Like the fighter pilot he once was, Robert E. Harrington has been aggressively charting his pursuit of a political target -- the Arlington County Board seat that comes up in the Nov. 3 election.
A retired colonel who spent 30 years in the Air Force, Harrington has the Republican nomination in his first bid for elective office. One of his chief missions, he says, is to gain the name recognition enjoyed by his opponent, Ellen M. Bozman, a Democrat-backed independent who is seeking her third term.
To accomplish this, Harrington and his wife Ginny, who doubles as schedule-maker, have made daily forays into various communities, shaking hands with potential voters at supermarkets and Metro stops and making the round of neighborhood walks and coffee sessions.
They meet regularly with the three Republicans who comprise the County Board majority and with other party stalwarts to discuss campaign strategy and issues that may be on voters' minds.
To the 18 civic association meetings that he will have attended by election day, Harrington brings a raft of neatly drawn charts on school and county spending and their impact on tax rates in the past 10 years. He points with pride to the graphs showing cuts in property tax rates under a GOP majority.
In order to campaign full time, the 63-year-old Harrington resigned last June as business manager of St. Agnes Episcopal Girls School in Alexandria, a job he held for eight years after retiring from the Air Force.
While in the Air Force, Harrington served as chief of intelligence in Europe and for the Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va. -- jobs that he says entailed the oversight of "several-million-dollar" budgets and the supervision of thousands of people.
From his Air Force career and his work at the 510-student girls' school, Harrington says he gained managerial skills that would benefit the county. "I have some knowledge of the things you have to do to make an organization work on a cost-effective basis," he says.
From his work as a former chairman of Arlington's civil service commission and as a member of a committee studying ways to improve local government, Harrington says, "I feel there has been mismanagement (in county government). I have felt for some time that the county government ought to undertake a review of its programs to see if there is duplication of effort and if programs are serving the purposes they were initially intended to do."
Harrington suggests that the county and schools might benefit from merging their computer systems and their departments for purchasing and maintenance. He faults former county manager W. Vernon Ford, whom the County Board's GOP majority fired in August, for not taking the initiative to suggest these and other possible cost-saving measures.
As other economizing tools, he has suggested that the county set a salary cap of $52,000 for its highest-paid employes, reduce the number of county employes by 5 percent through attrition, and reduce step increases in pay by 50 percent for all county employes except those in management positions. For managerial level employes, he says, step increases should be eliminated in favor of merit raises.
The budget must be pruned if essential county services and programs are to be maintained and the real estate tax rate kept at its current level of 96 cents per $100 of assessed value, he says.
One means of bolstering county revenues is to encourage economic development along the Metro corridors and the revitalization of small shopping centers, he suggests.
"Development should only take place if it enhances the quality of life for the people, particularly in the residential areas . . .," he says. "(But) if you stand still economically, you're going backwards and it behooves the county to take advantage of the benefits the Metro corridor has provided.
"Let's have varied, balanced segments there," he continues, "not just an apartment building, but a shopping center to go with it, and (let's) do it in a manner that's going to be acceptable to the people living in the neighborhood."
Small businesses, Harrington maintains, have been fleeing the county because the county's business privilege license tax system requires them to prepay a varying percentage of their estimated gross income for the coming year. Many are forced to get loans to pay the tax, he says. He supports a plan now before the County Board that would allow the businesses to pay the tax in installments during the year.
He also advocates a change in the business privilege tax system that would exempt subcontractors from paying taxes also paid by the principal contractor on the gross receipts of a project.
"A community which has good businesses is a humming community. One with bad businesses fades away," Harrington maintains, adding that the county could provide some inducements to businesses by "making sure they have (adequate) sidewalks, roadways and the whole business."
An influx and rejuventation of businesses could help forestall property tax increases for homeowners, he says.
Besides retaining and attracting businesses, Harrington says, the county must do something to ease the shortage of affordable housing in Arlington, particularly rental apartments.
"The (state) assessment law should have been modified two years ago" so rental apartment buildings could not be taxed like condominiums, he says. The possibility of a special tax rate for apartment buildings that remain rental is being studied.
"This (practice of converting apartments to condominiums) is hurting everyone and the elderly especially, who have nowhere to go," Harrington says.