An article yesterday about the Arlington County Board campaign misstated the origin of endorsements for candidate Albert D. Eisenberg. He has been endorsed by some members of civic organizations. (Published 10/20/87)
While their neighbors in Fairfax fight tooth and nail in a much-publicized battle over where to draw the line on development, candidates for the Arlington County board are running a quiet but tight race based on credentials more than on issues.
Exercising a kind of good-government civic politesse known as "the Arlington way," two Democrats and two Republican-backed independents, all laden with civic laurels, are pursuing two at-large seats on the five-member board. The top two vote-getters Nov. 3, regardless of party affiliation, are elected.
"From where you and from where a lot of people come from, this is slumberland," county board Chairman Albert C. Eisenberg told one newcomer to county politics.
Eisenberg, 41, is the only incumbent in the contest. His Democratic running mate, William T. Newman, 37, a lawyer and member of the county Planning Commission, hopes to become the first black elected to the board since Reconstruction.
The two independents are Dorothy T. Grotos, 56, a former two-term member of the board who ran unsuccessfully for county treasurer four years ago, and Jane H. Bartlett, 45, a former president of the Arlington League of Women Voters who has served on the Planning Commission.
Although no single issue has galvanized Arlington voters, the candidates have debated plans for preserving affordable housing, the growing size of the county bureaucracy, party balance on the board and tax relief for the elderly.
As of the August filing deadline, Bartlett had raised $20,469 and Grotos $12,751. The joint Eisenberg/Newman campaign had brought in $24,876.
All four have pressed their views on development, a buzzword throughout rapidly growing Northern Virginia. Arlington has a long-established strategy of fostering high-rise growth only along its Metrorail corridors to protect the county's residential areas. Controlled development has been generally welcomed for its contribution to the tax base and for revitalizing areas such as Ballston.
Still, there is unease about the traffic and parking problems associated with large-scale development. Sensing this, the candidates have been scrambling to assure voters that they would shield residential neighborhoods from the excesses of development and have harped on opponents' votes concerning major projects.
The Democrats have criticized Bartlett's vote as a Planning Commission member in favor of a third USA Today-type tower in Rosslyn. Bartlett defends her vote, saying the developer promised millions of dollars in transportation improvements. She says she was one of the first people in the county to fight for adequate parking in new developments.
Grotos and Bartlett have made political balance one of their main issues. There are currently no Republicans on the county board. One seat is held by Michael E. Brunner, a Republican-backed independent. He chose not to run for reelection.
No matter how the election turns out, the Democrats will retain a majority on the five-member panel. But the Republican-backed candidates say their presence would inject a note of healthy skepticism into what would otherwise be cozy conformity.
"What is it they say about 'absolute power corrupting absolutely'?" Grotos asked rhetorically at one recent appearance before a civic group. "Let's face it, when you have two sides you often end up closer to the center position, which is where most people are."
The Democrats respond that party labels matter little and that there have been greater differences among the Democratic members of the board than between Democrats and the single Republican. "Look at the individuals, not the party," said Eisenberg.
Representation of a different sort is an unspoken issue in the campaign. Democrat Newman said his credentials, not his race, are what should count.
"I'm not running because I'm black. That is just coincidental," he said. Noting that blacks make up less than 10 percent of Arlington's population, he said, "You don't win because you're black; you win because you represent the community."
In his speeches he emphasizes his residency in South Arlington, an area that has long felt slighted by the more affluent north section of the county. Representatives from northern and central Arlington have dominated the board for decades.
"I will be a voice, not just an echo," Newman tells voters. "I believe I can provide the fresh perspective needed to effectively work on behalf of all Arlington."
Before attending law school, Newman spent several years as an actor, and he has one season on a soap opera to his credit. His oratorical gifts have made him a standout at civic events.
Newman has proposed the establishment of a human rights commission and giving personal property tax relief to the elderly and disabled. He is a lifelong Arlingtonian and has served in numerous civic groups.
