In a special election two months ago, Mike Lane became the first Republican in 30 years to be elected to the all-Democratic Arlington County Board, which he dubbed the "Monopoly Board." Now, with a new campaign season already kicking off, the Republican Party will attempt to hang on to Lane's spot on the board--and to add a second player.
Joining Lane in the Nov. 2 race for two seats on the five-member County Board will be Republican Frances M. Finta, a longtime Arlington resident and civic activist. Opposing them will be two formidable Democrats, incumbent Paul F. Ferguson, the current board chairman, and Charles Monroe, who lost to Lane in April by a mere 169 votes.
"I think we have a strong ticket," said Charlene Bickford, the Democratic chairwoman. "Charles Monroe comes from a very strong community background. Paul Ferguson has the advantage of being the incumbent."
Nevertheless, Bickford conceded that it will be a tough race. "We're not taking it lightly," she said.
"It's a winning combination," Henriette Warfield, chairwoman of the Arlington Republican party, said of the GOP ticket. "Obviously the goal is to keep Mike. What Frances adds to the ticket is what is really missing from the County Board. They have lost all of the institutional memory. The others haven't lived in the community that long."
Another closely watched race--and one that is also expected to be close--in the November general election is for the seat on the five-member School Board, which will pit Sharon Davis (I) against Dave Foster (I), two candidates with strong support in the community. Foster this week received an important endorsement from the Arlington Education Association.
The county's constitutional officers, all Democrats, are running unopposed: Clerk of Circuit Court Dave Bell, Commonwealth's Attorney Richard E. Trodden, Sheriff Thomas N. Faust, Commissioner of the Revenue Geraldine M. "Gerri" Whiting and Treasurer Francis X. O'Leary.
Alexandria residents have three state races, but no local elections this year. "Everybody's sitting back waiting for next year," said Beverly Beidler, the city's registrar. "That's when we'll have a big election year. We'll have a Republican presidential primary in February, City Council and School Board election in May and president, Senate and House of Representatives in November."
With four candidates vying for the two seats on the Arlington County Board, it may not be a rematch of the squeaker in April's special election between Lane and Monroe, who ran for the seat left vacant by Democrat Albert C. Eisenberg. The two highest vote-getters in the November race will win the at-large seats.
Democrats chalked up Lane's victory in large part to the low voter turnout in the predominantly Democratic county. Republicans said it signaled a desire on the part of residents to break up the board's "monopoly" and shift to a "two-party system."
During his campaign, Lane drew a parody of the popular board game on his campaign literature, noting that more than 98 percent of the votes taken by the County Board in the last three years had been unanimous. "End the Game! Vote Lane!" he said.
In his two-month stint on the County Board, Lane said he has already cast four or five dissenting votes and has given residents an alternative view on issues.
"Many voters preface their comments with, 'I'm a Democrat,' and say they appreciate what I'm doing," said Lane, 46, a management consultant. "It's really been in the discussion and give and take where I've been able to guide my colleagues away from more extreme positions."
Monroe, who will kick off his campaign tonight along with fellow Democrat Ferguson, criticized Lane for not making his opinion known when the board recently adopted a gun-control resolution.
"I failed to see why he would be silent on the issue," said Monroe, 42, a lawyer. "He has shown us no new ideas. And he has voted against affordable home ownership, something he championed in his campaign."
This time around, Monroe, who said he never really stopped campaigning after the special election, is working harder to identify specific concerns of residents.
"We're looking at themes as Arlington as a lifetime learning community, Arlington as a caring and volunteering community and Arlington as a planning community, with preservation of neighborhoods balanced against controlled growth," said Monroe, who wants to help maintain the quality of life he and his family have enjoyed in the county.
Ferguson, who at age 30 became the youngest elected member to the board in 1995, is also the most senior member by one month. If reelected, Ferguson will honor the tradition of rotating the job as chairman.
Ferguson, also a lawyer, said he is running on his record, which includes helping secure additional funding for schools and public safety and being committed to economic development and quality of life issues on Columbia Pike. At the same time, he is proud that the County Board was able to adopt a new budget this year with no increase in the real-estate tax.
"We have done such a good job of sticking to the land-use plan," Ferguson, 34, added. "We want to continue to expand business-wise. We're going to be very careful to protect neighborhoods."
Finta, who has made Arlington her home since in 1951, has been active in the Arlington County Civic Federation for many years and is currently its treasurer. She wants to continue to be involved in shaping the county's future.
"People interest me, and all the different kinds of people we have here," said Finta, 72, who has also been involved in the school system since 1963 as a parent and teacher. "I've been in the schools so long that I have knowledge of the schools from the inside."
Finta, who doesn't always agree with fellow Republican Lane (and vice versa), also wants to find better ways to inform the growing elderly population in the county about services available to them.