The cost of a local campaign among Arlington Democrats

The numbers are in, and they’re pretty daunting for anyone considering a run for the Arlington County Board.

The Democrats, who are less than a week away from their two-day “firehouse primary” caucus, have raised almost $31,000 collectively in the three-way fight for their party’s nomination. The nominee may need the cash; independent John Vihstadt raised $11,347 through the end of December and spent almost nothing.

Evan Bernick, a Libertarian, and Janet Murphy, from the Independent Green Party, have also filed in the race. The Republicans have not yet nominated or endorsed a candidate. The general election is likely to be held in April.

The Democrats, who will vote Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, have been participating in a series of question-and-answer panels, organized by their own party but open to anyone.  The first one two weeks ago drew about 200 people;  the next one is tonight, Jan. 23, at Glebe School’s multipurpose room, 1770 North Glebe Rd. Another will be Jan. 27, 8 to 9 p.m. at Drew School’s multipurpose room, 3500 South 23rd St. VOICE, a church-affiliated group interested in affordable housing, has another panel scheduled for Friday, Jan. 24, 7:30-8:30 p.m., at the Arlington Mill Community Center, 909 S. Dinwiddie St.

Among the Democrats, Alan Howze, who is backed by much of the local party establishment, had raised the most money, $16,245, by Dec. 31. He’s also collected the endorsements of the Arlington Education Association’s Political Action Committee, Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson, County Treasurer Frank O’Leary, County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, Delegate Bob Brink, School Board member Noah Simon and former elected officials David Bell, Mary Margaret Whipple and others. 

“I think endorsements demonstrate that we’re running a campaign that speaks to the core values of the community and its needs,” Howze said. “They represent a broad cross-section of Arlington Democrats, both current and former, a lot of people whose judgments I respect.”

Not far behind is Cord Thomas, an entrepreneur who is leaning heavily on his business acumen. He is self-funding his campaign, he said, putting $12,469 into it through the end of December.

“I don’t like the idea of being beholden to others,” said Thomas, former owner of EnviroCab and now a co-owner of Elevation Burger restaurant. “I’m not asking anybody for official endorsements. The old saying is only politicians care who politicians endorse.”

Finally, Peter Fallon, former Planning Commission chairman, reported $2,482 in contributions through Dec. 31, although he said Thursday he has raised more this month. He also has endorsements from elected officials, most notably state Sen. Barbara Favola.

“Most voters are undecided. They haven’t flocked to any one candidate… This time, people are really trying to learn about the candidates,” sad Fallon, who lost a primary race two years ago to now-incumbent County Board member Libby Garvey. “Resources certainly help because there are expenses such as printing, mailing and Web sites … but it’s more about personal contact and the quality of that contact.”

Vihstadt, a well-known local Republican who is running as an independent, recently was endorsed by the Green Party and is seeking the Republican endorsement, as well. He endorsed the idea of endorsements, he said, “if it’s local people endorsing local candidates. I think that reflects a remarkably broad array of community leaders and folks across the political spectrum and across the county geographically, school, civic foundation members, neighborhood people, those who worked with me on various boards and commissions over the 30 years of my civic engagement.”

“I feel very bullish about this race,” he said this week. “People have come out of the woodwork to say it’s about time we had a credible non-Democrat running in the race.”

Patricia Sullivan seeks out news about Alexandria and Arlington County for the Washington Post.
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