More than 100 Arlingtonians crowded the county’s first post-Labor Day candidates forum Tuesday night to hear a dozen office-seekers make their pitches for votes in the Nov. 4 general election.
While five candidates for Virginia’s 8th Congressional District and three candidates for the Arlington School Board were also on the dais, the most interest was generated by two locals who faced each other just this past April in a special county board election, and will battle for votes again in nine weeks.
John Vihstadt, a Republican who ran as an independent, beat Democrat Alan Howze April 8, campaigning on dissatisfaction with the county’s spending on expensive projects such as a streetcar along Columbia Pike and a swimming pool complex at Long Bridge Park
The same issues came up Tuesday at the forum sponsored by the Arlington Civic Federation, an influential coalition of neighborhood associations. Vihstadt took credit for raising tough questions during his six months in office and helping to lower the property tax rate, a decision that was a result of higher property values and the reaction of the board’s Democratic majority to both public comments and Vihstadt’s election.
Howze promised fiscal responsibility, greater scrutiny of the Columbia Pike streetcar, including a voter referendum on the project, and a focus on school overcrowding.
“Our county stands at a crossroads, and we face stark choices,” Howze said. “In the 1960s, the John Vihstadts of that day said, ‘Let’s run buses down Wilson Boulevard,’ and called the Metro ‘gold plated’ and overbuilt. A decade ago, opponents of the Silver Line proposed more buses instead of extending Metro. They were wrong, and if they had prevailed we’d be a poorer and more congested community today.”
Don Beyer (D), who is seeking the congressional seat held for many years by Rep. James Moran (D), was joined by four other candidates: Republican Micah Edmond, independent Gwendolyn Beck, Independent Green Gerry Blais and Libertarian Jeffrey Carson.
Beyer, a former Virginia lieutenant governor and ex-ambassador to Switzerland and Lichtenstein, said his priorities are enacting a carbon tax, addressing the widening economic divide, defending the Affordable Care Act and supporting “common-sense” gun laws, such as outlawing gun ownership by the criminally insane. Edmond urged voters in the strongly Democratic district to elect a Republican who will work to break congressional gridlock.
School board candidates Barbara Kanninen (D) and Audrey Clement (Green) jousted over whether schools should focus on the needs of all students or, as Clement argued, shift the focus to remedial education for disadvantaged students. Nancy van Doren is also running, as an unopposed Democrat in a concurrent special election to fill the seat left vacant by Noah Simon’s Aug. 1 resignation.
Neither Incumbent Sen. Mark Warner (D) nor challenger Ed Gillespie (R) attended the forum, giving Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis an open opportunity to urge voters to break away from the majority parties and examine the Libertarian alternative. “I go to the tea party events and the LGBT events, and I say the same thing,” Sarvis said.
The other participant was Carla F. de la Pava (D), the deputy county treasurer, who was appointed to the treasurer’s position after Frank O’Leary’s resignation in July. She is running unopposed for the office.