Arlington County Board incumbent John Vihstadt, who stunned the Democratic majority four years ago by winning a special election and then a full four-year term on the strength of his opposition to high-cost construction projects, lost his reelection campaign Tuesday to a political newcomer.
Vihstadt, who has run three times as an independent, trailed Democrat Matt de Ferranti most of election night, but in the end Vihstadt lost after Arlington’s 20,000 or so absentee votes were counted.
“There are a lot of people who voted in Arlington, which is phenomenal,” de Ferranti said just after the ballots were counted. “Our community made a choice about moving forward and what the next four years should be about.”
Despite drenching rain through the morning, voters jammed the polls, arriving by foot and vehicles, pushing wheelchairs and walkers, negotiating steps on crutches and steering strollers, voting with a determination not seen for several election cycles.
Vihstadt, 66, had argued for the value of having a fiscal skeptic and non-Democrat on the five-member board. De Ferranti, 45, positioned himself during the campaign as a candidate in the mold of Arlington County’s long Democratic tradition, committed to building infrastructure for the future while paying attention to quality of life for residents.
Voters’ attention seemed focused mostly on the national rather than the local scene, but many said they were determined to send a message to Washington by voting for Democrats.
“I voted a straight Democratic ticket,” said Anne Lewis, leaving the Key Elementary School precinct with her husband in the pouring rain. “I do not like President Trump or any of his policies.”
She wasn’t the only one.
“I am pretty incensed at the rhetoric that came out from not only Trump but the whole Republican Party,” said Claire Downing, 30, a Muslim who also voted at the school. “Given the anti-immigrant animus and the anti-Muslim animus, I wanted to make some changes and I think it’s important to send a message out there.”
Arlington County and the city of Alexandria, two inside-the-Beltway communities just across the Potomac River from Washington, reported record-breaking turnout for a nonpresidential election.
Arlington County election officials reported 71 percent turnout, including absentee voters. Alexandria reported a 70 percent turnout.
“It’s a whole different level of intensity,” said Anna Leider, Alexandria’s voter registrar, noting that absentee voting was significantly higher than in previous midterms. “For the past couple weeks, the phones have been ringing nonstop.”
About 12,555 Arlingtonians voted early and in person with more than 7,000 absentee ballots returned by mail, said voter registrar Linda Lindberg. That’s “definitely a record absentee turnout” for a nonpresidential year, she said.
The Arlington County Board candidates differed little on policy positions, both supporting more strenuous efforts to attract businesses to the 26-square-mile suburb and the need to find more money for the county’s schools and affordable housing needs.
All four bond referendum questions passed: one for $74.6 million for Metro and other transit, pedestrian and road projects; another for $29.3 million for construction costs for parks and recreation; a third, for $37 million, for capital projects in the county such as rebuilding Fire Station 8, fixing libraries and community centers; and the last for $103 million for school construction.
In the sole School Board race, incumbent Barbara Kanninen easily beat perennial candidate Audrey Clement by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
Rep. Don Beyer (D) won reelection to his third term in a district that includes Arlington, Alexandria and part of Fairfax County, over Republican Thomas Oh.
In Alexandria, nine candidates sought the six City Council seats, which come open once every three years. Vice Mayor Justin Wilson (D), who ran unopposed for the mayor’s job, easily won election.
The six Democrats beat two Republicans and an independent, according to unofficial but complete returns.
The council will be significantly younger and more diverse when members take their seats in January because Timothy Lovain, 70, did not run for reelection, and Paul Smedberg, 57, and Willie Bailey, 54, lost in the June primary.
The Democratic winners are Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, 33, a nonprofit group entrepreneur; Canek Aguirre, 33, a first-generation Mexican American who is a former president of the Tenant and Workers United board; incumbent John Taylor Chapman, 37, who works for Fairfax County schools and owns an African American-centric tour in Alexandria; Amy Jackson, 47, a former teacher and civic activist; incumbent Redella “Del” Pepper, 80, a retiree who has been in office since 1985; and Mo Seifeldein, 34, an attorney and Sudanese immigrant.
Republicans Michael Clinkscale, 52, a lawyer and former military contractor; Kevin Dunne, 25, a salesman; and independent Mark Shiffer, 46, a former technology executive, unsuccessfully sought election.
The Alexandria School Board’s nine winners are elected from three geographically based districts, with three winners in each area. The winners, according to unofficial results, are:
●In the easternmost District A, Michelle M. Rief, Jacinta E. Greene and Christopher A. Suarez.
●In the central District B, incumbents Cynthia “Cindy” Anderson, Veronica Nolan and Margaret Lorber.
●In District C, which covers the western area of the city, Heather Thornton, Meagan Alderton and incumbent Ramee Gentry.