To a point, I “get” why Arlington Democrats are being nice, and even complimentary, to Republican-who-claims-to-be-“Independent” John Vihstadt, defeated for reelection by Democrat Matt de Ferranti on November 6. My guess is that it’s partly political calculation, that maybe if Democrats are really nice to Vihstadt and don’t make him mad, he won’t run again and will just go quietly into retirement from politics. It also could be that they like Vihstadt personally, as he certainly seems to be a gregarious/friendly guy. Still, it’s very difficult to actually listen to his blather – at least without a barf bag handy – as Vihstadt gets ready to leave the County Board. I’ll explain what I mean, below, but in short the problem is that Vihstadt keeps spewing the same falsehoods, Republican/anti-government/anti-tax rhetoric, “both sides” b.s. and cheap demagoguery as when he first ran for the job.
With that, as sportscaster Warner Wolf used to say, “let’s go to the videotape!”
- First, note that Vihstadt pointedly tells the purple-clad audience to “keep it around,” hinting at…a possible political future? (note: Vihstadt’s chosen political color was purple, aka not red or blue, aka independent).
- “Since I joined the Board in 2014, we accomplished a great deal to put our house in order. I can’t take full credit, but we’ve moved away from extravagant and unsustainable projects.” – This is absolute nonsense.
- “Reasonable people disagreed about the streetcar. I never denigrated the vehicle. I felt that it was the wrong choice…but this Board is committed to improving on transit on Columbia Pike today and in the future.” – In fact, Vihstadt very much denigrated the streetcar project, claiming for instance that it was “extravagant” and would take away from “core services,” when in fact the EXACT OPPOSITE was the case, as the streetcar was funded by the federal/state governments and by a dedicated tax of businesses along Columbia Pike. Also worth noting is that the streetcar would have spurred development on Columbia Pike, bringing in a lot more tax revenue into Arlington County’s coffers. But regardless, the point is that Vihstadt absolutely centered his 2014 special election and general election campaigns around attempts to demagogue and ultimately kill the streetcar project. Both Vihstadt and his supporters did just that, despite Vihstadt’s revisionist history in his farewell speech.As for Vihstadt’s supposed commitment to Columbia Pike transit, I’m going to quote a comment on ArlNow which addresses this nonsense: “He celebrates killing the streetcar and setting aside a 15-year community process that led to it. He celebrates killing the $1M bus stop that he knows full well had as much to do with WMATA than Arlington. He barely goes along with the $500k bus stop and remain silent about pursuing the BRT he championed so loudly as a candidate. It is logical to believe Vihstadt simply does not want (or want to pay for) any transit improvement on the Pike.”
- “There are no more $1.6 million dollar dog parks or million dollar bus stops. The former ArtiSphere is back on the tax rolls, and the Olympic-sized aquatics center was downsized.” – This is typical Vihstadt demagoguery. In fact, $1.6 million in Arlington will barely afford you a house in the neighborhoods where many of Vihstadt’s supporters live. Is $1.6 million a lot of money to build a major community amenity, such as the dog park in Clarendon, that I know from having talked to people at the park draws dog owners to the neighborhood – owners who rent apartments, buy houses, go out to restaurants, etc, etc. As for the “million dollar bus stops” talking point, let me quote a superb comment on ArlNow: “a jab at the bus stops is ignorant and mean (to County staff in particular) The rail like bus stops NOW being planned are half a million bucks or so (not the 10,000 buck shelters some used as contrasts in the debate) and the reason the first one was so high had a lot to do with WMATA, with doing a pilot, etc. And the half million dollar ones, which are an important part of the BRT and BRT lite that Vihstadt championed as an alternative to PikeRail, have indeed been attacked, and I have not seen Vihstadt coming to their defense. What a terrible way to say farewell. This, among other reasons, is why, ultimately, I can only say good riddance. No thanks, John Vihstadt.”
- “Whether or not there’s going to be a gondola, besmirching the vistas across the Potomac River, remains to be seen.” – Typical Vihstadt, never wants to invest in anything new that might actually improve things, but instead resorts to…yep, cheap demagoguery. I mean, seriously? “Besmirching the vistas across the Potomac River?” Because a gondola would be SO much more unsightly than a bridge with cars and trucks driving over it 24/7? Gotcha.
