation between elected bodies and staff.

But instead of adopting or even meaningfully debating these recommendations for making Arlington’s government work better, Garvey proposed to form a six-member panel with no public notice and no coordination with the School Board. The group’s task, to evaluate the County’s comprehensive plan and recommend changes, is a job already assigned to existing citizen commissions that have the responsibility for developing plan elements.

Gutshall has rightly criticized this approach, and in a 5-0 vote the County Board recently walked it back for belated public discussion. In Gutshall’s words, the blue-ribbon panel “moves us far away from the collaborative problem-solving that is part of Arlington’s DNA.” He’s right. Civic leaders, neighborhood activists and parents of school-aged kids are growing tired of processes that provide only the illusion of inclusion and put off the hard decisions for later. We can do better.

We need a leader who understands why the much-vaunted Arlington Way isn’t functioning as it should, and will commit to making it work again. Unfortunately, Garvey has shown no understanding of the underlying issues let alone a commitment to solve them.

In full disclosure, I was once a Garvey supporter. I served as volunteer press director for her first campaigns for school board and for her run for House of Delegates. But we began to part political company when she and former school board member Ed Fendley fought over whether to build a specialty program at the Reed School or a facility that could accommodate future elementary school growth. She supported the former and we are still paying for that mistake. In 2008, I – along with three of her then-school board colleagues – endorsed her opponent Karla Hagen. Garvey won.

Since then, Garvey has given me more cause for concern. Although she claimed to be agnostic on the Columbia Pike streetcar when she ran for County Board, she quickly opposed it upon election and spearheaded a divisive campaign to end the long-planned transportation and economic development project. One can argue, especially in light of Washington, D.C.’s troubled H Street streetcar rollout, that the streetcar was the wrong approach, but one cannot easily forget the dishonest campaign to develop an alternative bus-rapid transit system that itself cannot work on Columbia Pike due to the lack of a dedicated lane. We are still waiting for Garvey’s long promised plan to modernize transportation choices on the Pike. Garvey’s lack of support for the Community Facilities Study Group process is simply one more issue where we apparently disagree.

Elections, as they say, are about the future. I think it is time for new leadership to meet today’s challenges. I thank Libby Garvey for her service, but in this election Erik Gutshall is the right person to move Arlington forward.

  • Indie dem

    Just listened to Erik debate Libby on the Kojo show.
    He is nowhere near as polished as she is.
    When tom Sherwood asked him why he was running, he didn’t have much of an answer beyond “I’m better qualified”. Lame.
    Libby spoke about a lifetime of public service.

    It just seems that Lowell and a few hardcore dems really hate Libby because she has an independent streak. That streak is why this democrat is voting for her!

    • Totally opposite impression – I think Erik is far more knowledgeable and articulate than Libby, not even a close call. As for reasons to oppose Libby, it has nothing to do with having “an independent streak,” it has to do with poor leadership, divisiveness, demagoguery, lack of vision, lack of follow-through, broken promises, and a bunch of other problems. Being “independent” doesn’t tell me anything, per se, it’s what the person’s ideas are, whether they are good ideas, and whether the person is skilled at bringing people together to implement those ideas. Libby fails on all counts, while Erik has a great chance of succeeding on all counts.

  • Kevin Cunningham

    Jason- This is generally a good, very knowledgeable write up, and I don’t have a problem with anything you write except for this:After all, she committed political treason when she backed Republican-cum-Independent John Vihstadt over Democratic community activist Alan Howze in the special election to fill the board seat vacated early by Chris Zimmerman.

    Surely you agree that the election you refer to was essentially a referendum on the street-car and if Howze had won, the street car would have been much more likely (if not certain) to proceed. And surely you would agree that when we have votes on major policy issues– the Iraq war for example– it is much better that reps vote based on the merits rather than along party lines.. And in my view, and I presume yours as well, the street car was a major policy initiative for Arlington VA

    Apparently Blue Virginia agrees that reps should think for themselves on who to support, but only with Republicans; recent tweet—Pathetic
    Lyin’ Paul Ryan says Trump’s comments are racist, but still supports him for president.” Unfortunately, it needs to be a two way street; we can’t require D reps to hold the party line, but then expect R reps to think for themselves, as Blue Virginia apparently does.
    Anyways, nice write up, and looking forward to November when we will be on the same side of things again.

    • Absolutely, elected officials should think for themselves. The problem is, Libby has shown no ability to do that, let alone to formulate a vision for the future of Arlington or to bring people together to get stuff done. In stark contrast, Erik Gutshall can and will do all those things. Go Erik! 🙂

      • Kevin Cunningham

        Fair enough– so you agree with me that we should not hold it against Libby hat she supported John, when such a major policy initiative for Arlington VA was at stake.

        • Nope, we should very much hold it against her, and no Democrat should vote for her, given that she supported a life-long Republican who lied and demagogued on a wide range of issues (the streetcar, the aquatic center, the Artisphere, the Clarnedon dog park, you name it) over the highly-qualified, super-competent Democratic nominee, Alan Howze. Appalling. And now she won’t even pledge to support Democrats going forward. Why on earth should DEMOCRATS vote to give her the Democratic nomination, when she won’t even say she will support Democrats in the future? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

          • Kevin Cunningham

            OK- it is very apparent to me now where we part ways. Via tweet, You called out (I think; it was from this site) Paul Ryan as pathetic and lying for continuing to support a Republican, but that Libby Garvey needs to pledge “to support Democrats going forward”, with no apparent exceptions.
            You and I agree on probably 95 percent of the issues. We just disagree on process and how far we can take partisanship as part of the political process In my view it has its limits, and when we call out Paul Ryan for not doing something we would not permit our own Democratic leaders to do, we are being hypocrites.
            But thanks for the excellent site, by the way. I have enjoyed the compelling discussion on it so far.

          • I’ve been calling out Ryan as pathetic and a liar for years, so not surprised he’d try to play both sides with bigoted demagogue/fascist Donald Trump. Good luck with that. As for Vihstadt, he’s certainly no Donald Trump (or Paul Ryan), but again, there’s no reason for any Democrat to vote for someone who won’t even pledge to support Democrats going forward. She should have run as an independent if she can’t even make that simple, basic pledge. And no, there’s no likelihood of Dems nominating anyone even remotely comparable to Donald Trump, so the analogy is invalid.

          • Kevin Cunningham

            Let’s agree on this– the candidate should certainly be able to walk back from the pledge if “the agenda of the candidate would threaten the vitality the community, morally, financially , or otherwise.”
            You see that in Trump, and Libby saw that in the street car.
            In my view, both Trump/street car are important policy issues, and you might think Trump is a huge threat to the United States, while the street car investment imposed no possible threat to the financial welfare of the Arlington community.
            Nevertheless, a lot of folks would disagree with you, and I don’t think we should tie the hands of our reps on such an important initiative, no matter what the overall party might think.
            I need to go back to work, so I’ll end it here, and let you get the last word if you want to. Thanks for keeping the site and the good policy discussion as well. Best regards, Kevin

          • Studies found that the streetcar would not only have NOT been a “threat to the financial welfare of the Arlington community,” it would have been a major net positive, on the order of billions of dollars (see here for more detail). Not even a close call, and Libby got it wildly wrong, including her and Vihstadt’s claims that the streetcar money was fungible, which it most certainly was not (that was only one of their several Big Lies).