This election year in Virginia, there’s no “statewide” race and there are no elections for General Assembly, so most of the attention is obviously focused – and for good reason! – on key U.S. House races, with the most competitive seen as being in VA02 (Rep. Elaine Luria vs. Republican Jen Kiggans) and VA07 (Rep. Abigail Spanberger vs. Republican Yesli Vega). Other than the U.S. House races, is there anything else we should be paying attention to? The short answer is yes, with some of the local elections worth keeping an eye on including:
- In Loudoun County, there are two special elections for School Board – for Broad Run and Leesburg districts – with three candidates running for each seat (Loudoun Dems-endorsed candidate Nick Gothard, plus Andrew Hoyler and Tiffany Polifko for Broad Run; Loudoun Dems-endorsed candidate Erika Ogedegbe, plus Loudoun-GOP-endorsed Michael Anthony Rivera and Lauren Elizabeth Shernoff for Leesburg). The reason for these two special elections is that Broad Run’s School Board member, Leslee King, passed away in August 2021, while Leesburg’s member, Beth Barts, resigned last October “shortly before she was due to face a trial in the recall campaign against her, which is being led by Fight for Schools, a parent group known for its advocacy against Loudoun’s equity work and whose founder, Ian Prior, is a former Trump administration official.” I’ll try to look in more detail at these races in coming weeks.
- In Fairfax City, there’s a race for mayor (to replace current Mayor David Meyer, who isn’t seeking reelection) between conservative Republican Sang Yi and long-time Democratic activist/Moms Demand Action “Gun Sense Candidate” Catherine Read. There are also elections for Fairfax City Council, with nine candidates (incumbents Joseph D. Harmon, So P. Lim, D. Thomas Ross and Jon R. Stehle Jr.; challengers Billy M. Bates, Kate G. Doyle Feingold, Jeffrey C. Greenfield, Anahita “Ana” Renner, Craig S. Selewski) vying for six slots.
- In Roanoke City, there’s an election for At-Large City Council, with eleven candidates (including Democrats Peter Volosin, Vivian Sanchez-Jones, Joseph Cobb, Luke Priddy) running for four seats.
- Elections for city council and school board seats (one or more) in Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton, Portsmouth, Newport News, Chesterfield, Henrico, Petersburg, Fauquier, etc.
- Last but not least, in my home county of Arlington, we’ve got races for one County Board seat (incumbent/Democratic-nominated Matt de Ferranti vs. independents Adam Theo and Audrey Clement) and one School Board seat (Democratic-endorsed Bethany Sutton vs. independent James Rives). Of course, I’m supporting both Democrats – de Ferranti and Sutton – but I just wanted to take a few minutes to explain why I’m enthusiastically endorsing de Ferranti for reelection.
I first got to know Matt de Ferranti back in 2018, when he was the Democratic nominee against self-proclaimed independent (actually, lifelong Republican) County Board member John Vihstadt. Recall that Vihstadt had been elected in 2014 over Democrat Alan Howze, in large part due to a backlash over the Columbia Pike streetcar project and other projects (remember the supposed “million-dollar bus stops” and “million-dollar dog park?”). In 2018, during the height of the anti-Trump backlash, de Ferranti prevailed in overwhelmingly “blue” Arlington County, although narrowly (53%-46%) even then, as Vihstadt certainly had a strong base of support, and really had sold himself (whether you bought his shtick or not – and I certainly didn’t!) as an independent voice on the Board. Of course, Vihstadt might have been “sui generis,” but it’s also possible that as “blue” as Arlington is, it’s not super-liberal in some ways, for instance when it comes to property taxes, spending on projects that people aren’t enthused about for whatever reason (although note that the streetcar would have been largely paid for by state and federal money), or this time around, the debate over “Missing Middle” housing.
Regarding “Missing Middle,” this is an idea that was heavily pushed by Erik Gutshall when he was running for Arlington County Board in 2017, and during his all-too-short time on the Board (tragically, Gutshall died of brain cancer in April 2020). The concept, as Gutshall explained it in May 2017, was to help keep Arlington affordable, “allow[ing] the market to create new housing types along our transportation corridors that will keep the middle class from getting priced out of Arlington,” by “updat[ing] our zoning ordinance to provide the opportunities for the private market to create new kinds of housing that we don’t see in Arlington” and “unlock this enormous potential.”
