Home 2020 Elections Video, Live Blog: Arlington Democratic Candidates for County Board Special Election Debate

Video, Live Blog: Arlington Democratic Candidates for County Board Special Election Debate

The candidates are Chanda Choun, Barbara Kanninen, Takis Karantonis, Nicole Merlene


See below for video and some highlights from the first (and possibly only) Arlington Democratic debate for the county board special election, being held today at 1 pm. Note that on Friday, “The Arlington County Democratic Committee (Arlington Democrats)…joined Arlington County in asking the Virginia Supreme Court to extend by two months the date of the July 7 special election to fill an open County Board seat.” As the Arlington Dems explained:

“The commonwealth last week set the date of the special election to fill the seat suddenly left open after the April 16 death of Board Member Erik Gutshall. Virginia’s election law means that a July 7 special election translates into a mere 14-day window for political parties to conduct their nominating processes…Short of an extension of the County Board special election date, the unreasonable 14-day deadline will leave Arlington Democrats no choice but to select its nominee through ‘a closed nomination process limited to the leadership of the Arlington Democrats,’ the letter states. The letter also notes that a court-ordered extension would have to be issued by 7 p.m. EDT on May 6, 2020, to prevent the Democratic nominee from being determined by the closed nomination process alternative.”

So that’s where we’re at now. Personally, I’m hoping the Virginia Supreme Court grants Arlington’s request, because right now, the likely next County Board member could end up being chosen, effectively, by around 260 Arlington County Democratic Committee members. They’re great people and all, but…c’mon, this is not cool (and no, it’s not the Arlington Dems’ fault at all), and should be changed if at all possible, so that *all* Arlington Democratic voters can participate.

With that, see below for video of the debate. The candidates are Barbara KanninenChanda ChounNicole Merlene; Takis Karantonis; and Jimmy Rogers (who apparently just entered the race…I’ll look for his website/campaign announcement). Their campaign announcements are available here.

