"We need to put some oomph back into Arlington and adjust to our new role as an urban community," said Joseph N. Pelton, who last week began his campaign for the Arlington County Board with the backing of Arlingtonians for A Better County (ABC). Pelton also was expected to receive the Democratic Party endorsement last night.
Pelton 38, won the ABC endorsement over three condidates at a mass meeting which drew a record crowd of 750 people to the stuffy auditorium of Kenmore Junior High School. ABC officials noted that for the first time in its 25-year history, a third ballot was required to choose a candidate.
Pelton will face a Republican backed challenger in the November election that will determine political control of the County Board. Since 1970 the board has been controlled by independents endorsed by a coalition of ABC and Democratic Party members. The decision by Joseph S. Wholey to retire from the five member board leaves it evenly split between the ABC Democrats and the Republicans.
A minority party in Arlington, the Republicans are scheduled to endorse a candidate May 16. So far only banker Steohen Detwiler and real estate exectutive Jan McNamee Valentine have announced as candidates for that endorsement.
Adequate funding of Arlington's school system, increasing the efficiency and responsiveness of county government and upgrading Arlington's decaying commerical areas and sagging image are the issues on which Pelton says he will focus.
"The main thing is to give finiancial support (to the schools) and to stress in the metropolitian area that Arlington has a first-rate educational system, rather than the image of "here's a county cutting back on educational programs," he said.
In the wake of recent austere budgets, a sharp schism has developed over the proper amount of funding for the county schools. On fiscal matters, ABC-Democrat Wholey as often been allied with Republican endorsed board members Walter Frankland and Dorothy Gretos and against Chairman John W. Purdy and Vice Chairman Ellen M. Bozman. This has greatly angered some ABC Democrats who say they view Wholey's stance as political betrayal.
"Certainly I'm closer to John than Joe on that." Pelton said of the school funding issue.
In order to increase the efficiency commission. "We need to see whether here are programs that have grown like Topsy." he said. He said he has received some complaints from various neighborhoods scattered throughout the county that the staff is slow and unresponsive in providing information.
The economic and aesthetic revitatization of Arlington is another priortity, Pelton said.He said he favors creating a non-profit corporation composed of residents and the business community to market ideas to potential developers. One such idea is that Clarendon could be developed into a multipurpose international canter with a mall, shopping arcade and housing, office and hotel space.
"Leaving it up to thr developers has had its problems," Pelton said. "I don't know if it's a matter of having a lake in Claredon Circle but I do look at what's been done in (Old Town) Alexandria with the support and expertise of the city council and I thick, why not here?"
Asked about the recent influx of Hispanics, Koreans, Vietnamese and other ethnic groups into Arlington, Pelton said, "I think we've adjusted very well. I think we've provided services well. I have good working relationships with all ethnic groups. I have many Korean and black friends."
Pelton said he expects to spend an amount comparable to that spend by ABC candidates. Last year, incumbent Ellen Bozman spent about $22,000 much of which was raised by a campaign committee. Republican-backed challenger Sherman Pratt spent about $10,000. Pratt received 13,825 votes he has spent about $700.
Asked why he wants to be a County Board member, in view of the often prodigious expenditure of time, energy and endurance required, Pelton laughed, "I'd rather stick to answering question about issues. It's something that gets in your blood, he said, noting his 10-year involvement in county politics, most recently as president of the Arlington Civic Federation.
"Working at the county level, if you do something that's truly an accomplished you can see itand know it, but, on the other hand, if you make a stupid mistake someone will call you up and say, "You really screwed up, come over here and take a look at this."