Now, of course, the “devil’s in the details” on this or any other policy, but conceptually, I strongly support “Missing Middle,” which would mean a move away from exclusionary single-family zoning (note that, currently, a whopping “75% of land zoned residential in Arlington is exclusively for single-family, detached homes”) to a more diverse housing stock, including things like duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, etc. The idea is to provide affordable, quality housing choices for “Young adults, who are just starting their careers”; “Growing families who may need an additional bedroom for a child, or, an on-site dwelling unit for a grandparent”; “Older adults who wish to age in their same community, near family and friends”; “Empty nesters who wish to downsize”; “Public servants in search of mid-scale homes, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters”; etc.
So right now, Arlington County is in the middle of a sometimes-heated debate on “Missing Middle,” with County Board votes possible by late this year or early next year. And as you move around Arlington, you can definitely see that reflected in signs, both pro- and anti-“Missing Middle,” on median strips and in yards. It may not be at the intensity level of the streetcar debate, but it’s definitely a major issue, with serious concerns being raised about impacts on parking, tree canopy, traffic, etc. On the other side, there are active proponents of “Missing Middle,” with endorsements including the Sierra Club, the Arlington NAACP, etc. As the Sierra Club writes, “Adding missing middle housing to existing low-density development is an antidote to suburban sprawl. It results in far more compact and energy efficient housing located closer to jobs, transit, goods and services. It results in sharply reduced greenhouse gas emissions from both buildings and transportation when compared to housing developed in the outer suburbs, or to the enormous single-family homes typically erected in place of smaller homes in Arlington.” And as the NAACP notes, “Missing Middle” represents “a first step in a series of necessary actions to reverse the damage done to Black and Brown residents by governmental and nongovernmental acts designed to segregate and disempower.”
As for the three County Board candidates, two of the candidates – Democrat Matt de Ferranti and independent Adam Theo – support it, with Theo saying he’s “‘a huge fan’ of Missing Middle because ‘it’s about not squeezing the middle class anymore, of allowing opportunities, options and housing types.'” Bingo. As for independent Audrey Clement, she opposes “Missing Middle” (she cites “overcrowded schools, increased traffic congestion on neighborhood streets, and additional flood inducing runoff due to fewer trees and more pavement”), while also being a big proponent of increased affordable housing options. The problem with that stance is that, ultimately, we need to increase the supply and variety of housing to accommodate a regional population that’s big and projected to get bigger in coming years, and among other things, that’s going to necessitate increased housing of various types and price points throughout the region, particularly in the “inner core” (DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, along the Metro lines in Fairfax and Loudoun, etc.).
As for Democrat/incumbent Matt de Ferranti, he clearly supports “Missing Middle” “up to a point” – specifically, supporting duplexes and triplexes but not going as high as “eight plexes.” Now one can certainly make an argument for “eight plexes,” but the way de Ferranti sees it – and I strongly agree – we need to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, or as former President Obama likes to say, “better is good,” with the concept being that we work to make society better – more equitable, more sustainable, more prosperous, etc. – incrementally, in a way that’s politically feasible and doesn’t lead to a massive backlash, even if it’s not everything we’d ideally want right this minute. Basically, it’s being progressive while also being pragmatic, which is pretty much exactly where Barack Obama’s head has always been at – and where Matt de Ferranti’s head is at too (and mine very much as well).
So with that lengthy intro, my reasoning for endorsing Matt de Ferranti’s reelection is that: a) he’s a pragmatic progressive, along the lines of what Barack Obama and many other effective Democratic politicians; b) he’s a very thoughtful public servant who carefully considers the pros and cons of policy choices, is absolutely NOT a hothead (nor is he particularly flashy, more the type to keep his head down and focus on getting the job done – and that’s a GOOD thing!), and always thinks things through thoroughly and carefully; c) he really listens to people; d) he’s very responsive; e) he’s in this for the right reasons, the biggest one being that he really cares about making the community better for everyone; f) he’s been a leader on the “Community Energy plan” and on pushing Arlington reach ambitious climate/clean energy goals; g) he started a Food Security Task Force to address hunger in Arlington; h) as Chair, he responded quickly on January 6th, 2021, ordering a curfew to keep Arlingtonians safe during that horrible period; i) he’s worked to preserve and expand affordable housing; j) he helped pass collective bargaining and prevailing wage ordinances; etc. In sum, as Matt de Ferranti’s literature states, he’s “Progressive, Engaged, Ready” – and he most definitely deserves reelection by a large margin this November 8th!