The largely staid race for the lone Arlington County Board seat up for grabs in the November election got an unexpected jolt earlier this month when Republican candidate Mike Clancy and his campaign accused Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman's (D) troops of the most puerile of pranks: stealing Clancy's green campaign signs from their perches along county roads and in some cases replacing them with the Democrat's white-and-red placards.

Clancy said dozens of his campaign signs have been removed from three locations around the county since late September. At first, it was a couple dozen signs, mainly along Military Road, he and campaign workers said. For example, Clancy worker Michael Draghi, 40, said he went out one Sunday afternoon to retrieve some signs he had put out a few days earlier and found almost half of them already gone. (Campaign signs can be put out only after dusk on Friday and must be removed by sunset Sunday, according to county rules.) Then, a week later, Jack Hilton, 77, said he noticed that signs near Interstate 395 along Arlington Ridge Road were missing. Then some signs posted on Lorcum Lane and Spout Run near Lee Highway disappeared a few days after that -- with Zimmerman signs left in their place. Clancy's people are not amused.

"It's dirty pool," Hilton said. "You know, not kosher."

Clancy said he called Zimmerman's campaign office to alert the Democrat's staffers to the thefts and ask them to stop, if they were responsible. He admitted that no one's been caught in the act. Still, "it's unbelievable and without shame," he said.

Nonsense, said Zimmerman's campaign manager, Ed Fendley, who breathed a sigh of exasperation when asked about the accusations.

"We've got union firefighters and members of the Young Democrats" on the campaign team, Fendley said, implying that he's running a respectable race. "It's not the sort of game we're going to play."

So who's responsible? "Well, there are people who would like to see less campaign clutter out in public," Fendley continued, saying that he hasn't noticed any Zimmerman signs missing. "Maybe it was them. Sometimes they take matters into their own hands. But it sure wasn't any of our people."

He pointed to the numerous endorsements that Zimmerman has picked up as evidence that the Democrats don't need such low-brow pranks to win. The latest support came via the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"We're not dumb or desperate enough to pull something like this," he said.

Nonetheless, Clancy and his legions remain skeptical. While careful to say that they didn't think Zimmerman himself was involved, the Republican noted that he is disappointed with the events. Plus, the signs are pricey -- $2,600 for 1,000 -- and he's probably going to have to buy more.

"That's a chunk of money," Clancy said.

Alexandria to Sample Whole Foods

Whole Foods Market, the organic grocer of the health-conscious and the tony, is on its way to Alexandria, ready to begin construction on a gleaming new store on Duke Street in March.

The 40,000-square-foot development near the Carlyle Towers will have 114 condominium units on top of the market and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2003. The store, at Duke and Holland Lane, will replace an aging strip mall that once included a Rite-Aid and several other businesses.

"We've long looked at Alexandria as a place to settle," said Sarah Kenney, director of marketing for the chain's mid-Atlantic region. "What we find is that many of our customers like to shop with us two or three times a week, and Alexandria has the density" for that kind of clientele.

Founded in 1980 with one small store in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods Market is now the largest retailer of natural and organic foods in the world, according to its Web site, with 135 stores across the country. The Alexandria site -- which will feature art deco architectural flourishes and wide sidewalks for outside tables -- will round out the company's fleet of markets in Northern Virginia, which include locations in Reston, Annandale and Vienna, officials said. The store will have about 10,000 more square feet than the Whole Foods market on Clarendon Boulevard in Arlington and will be one of the largest in the country, Kenney said.

Ready to Rumble in the 8th

Political debates in Arlington have been largely genteel this campaign season, with the candidates for School Board, County Board and Congress only occasionally raising their voices as they discuss taxes, policy on Iraq and school bonds.

But those looking for a little spice were treated to a gem recently when staffers for the candidates running for the 8th Congressional District seat nearly came to blows after a candidate debate.

It seems that Republican Scott Tate's campaign manager, Mike Lane, thinks that Democratic U.S. Rep. James P. Moran's troops have been playing fast and loose with the facts regarding Tate's record on issues, including abortion. Moran's team, for instance, says that Tate has flip-flopped on his pro-choice stance and isn't owning up to it. Tate, of course, denies this.

When this disagreement was mentioned to a reporter after the League of Women Voters debate last Thursday, things turned ugly. First, Lane demanded that the Moran team stop mischaracterizing the Republican's record. Moran spokesman Dan Drummond shot back that the Tate squad was the one running a campaign full of half-truths and smears. After trading several other political invectives, the two appeared for a brief moment to be done.

But when Drummond turned to cool off, Lane tapped him on the shoulder and said: "Where you going, boy?"

One slow turn later, Drummond, 28, and Lane, 50, were in each other's face, with Drummond responding in a soft growl: "Do not call me boy. I am a man. Not a boy." (He added a "don't touch me" for good measure.)

Lane responded (and tapped Drummond again): "What do you mean . . . boy?"

A silence fell.

The two exchanged more words, with Lane accusing Moran of running the smear campaign. This seemed to prickle Drummond even more, who puffed up his chest and said: "Do not insult the integrity of Mr. Moran. He has done more than you will ever do in your life." (Drummond would later say he meant Moran's political career and service to the 8th District.)

It was a scene that can only be compared to an episode of WWF Smackdown, said a witness, who declined to give her name.

A day later, the campaigns were still smoldering. Drummond repeated concerns about the negative advertising, presenting a reporter with further evidence. Lane was also full of comments, only a few of which were publishable. He added: "Politics is a nasty game. We will not be intimidated."