Bartlett, who is running under the campaign slogan "See Jane Run," has stressed her long years of service on county boards such as the Planning Commission and particularly the committees that deal with nuts-and-bolts issues such as reviewing developers' site plans and zoning ordinances.
"There's a record of involvement. I'm a facilitator," said Bartlett, a former high school teacher.
In contrast, she said, Newman has been on the Planning Commission less than a year. "There's no way his record can compete with mine," said Bartlett, who served on the Planning Commission six years.
Bartlett said she wants the county to do more to promote small business in Arlington. She also thinks the county's long-range planning is poor.
Opponent Eisenberg dismissed her as "not a factor" in the race and questioned her sincerity on development issues by pointing to a $1,000 contribution to her from a developer.
"I think he's running scared," said Bartlett. "There are a lot of liberal Democrats that are supporting me. He has a certain amount of arrogance and self-righteousness that doesn't wear well. I think he's heard a lot of people are going to cross over" party lines.
Bartlett said she had "one large check" from a developer. "I've also had 425 contributions averaging $69," she added. Her campaign is being managed by Brunner, the county board member who won four years ago, backed by moderate Republicans and independents.
Eisenberg, as the incumbent, is considered a favorite for reelection. "I'm going into the race confident, but I run scared. I'm out there every day. I take no one's vote for granted."
Eisenberg, a lobbyist for the American Institute of Architects, pointed out that dozens of civic associations have endorsed him and said he is running on his continued support of neighborhood concerns.
Eisenberg is a former staff director of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on housing and urban affairs and led the effort to save part of the Lee Gardens apartments for low- and moderate-income tenants. "The community recognizes that without a diverse population, we are diminished," he said.
Grotos, who served on the board from 1976 to 1983, sees herself as a populist. "I'm very strong for the individual. I'm not one of the good old boys or girls," she said.
She said that some county bureaucrats are "arrogant" and that county services have suffered under the Democrats. "I'm really going to represent the people again," she said.
Grotos has been challenged for stating in her campaign literature that personal property taxes have increased 75 percent since 1983, giving the impression that the boost has stemmed from tax increases when the tax rate has gone down. "The revenue has gone up from that tax," she said. "I don't believe I said the tax rate was the cause of that."
Newman has criticized Grotos for opposing his idea for tax relief for the elderly. "Overall, I think there should be a tax cut for everyone," said Grotos, who added that she is not opposed to cutting taxes for the elderly.
Newman has said that some of Grotos' references to public housing are "feel words" for minorities that "appeal to people's worst fears," an allegation that Grotos denies.
Some critics have questioned Grotos' sincerity in returning to the board, citing statements she made four years ago when she ran for treasurer. At that time, Grotos said she needed more time for her family. But now, "I have more time than any candidate," she said. "My family is grown."
Both Republican-backed candidates have criticized the growth of the county bureaucracy at a time when Arlington's population has remained stable. "I think there is fluff in the budget," said Bartlett, adding that if elected she "would be looking at line items."
Grotos dismissed Democratic tax cuts as "pennies" and said she favors deeper cuts that would offset increases in assessments.
The Democrats respond that Arlington has the second-lowest tax burden in the region, behind Loudoun County. "The Democratic majority on the board has over the years worked hard to keep the quality of services high and the tax burden low," said Newman.
Both Democratic candidates boast of Arlington's efforts to maintain affordable housing. They point to a recent county-engineered agreement that would save 200 units of the Lee Gardens apartment complex for poor tenants.
The Republican-backed candidates disagree on this issue. Bartlett said she favors the agreement but is wary about the county regularly getting involved in such deals. "I would have to do it on a one-to-one basis," she said.
Grotos opposes the Lee Gardens deal. "Our number one housing priority should be senior citizens," she said. Also, she said a project with such a large percentage of poor tenants inevitably "gets all run down."
The candidates also split along party lines on a county affirmative action plan for minorities, with the Democrats favoring it and the Republican-backed candidates opposed to it.