Unlike in many Virginia counties, Arlington’s 5-member County Board is elected not in one fell swoop, but in pieces. Last year, two County Board seats were up, with Democrats Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey easily winning their elections. This year, one seat is up — that of Board Chair Libby Garvey (D) — and you might think that would be a slam-dunk for the Democratic incumbent in a presidential year, when Arlington’s Democratic turnout is at its hightest point (e.g., in 2012, Arlington went 69%-29% for Barack Obama, with around 83% turnout).
However, to get to November, Garvey must first get past June 14, when Arlington Democrats will hold a primary for their 2016 County Board nomination. And based on the packed (and highly enthusiastic) house last night (150+ people on a cold Friday night, with snow still blocking many sidewalks and parking spots) for Garvey’s Democratic primary opponent, Erik Gutshall, that could be far from a sure thing for the incumbent.
If you don’t follow Arlington politics closely, you might be puzzled as to why there would be a strong Democratic primary challenge to the Arlington County Board Chair, who happens to be a Democrat. It’s pretty simple, though: just as we saw in the (successful) primary challenge of then-Delegate Donald McEachin (D) to then-Senator Benjamin Lambert (D) in 2007, following Lambert’s outrageous endorsement of George Allen over Jim Webb in the 2006 U.S. Senate election, many Arlington Democrats are not pleased with Libby Garvey over her endorsement, fundraising and campaigning for Republican John Vihstadt over the Democratic County Board nominee, Alan Howze. Ultimately, this led to Garvey’s May 2014 resignation from the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC), an action which pre-empted her expected expulsion from ACDC for flagrantly violating the Democratic Party’s bylaws. Note that ACDC allowed Garvey back into the committee in late 2015, but from everything I’ve heard, it was done more because ACDC feared drawn-out litigation and other problems, not because they were enthused in any way to have Garvey back.
But wait, there’s more! As if endorsing and campaigning for a life-long Republican (and major GOP donor) over the Democratic County Board nominee weren’t bad enough, I also heard a great deal of frustration and anger against Garvey last night, for a wide range of reasons. As this campaign proceeds, it’s likely that those reasons will be discussed in depth, but of course one of them was Garvey’s (and Vihstadt’s) dishonest, demagogic campaign against the Columbia Pike streetcar.
Here’s the thing: whether you supported the streetcar, as I did, or opposed it, as many good Democrats did (many had perfectly legitimate reasons for doing so, and that’s fine!), there’s no excuse for Garvey’s repeated claims that Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was possible on the Pike (it absolutely is not); that she was really FOR “sensible transit” (note that the group “Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit” essentially shut down operations the minute they killed the streetcar, proving beyond a doubt that they never were “FOR” anything, other than something negative and destructive); that there were easy, quick, cheap alternatives to the streetcar (there absolutely were not, as evidenced by the utter lack of progress on that front over the past 1 1/2 years); the absurd, false claim that money to fund the streetcar was interchangeable/fungible with money that goes to Arlington “core services” — again, blatantly, demonstrably untrue (in fact the exact opposite of the truth, as dedicated money to build the streetcar would have spurred Columbia Pike development and enormous tax revenues that could have been used…yes, for those very “core services” that Vihstadt, Garvey et al claimed would be hurt by funding the streetcar). Truly Orwellian.
Anyway, thankfully we now have a serious Democratic primary challenger to Garvey (and, de facto, to her Republican ally Vihstadt) in business owner and community leader Erik Gutshall. Check out the video from last night’s kickoff, and you’ll hear Gutshall’s main themes: 1) a passion for environmental protection; 2) a commitment to “think globally and act locally” (sound familiar? yep, that’s almost identical to the unofficial the slogan of Blue Virginia – “think globally, blog locally”); 3) a passion for the “progressive values of equality, fairness and economic justice…discrimination of any kind must never be tolerated;” and perhaps most centrally 4) the “very clear choice for the future of Arlington…to make sure that Arlington will always face hard challenges with bold ideas and never shrink from our conviction with short-sighted expediency, we must make long-term, strategic investments in our future!” As Gutshall put it, pointedly contrasting himself with Garvey:
I respect our long-term plans that protect our neighborhoods and create vibrant and prosperous mixed-use urban districts and will not conveniently dismiss these neighborhood plans as simply advisories; I support smart growth and oppose immediate widening of I-66 in Arlington…I would never have voted against Governor McAuliffe’s plan to invest in bicycles, transit and other multi-modal improvements in Arlington; I will prioritize real solutions for housing affordability and would not have proposed to cut $8 million from our affordable housing investment fund…I know that a truly sustainable community is not just better for the planet, but makes long-term economic sense and provides for greater energy and food security.
Great stuff — a broad, progressive vision for Arlington, combined with a commitment to good, responsive, transparent, accountable and effective government; to helping the most vulnerable in our community; to a strong partnership with the schools and to closing the achievement gap. No wonder why so many Arlington community leaders, current and former elected officials (e.g., School Board member Reid Goldstein; County Board member Jay Fisette; former Delegate Karner Darner and former State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple), and citizens were there last night to support Erik Gutshall for County Board. I expect many others to endorse Gutshall, or support him behind the scenes, as this campaign progresses. For my part, I’ll be strongly supporting Erik Gutshall for the Democratic nomination. I hope you’ll all join me, and help elect a Democratic County Board member who actually has a strong, bold, progressive vision for our future!