Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpA sharp-eyed exercise to decode the 2014 elections in Arlington unfolded Feb. 11 at the nonpartisan Committee of 100 – delivering insights on everything from the streetcar to the talent pool to our county’s peculiarities.

Most thrilled with the voters’ verdict was Matt Wavro, chair of the Arlington Republican Committee. He hailed “great change in the political landscape that puts Arlington at a fork in the road.” Quite a contrast from 2012 when he went door-to-door and asked, “Do any Republicans live in this building?” Only to be told “Yes, but don’t tell the neighbors.”

Before this November’s victory by Republican-turned-independent John Vihstadt, Republicans “who wanted an internal county auditor didn’t say it out loud,” Wavro said. “They didn’t want to be the lone speaker against a stage-managed planning process,” that brought us the moribund Artisphere, the cancelled streetcar, the suspended aquatic center, the million-dollar bus stop and parkland traded for subsidized housing.

“The zeitgeist is no longer for a one-party government that considers only progressive values with a specific ideology determining the process.” he said. It’s time to switch to a core agenda such as crowded schools.

A more complicated reading came from Kip Malinosky, chair of the Arlington Democratic Committee. When he began in 2013, he expected 2014 to be “a normal year” involving reelection of Sen. Mark Warner, Rep. Jim Moran, County Board member Chris Zimmerman, Del. Bob Brink, School Board members Sally Baird and Noah Simon and Treasurer Frank O’Leary.

All but Warner declined to run. “We lost 99 years of elected office experience,” he said. (Those retirees were joined recently by County Board members Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes.)

Malinosky linked the Dems’ annus horribilis to “change not linked to hope but to anxiety” – declining incomes and anger toward politicians in general. “Arlington is more than a streetcar,” he said. “We used to be insulated from national trends with our best school system, triple-A bond rating, award-winning housing projects,” he said. Then came the sequester and shutdown that hit federal employees, and rising property assessments. “The County Board was slow to respond, consensus began to fray” and voter participation withered.

“Into this anxiety stepped a different kind of candidate offering a path forward,” the Democrat acknowledged. “Vihstadt had been active in the community and was a good candidate.”

This year, however, Dems expect “a whole slew of candidates. We need to forge a new consensus based on shared values,” Malinosky said. The county’s new facilities planning process “is a good place to start.”

The Republican, when pressed, acknowledged he didn’t see his party as free of ideology. “National issues tend to cloud issues like sidewalks.” The streetcar, he said, “was not ideological but a common-sense issue.”

The Democrat said the nonpartisan nature of past local politics has “given way to ideology, which makes for a contentious atmosphere.”

Frank Shafroth, director of the Center for State and Local Leadership at George Mason University, said a more important vote last year was the jury of twelve’s decision to convict ex-Gov. Robert McDonnell of corruption. “That changed how voters looked at the future,” he said. “They’re fed up and looking to go back to government that does something constructive.”

The professor warned Arlington strategists that our electorate changes rapidly from election to election, adding, “Arlington is different from any other community I’ve lived in.”

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That century-old pale green house in Ballston at 4210 Washington Blvd. will soon meet the wrecking ball. The onetime farmhouse still displaying the George Allen for Senate poster is now deserted—save for some reported homeless squatters.

It is slated for demolition in April, I’m told by American Signature Properties LLC, which purchased the property and county permits from another developer to construct a four-story duplex with two-car garages.

Partner Mark Benas says his team ran the tear-down plans by the Arlington Historical Society and Habitat for Humanity, to which he will donate some salvaged appliances. Photos of the old house – clearly past its prime – will go to the Arlington County Public Library.

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