John Vihstadt, who shocked Arlington’s Democratic establishment when he captured a County Board seat in a special election last spring, won reelection to the Arlington County Board Tuesday night, defeating Democrat Alan Howze with more than 98 percent of the precincts reporting.
Vihstadt, a Republican running as an independent, parlayed his opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar and other high-cost projects into victory. He said he received a concession call from Howze about 9 p.m.
“We had a cordial conversation and I look forward to working with him in the future,” Vihstadt said over the sounds of a victory party at his home. “We feel great.”
Democrats were counting on a higher voter turnout in the general election than the 22,000 who voted in April. More than 53,000 ballots were cast in the general election, but voters who supported Democrats in the U.S. Senate and congressional race did not sweep Howze in on those coattails.
Howze said he thought the dissatisfaction of Arlingtonians played into his defeat Tuesday, but preferred not to go into detail. “There will be time for lots of post-game analysis on this one,’’ he added.
The streetcar remained a major issue on voters’ minds at the polls Tuesday.
Howze, 40, an IBM consultant, considers the project a far-sighted transportation improvement that would trigger development, as Metro did in Clarendon and other areas.
Joanne Hayeck, voting with her husband at the Lyon Park precinct, said she supports Howze and the streetcar project. “If you’re not having change, if you are not building, you’re not growing.”
Vihstadt, 62, a real estate attorney who postioned himself as a fiscal skeptic, said a streetcar would be too expensive and inflexible.
Margaret Hunt, an environmental lobbyist accompanying her 88-year-old mother to the polls at Arlington Arts Center, called Vihstadt “a little more fiscally conservative,” which she liked.
Michael Beglinger, who works in construction management, said he chose Vihstadt because “There’s too much of one-way thinking” on the County Board. “We don’t need five of the same [party]. I’m just looking for balance.”
Ronelle Matney, 63, a consultant, and her husband Bud Matney, 75, said they are focused on the economy.
“I can’t say I’m so strongly enamored with the candidates,” Ronelle Matney said.“I think I’ll probably vote for Vihstadt. He had a more fiscally conservative approach. We need that.‘’
Bud Matney said he is opposed to the streetcars. “I don’t think they’ll get the return for the money they spend,” he said.
Susannah Rosenblatt, 33, who works in public relations and votes at Barcroft Elementary School in South Arlington, said she and her husband have been following the streetcar issue closely.
“I love the idea of it,” Rosenblatt said. “It could be so cool.” She would like to see some of the economic growth and mixed-use development closer to the Fairfax County line. She said she used to commute by bus to Dupont Circle and thinks it would be great to have another transportation option.
At the same time, she wants to be sure the county is careful with its spending. “We all know about the million-dollar bus stop,” she said.
Vihstadt and Howze agreed that residents should have a chance to vote yes or no on the project — Howze was one of the first Democrats to call for a referendum — but the Arlington County Board voted 3-2 against that request in June.
The two men, who live in adjacent North Arlington neighborhoods, were polite during their joint appearances at candidate forums. But their vigorous campaigns threatened to divide what is normally a solidly Democratic community.
Every elected official in Arlington, other than Vihstadt, is a Democrat. The county hasn’t supported a Republican presidential candidate since 1980, and the April special election to fill the unexpired term of Chris Zimmerman (D) was the first time in 15 years that a non-Democrat won a county board seat.
Howze, a less dynamic campaigner than Vihstadt, had the support of Arlington’s powerful Democratic establishment even before he won a February caucus for the party’s nomination. But he couldn’t match Vihstadt in campaign donations — Howze raised $85,154 to Vihstadt’s $137,063 as of two weeks ago.
The outcome of the County Board election will not change the five-member board’s decisions on the streetcar projects, because only one of the other four members, Libby Garvey (D), opposes it.
Streetcar critics are looking to next November, when incumbents Mary Hynes (D) and J. Walter Tejada (D), both proponents of the project, will be finishing their terms and stepping down or facing reelection.
In Arlington School Board races, Barbara Kanninen defeated Audrey Clement. Nancy Van Doren was unopposed. Carla de la Pava was unopposed in her campaign for county treasurer.
A majority of Arlington voters were supporting all four bond issues. The bond issues will finance up to $60.2 million for Metro and transportation (not including the streetcar); up to $13 million for local parks and recreation; up to $39 million for sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, information technology and other capital improvements; and up to $105.8 million for the design and construction of new elementary schools.
Susan Svrluga contributed to this report.