Charles Monroe, the newest member of Arlington's all-Democratic County Board, will bring a new dimension to that panel when he takes his chair at the next monthly meeting on Jan. 29: He will be the only minority member of it.
Despite the significance of that, especially in diverse Arlington, Monroe shied from the topic in his fall campaign, at least until Republican leaders raised it themselves and Monroe responded.
But in a recent Sunday afternoon chat in his Glencarlyn home, Monroe returned again and again to the issue, revealing how his and his family's beliefs stem from his experiences as an African American.
He talked about his formative Arlington childhood, when he was in the first group of students in his neighborhood offered enrollment at the nearly all-white Yorktown High School. Monroe was one of about 15 blacks in his class, he said.
Being part of that progress and watching the interplay between government and people's lives made him aspire to politics, he said, so he majored in political science at Duke University.
"I think I always knew that I wanted this path," said Monroe, 43.
In previous campaigns, Monroe highlighted his parents' accomplishments: His mother, Eleanor Monroe, was the county's first African American School Board member, and his father, Thomas R. Monroe, was the county's first African American judge.
And Monroe said the issue that will define him on the five-member County Board is in essence the issue of race.
"Right now, my focus in on a very broad issue, and that's the issue of fairness," he said. The voices of many groups in Arlington aren't heard, he said. "When their voices aren't heard, there's a tendency to forget their existence. . . . You're not going to see people of color showing up at board meetings, at least not too many of them."
Specifically, he said, he is committed to guarding the little affordable housing left in Arlington and to providing sufficient social services for all those in need.
In addition, he hopes to spur the minority communities to take greater part in Arlington government.
Even the family dog, a 7-year-old cairn terrier, brings Monroe back to the topic of race. The dog's name is Clinton, after the president, Monroe explained. It was his wife's idea, but both of them are great fans of the commander in chief, despite the scandals of his tenure.
"In the African American community," he said, "there's a certain loyalty to Clinton because he's done a lot for us, and you don't turn your back on that."
So if race is such a focal point of the Monroe household, why didn't voters hear more about it during the fall campaign against incumbent Mike Lane (R)?
"Sometimes I think that race kind of overshadows everything, and it need not," he said. "In the context of a political campaign, I have to be appealing to a number of groups. I didn't want to be seen as someone who was race-baiting in order to win," which is what the Republicans claimed he was doing.
A personal injury lawyer with the firm Duncan and Hopkins in Alexandria, Monroe is a black belt and former instructor in taekwondo.
The newest County Board member also is a father of two teenage boys--Chris, 15, a freshman at Washington-Lee High School, and Jonathan, 13, a seventh-grader at H.B. Woodlawn. In order to find time for them in his busy political schedule, Monroe rises at 5:30 a.m. to play breakfast chef (specialties: waffles and bacon and eggs).
And Monroe is a bit of a romantic: He first laid eyes on his wife of 19 years, Barbara, in a face book at Washington and Lee University Law School, where she was two years ahead of him.
"I asked around about her," he said. "We were engaged within six months."
For those expecting a liberal board member in Monroe, he predicted a surprise.
"I'm a moderate to progressive and maybe on a point or two a liberal," he said. "I'm willing to work toward something acceptable to all."
CAPTION: Charles Monroe, the newest Arlington County Board member, talks with his wife, Barbara, whom he met 20 years ago at Washington and Lee University.
CAPTION: Monroe, right, enjoys a moment at home with his family, from left, Chris, 15, Jonathan, 13, and wife, Barbara.