Democrats may expel Arlington County Board member from party leadership

Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey may be stripped of her position in the county’s Democratic Party leadership because she backed a non-Democrat in a recent board election.

Kip Malinosky, the chairman of the Arlington Democratic Committee, said he received “numerous complaints” from party members about Garvey’s outspoken support of John Vihstadt, a Republican running as an independent, who defeated Democratic nominee Alan Howze by a wide margin in the April 8 special election.

Garvey campaigned for and donated money to Vihstadt, the first non-Democrat elected to the board in 15 years.

“The special election came and went, and it went very badly for us,” Malinosky said. “We’ve got to listen and engage with voters, but . . . it’s not helpful to have someone on our own board to be working against us.”

During the campaign, the county Democratic Committee asked Garvey, a member, to step down from its steering committee or stop publicly supporting Vihstadt, but she refused, Malinosky said.


Libby Garvey (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Party rules say no committee members or officers can “publicly support, endorse, or assist any candidate opposed to a Democratic nominee.” As a member of the committee, Garvey is able to participate in strategy discussions and has access to mailing lists of local Democrats and contributors.

Garvey said Wednesday that it’s “completely understandable” that the Democrats would want to strip her of her party leadership position, given that “the purpose” of the Democratic Committee “is to elect Democrats.”

But she said she will contest the action Monday at a closed-door meeting of the committee because she wants to defend herself and assert her Democratic bona fides. “I have two different loyalties,” she said. “My responsibility to the citizens of Arlington and my responsibility to” the party.

Garvey said she supported Vihstadt because they agree that the Columbia Pike streetcar project should be scrapped and a modern bus system installed in its place. Her outspoken opposition to the project has irked other Democrats on the board, all of whom support it.

The party’s action Monday night will have no effect on Garvey’s County Board seat, which she won in a special election two years ago. She was elected to a four-year term the following November.

Garvey was not the only Democrat to support Vihstadt this spring. Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos also endorsed him, but she was not as outspoken as Garvey. Malinosky said no Democrats had complained to him about Stamos.

“This is not a lifetime ban,” Malinosky said of the proposed action against Garvey. “If she said, ‘I’ll support all the Democrats in November,’ the hearing is off.”

Garvey said she will not agree to that condition.

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