- “We’ve given renewed focus to core services, like public schools capacity, shoring up Metro and Columbia Pike transit, augmenting our parks, fields and green space, boosting public safety pay, speeding our street paving, and holding up our social safety net.” – Vihstadt’s entire spiel about “renewed focus to core services” is absolute horses***, as Arlington WAS focused on core services BEFORE Vihstadt and will be focused on core services AFTER Vihstadt. I’d also add a question – what exactly does Vihstadt consider to be included in “core services?” What he lists above covers a bunch of stuff – education, transportation, parks, social safety net – that makes up a huge chunk of the budget. What else does he think should be cut, exactly? Funding for affordable housing? Funding to pay for first responders’ pay and benefits? Funding to protect the environment? Other? He never really says, just keeps repeating the “core services” line, and nobody seems to really question him on that.
- “…as I’ve been pushing, rather than immediately scratch the itch to spend, we finally voted to carry over to the next fiscal year 75% of our FY 2018 budget surplus, so that we can apply it to the significant budget challenges we face next year, and weigh all competing priorities at the same time, holistically.” – That “scratch the itch to spend” is the dead giveaway that Vihstadt is a conservative/Republican to his core. As if there’s an “itch to spend,” anyway. The issue is, of course, that there are real needs in the community, including the need for smart investments in our future. Yet all Vihstadt seems to care about his holding the line on what he absurdly calls “the itch to spend,” without looking at the potentially large Return on Investment (ROI) to smart/targeted investments in our community. As usual, Vihstadt has no vision, but instead a cramped, constrained view of what the role of government is/should be. Again, it’s conservative/Republican to the core.
- “…to instill a stronger sense of fiscal discipline at a time when our expenditures are growing at nearly twice the rate that our revenues are” – Yep, more “fiscal discipline,” the classic rhetoric of Republicans everywhere, even as in reality they looooove giving massive amounts of money away to corporations and rich people, while exploding the deficit/debt. Meanwhile, Arlington maintains close to the lowest real-estate tax rates in the entire region, with amazing services given such low rates. But yes, there are growing needs, such as for Metro. Yet Vihstadt’s answer is always…more “fiscal discipline.” So how are we going to pay for those essential “core services” Vihstadt keeps talking about if we don’t have enough revenue to do so? Uhhhh….
- “On January 1, 2019, the Board will revert back to 100 percent one party government. In my view, this puts a special burden on the County Board, if you’ll take it.” – Oh yes, the horror of not having a Republican on the County Board…kinda like all those years when Arlington’s all-Democratic Board helped make us the best place to live IN THE COUNTRY. Yep, that happened BEFORE Vihstadt came on the scene and saved us all from ruin! LOL
- “…a word about partisanship…partisan sample ballots — be they blue or red — undermine that goal, and partisanship in Arlington, as elsewhere, maintains an increasingly toxic grip on full participation in civic affairs.” – Oh yeah, the horrors of generic “partisanship,” completely ignoring the fact that 99% of the problem is with the party Vihstadt belonged to for years, donated to for years, etc. As for people knowing who they’re voting for, what they stand for and what party they affiliate with, how on earthy is that “toxic?” Oh yeah, because Vihstadt just lost an election in large part because of a backlash by voters against the party he spent most of his life in – the Republican Party. Bitter much?
- “I’m excited to join the state steering committee of Unite America, a new national organization working to bridge the partisan divide and find common ground.” – Just what we need, another “No Labels”/”Third Way”-style organization that believes the problem in our country is the “partisan divide,” as opposed to the fact that the Republican Party has lurched to the far right and become the party of Trump. In fact, what we need is for Democrats to win elections. A lot of them. What we do NOT need is for groups like “United America” to pretend that there isn’t a glaringly stark choice between an increasingly fascistic Republican Party and a by-definition centrist Democratic Party (note: I say “by-definition” because on issue after issue – check the polling yourself if you don’t believe me – Democrats are in the majority, often the LARGE majority).
Bottom line: I am VERY happy to see Democrat Matt de Ferranti replacing “Independent” John Vihstadt on the Arlington County Board. This will be a significant change for the better, and one that we can all celebrate.