Local Commentary

Our Man In Arlington

On January 1, 2008, only five days from now, a remarkable generational transition will be made in Arlington political and civic life. David Bell will retire as Clerk of Court and Paul Ferguson will take over. David’s last public ceremony was to swear-in his successor in the Arlington Courthouse on December 20.

It is a little scary for me. I remember well when I was elected chair of the Arlington Democratic Party in 1970 at the tender age of thirty-two. We had just come off of a disastrous election season where we lost virtually every office in contention, including every Arlington seat in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate. – But that’s another story.

David had just moved to Arlington after graduating from Penn State (his only flaw, says this LSU graduate). During his junior year, he served an internship in the office of Pennsylvania Representative Joseph Vigorito and met his future wife, and Arlington native, Katherine Reid. After they got married, they settled in Arlington, and the rest, as they say, is history.

He applied for and won a job in the office of Clerk of Court Bruce Green, one of the last vestiges of the fabled Byrd Organization in Arlington politics. David said the next youngest person in the office was fifty-five. Five years later, he was appointed Clerk to fill the unexpired term of then-Clerk Joseph Gwaltney, who had been appointed a District Court Judge. David was duly confirmed by the electorate in the next general election. David was twenty-eight. That was 31 years ago.

David went on to become acclaimed as one of the best clerks of court in the nation, running an office that is both envied and emulated throughout the country. Three weeks ago, the Arlington Bar Association held a dinner honoring Dave and his career. It was attended by hundreds of the state’s most prominent lawyers and jurists, as well as a wide range of Arlington politicos from both parties. It was a well deserved honor.

But I mentioned earlier that it was scary, as indeed it was. I met David during (or was it just before?) my chairmanship when he had quickly become one of the leaders of the Arlington Young Democrats in. These Young Democrats very quickly became leaders of the “senior” party, which at the time was transforming itself into the formidable and successful political organization it is now.

Now that was just a few weeks ago, or that is certainly how it seems to me now. As a friend recently asked, “when did things turn around from when I was the youngest person in the room to now when I am the oldest in the room? It certainly didn’t take very long!”

David Bell will not be missed, however. He has no intention as far as I know of disappearing from Arlington. He will remain an active participant in our cultural, civic, and, yes, political life. But it is still a little disquieting to many of us to know that this Young Turk is passing the torch to a new generation only a few weeks after the torch was passed to us!

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