  • Merlene closing statement: Thanks fellow candidates for great dialogue. Says she has been able to fundraise the most amount of money in the least amount of time; her name ID is very high following State Senate primary race. Obviously, she’s young, would be youngest person to serve on Arlington County Board, doesn’t think it’s a disadvantage but an asset…would represent those who don’t typically have a seat at the table, including a renter and someone who grew up here. Has served the community on many boards and commissions.
  • Karantonis closing statement: Says he never imagined doing this, that it’s been a painful and very difficult month, in which he lost a close friend…”noone can replace Erik nor would I ever try.” Says he has a “deep love and investment in Arlington” -Columbia Pike revitalization, transit, microlending, precinct captain in two neighborhoods, housing solutions, etc. Was Erik Gutshall’s campaign manager and Parisa Tafti’s treasurer. Is proud of what Arlington is and what it stands for. Has been endorsed by former County Board members Walter Tejada, Mary Hynes, Jay Fisette, Chris Zimmerman. Also, School Board member Nancy Van Doren and Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Tafti have endorsed him.
  • Choun closing statement: Asks Dems to make history for the Democratic Party and for Arlington County. Says his nomination will energize existing voters and excite new voters. Says he wouldn’t be the youngest Board member ever elected. Has “checked all the boxes” – community and service organizations, boots on the ground knocking doors for Dem candidates. Need to achieve true diversity and inclusion, not just go with who we know or by the traditional definition of experience. Let’s send a message that all are welcome.
  • Kanninen closing statement: Says she’s ready to serve on the County Board, has a strong campaign, is a proven/winning candidate and is ready to win the special election on July 7, then dive in and do the hard work to get our community back on its feet again, then defend the seat in 2021. Mentions endorsements…Senators Ebbin, Favola; Del. Patrick Hope; AG Mark Herring; former Gov. Terry McAuliffe; etc. Most experienced and electable candidate in the race. Commonsense, compassion, hard work ethic, will promote Democratic values.
  • Question on experience managing large budgets. Merlene says need to maintain commercial real estate revenues, says her background on economic development is well suited to that…is used to understanding big-budget projects…how you spend budget money is a testament to one’s values…important to understand the specifics of the Arlington County budget…notes that we have zero interest rates now, can use bonding ability to look at things like equity in broadband. Kanninen says this is one of the reasons she’s running for County Board…we have great challenges right now and she brings a great deal of experience…School Board budget is almost $700 million, about half the county’s budget…important to recognize there’s a cycle to the budget process…sustainability is fundamental to her platform…important to sustain small businesses, need to invest, practice Keynesian economics…pull from reserves to fund the budget right now…staffs deserve raises. Choun says he’s dealt with multi-million-dollar projects, has sat in on and participated in fiscal affairs advisory meetings…primary focus needs to be making sure everyone is safe, housed and fed…putting new projects on hold, use that money for COVID-19 response; have universal coronavirus testing…hire teams of contact tracers…need rent/mortgage/property tax relief, small business response…premium pay for frontline workers…emergency food assistance for residents in need. Karantonis says he’s worked for very big companies, is familiar with big budgets, understands that sometimes small decisions can have big impacts…can discern which ones matter the most…evaluate with precision the impact of what decisions might be…has been a housing activist…increase support for affordable housing and support tenants…need to stimulate the economy right now, including by allowing affordable housing to be built.
  • Question on improving lives of disabled residents in Arlington. Karantonis says he’d take on improving the sidewalks…make them more than five feet wide. Merlene says she agrees with Karantonis on the sidewalks, also need to make sure schools are accessible to the disabled, focus on engagement with people with disabilitiies, disability-friendly building codes. Kanninen says she’s the only candidate with a disability statement on her website; would look at county’s new equity policy…people with disabilities need to be part of that conversation…every project should have a disabilities audit done to it…this crisis has also clarified the need for ongoing support for those who are homebound. Choun says accessibility is #1, would like a designated person/central office who deals with this issue…need to be able to open doors automatically…really makes life hard for people when that’s not available.
  • Question on #MeToo movement, elevating women. Choun says he served in the Army Reserves, need to get at the root cause of these problems…would support more training and education programs, supports organizations like Doorways. Karantonis says this is very important, many problems within immigrant communities such as domestic violence, need a better social network; huge potential for development for women and minorities.  Merlene says this question hits home for her, we have the opportunity to make the County Board a “women-dominated Board”; important to put women into leadership positions in business, on the Board, etc. so they’re not seen as “secondary.” Kanninen says she’s sponsored commission on the status of women, supports after-school programs, small businesses, green spaces…brings equity lens to all of her work.
  • Question on guiding principles in making decisions on growth. Kanninen again notes her School Board experience, says we need to create opportunities for every neighborhood in Arlington; intersection between professional staff and the community, make the best decision for the county. Choun says managed growth will be a top priority, well-managed and sustainable; Good Government 101/focus on customer service and core infrastructure; proper long-term planning. Karantonis says we have the best track record in the nation of managing growth, and planning is at the core of it…will bring long-term planning to the board, is skillful at bringing all elements together…maximize positive effects. Merlene says she’s an “infrastructure Democrat,” need to get the data behind infrastructure impact of growth…what are bus routes, sewage plans, etc…we really don’t have a plan in place for all those things…focus growth in existing transportation corridors.
  • Question on elevating voices from communities of color. Merlene talks about her work on Energize Arlington, has worked to have a more inclusive engagement process; have to be intentional about our inclusion of others…agrees with Karantonis on microlending. Kanninen says the School Board understands how to reach out to communities of color in Arlington; renamed middle school to one that celebrated a community activist who helped desegregate schools in Arlington…need to reach out to all communities…spoke to Latino parents in Spanish. Choun says he’s spent his time building relationships, one on one, including with the NAACP, Democratic Asian Americans of Virginia, Latino organizations; need to provide representation so these groups are at the table and have a chance to be heard. Karantonis says he lives in the most diverse part of Arlington, speaks many languages, has been a housing activist, works inside our community, understands the value of inclusion…we need these communities to be involved.
