A well-funded Democratic political insider faces two independent candidates for an open seat on the Arlington County Board on Tuesday in what has been a low-key contest compared with recent local elections.
Democrat Erik Gutshall won over three others in a party caucus in May after losing a hard-fought general election for another board seat in 2016. He has raised $54,889 including money from board chairman Jay Fisette (D), who is stepping down from the board after nearly 20 years to create the open seat.
Gutshall faces two independents, perennial candidate Audrey Clement and a newcomer, Charles McCullough, who has positioned himself as an independent progressive seeking to include people who feel left out of the community’s discussions and decision-making. Clement has raised $14,675 for her campaign; McCullough has raised $12,516.
As chairman of the local planning commission and owner of a home improvement business, Gutshall says he is consistently hearing Arlingtonians’ worries about affordability and livability in the county. He said updating outdated zoning will allow more creative development to help fill those needs. He also said he is committed to increasing transparency in county government and restoring trust in local government.
The past several County Board elections have seen more uproar than is normal in this Democratic-dominated suburb. In 2014, Republican-turned-independent John Vihstadt reversed 15 years of all-Democratic control of the County Board in a spring special election; he triumphed again in the general election. Two sitting Democrats left the board in 2015 and were replaced by two younger Democrats. Another incumbent Democrat, Libby Garvey, repelled Gutshall in a rare primary challenge in 2016 and went on to win reelection.
Clement, who has run unsuccessfully for public office seven times in the past 14 years, was once a Green Party candidate but lost their endorsement to McCullough. She said she is unhappy with the existing two-party system. Her platform emphasizes basic services, tax relief, promotion of renewable energy in public schools and consolidation of the county’s housing programs.
A resident of one of the Westover garden apartments that is slated for demolition next year, Clement has consistently advocated for more support for affordable housing. She criticizes the county’s practice of applying unused surplus budget money to unfunded or underfunded projects chosen by the board or county manager.
McCullough, like Clement, is critical that the county gave $6 million in incentives to attract Nestle to Arlington. He arguesthe money should have been used to help small businesses. An attorney who has worked as director of the Australian National University at that country’s embassy, McCullough argued at several campaign appearances this fall that Metro should only get dedicated funding if it meets stringent safety standards.
He says developers are not charged enough to pay for their impact on the community, and he argues that the county needs a unified approach to address its housing affordability crisis, including encouraging land trusts and cooperatives to help overcome high land costs.
Correction: A previous version of this story gave the wrong 2017 campaign contribution numbers for two candidates. Erik Gutshall raised $54,889; Audrey Clement raised $14,675. Also, the county spent $6 million in incentives to attract the Nestle Corp.; the state matched that incentive money.