  • Rogers has now decided to withdraw his name from consideration.
  • Question for Choun on why he switched from the race against Libby Garvey to this race. Choun says the world has changed, that he didn’t choose the way this has played out. This isn’t about running against one person, it’s about serving and providing representation. He believes he has the background and the skillset, as well as a plan, for this job. That means running now and winning the special election.
  • Question for Kanninen about why she’s chosen to leave the School Board and run for County Board. “Losing Erik was a huge loss,” facing huge challenges right now, says she can do more positive work for our community and the schools from the County Board seat. Confident the school system will be in good hands. There will be change on the School Board as well…what’s important now is strong leadership at the county level…understands every corner of Arlington from her School Board experience…constructive and collaborative.
  • Question for Merlene about her experience, why she decided to run for county board. Says we’re part of an entire metro region, not “insular.” Says she has relationships in Northern Virginia and DC, could help bring us together as a region. Says her run for state senate focused on day-to-day concerns. Why is she running? Really thinks we need the perspective of a renter on the Board.
  • Question for Karantonis about being an advocate before the county board and why he decided to run. Says he worked heavily on community planning, Columbia Pike transportation debate, form-based code, Columbia Pike neighborhoods plan. Came to realize how important citizen engagement is, gained deep understanding of how Arlington County government and the political process works. On Columbia Pike, we learned the hard way what happens if there are no strong citizen coalitions to carry issues forward. We had 30 years of zero development on Columbia Pike; that changed when citizens got involved/engaged.
  • Fourth question is on improving transportation on Columbia Pike. Choun says he considers Columbia Pike his “hangout area,” very important that it’s treated well when it comes to transportation; says we haven’t invested enough in South Arlington, would support more enhanced bus service, pilot program to eliminate bus fares for residents. Karantonis says we haven’t done the job we promised to do, would make it a top priority if elected…premium bus service, signal priority, smart prioritizing of lanes for buses…he’s a very strong advocate for transporation on Columbia Pike. Merlene says what was promised re: BRT has not been actualized and it makes her anger…need to have a better system for people to get around…need to be advocating hard with Metro on “undergrounding Metro.” Kanninen says she ran when streetcar was on the ballot, became deeply engaged on the issue, says we haven’t gotten very far on Columbia Pike since then…need to implement the development plan, including enhanced transit…Metro is NOT a feasible option.
  • Third question is on Amazon HQ moving to Arlington, plans to protect workers and foster greater community benefits. Kanninen says this is one of the most important issues facing the Arlington County Board, we need commercial tenants to fund our government services in Arlington, the decision by Amazon to come to Arlington has boosted the economy, reduced the vacancy rate; says she’s been endorsed by Laborers International, has generally brought a pro-worker view to her work; will work to achieve benefits from Amazon’s presence by partnering with them. Karantonis says we will have to be very careful about labor conditions at HQ2, make sure that it’s in accordance with Arlington’s values; this is a big boost for development, looks forward to work with the neighborhoods to develop a livability framework and which he strongly supports…optimize synergy between residential and commercial…also, there’s opportunity in the transportation area. Choun says he works in business and technology, welcomes jobs, wants a fair deal, not satisfied with the deal made with Amazon…would have liked to see PLAs, Amazon not taking the $23 million from Arlington; would have wanted shared community benefits agreement, buy-local provisions….big corporations still need to go through local governments first. Merlene says we desperately needed to fill vacant space in Crystal City, but could we have made a better deal? yes. There are still opportunities to build more of a partnership with Amazon, including working with universities and the public school system…Amazon providing a learning experience, work experience for high schoolers…buid on entrepreneurship and make Arlington the future of tech…make sure that PLAs are built into the engagement process.
  • Second question is on housing affordability and school desegregation. Merlene – allow developers to build afffordable units within market rate buildings, strengthen middle-income housing initiative. Kanninen says we have a diversity of demographics, need to look at diversifying housing stock across Arlington, how it’s impacting the schools. Choun says he wants Arlington to be attractive and livable to all people from all backgrounds and stages of life; need to look at how we use land, zoning rules that haven’t changed since the 1950s…supports Gutshall’s “missing middle” housing study to allow for more diverse, affordable types of housing throughout Arlington. Karantonis says he’s been a housing activist for a very long time and has thought hard about these questions, has focused on Columbia Pike…tried to bring in greater income diversity, affordable housing; need good infrastructure, transportation; is for zoning reform to help create diversity of housing forms; most important thing is planning.
  • First question is on the outsized impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, underserved and marginalized communities. Merlene says improving unemployment insurance, increase economic development. Kanninen says she brings experience from the School Board working with every community in Arlington. Choun says he will be the voice for people who are suffering the most in this crisis, he can empathize and has lived the experience as an immigrant. Karantonis says he’s a micro-lending professional who works with immigrants, many of whom are struggling financially right now…is proposing a micro-loan fund for Arlington.
  • Jimmy Rogers says to check his statement on the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s website: “If the special election is unable to be moved to November 3, 2020, and we must choose our Democrat nominee this week, I am offering to run for the nomination to resign immediately after the special election. This would allow for a safer, more inclusive nomination process, and the election to fill this vacancy would then be on November 3, 2020 as the Arlington County Board requested. I would not run in the election on November 3, 2020, and I will withdraw as a candidate if the special election is moved to then. If elected, I pledge to resign from the Arlington County Board immediately after the special election.”

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