Local Commentary

Our Man In Arlington

Last Tuesday’s Washington Post brought the death notice of Joel T. Broyhill, long-time Republican Congressman from Arlington, which was then in the 10th Congressional District.

Broyhill was the pre-eminent political figure in Arlington when I first began to get involved in Arlington Democratic politics in the late 1960’s. While he faced a couple of significant challenges in his congressional career, most of us felt he was virtually unbeatable; such was his reputation for great constituent service.

These were the days before Arlington Democrats developed a reputation for being virtually unbeatable (which we are not, but that’s another story).

Broyhill, the scion of the family that virtually created residential Northern Virginia after World War II, was the first to be elected to the newly-created 10th Congressional District in 1952. He defeated Democrat Edmund Campbell, another Arlington political and civic icon along with his wife Elizabeth, the founder of WETA.

During his twenty-four year Congressional career, Broyhill developed a reputation as a solid conservative, though not radically so, and provider of excellent, non-partisan, constituent service.

For example: In the mid 1960’s, the son of the chair of the Arlington Democratic Committee and leader of the Broyhill opposition led a student group from the University of Michigan to one of the large anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in Washington.

During the course of the demonstration, they became separated from their host. They had no telephone numbers, no addresses, only the fact that their leader’s mother was a prominent political leader in Arlington.

So they trouped up the Hill, looking only as anti-war demonstrators could in those days, and went to the local congressman’s office to inquire if the staff knew their friend’s mother and how they could get to her house. Yes indeed! Broyhill’s staff gave them coffee and doughnuts, took them on a tour of the Capitol, called for cabs, and paid the cabbies to take them where they had to go.
It’s was awfully difficult to lead a campaign against him after that!

In 1972, Virginia’s Democratic Senator Bill Spong was up for re-election. Broyhill, and several other Republican leaders, felt Spong was unbeatable and chose not to run for the Republican nomination. The nomination went to Congressman William Scott, who had been proclaimed the “dumbest member of Congress” by a Capitol Hill publication. Scott went on to prove the publication’s point by holding a press conference denying that he was the dumbest member of Congress.

Broyhill would have won the nomination in a walk.

Then two things happened: George McGovern got the Democratic nomination for President, and we found that Bill Spong could not organize his way out of a paper bag. Spong lost to Scott in November. If Broyhill had run for the Republican nomination, he probably would have been a Virginia Senator to the day he died.

Two years later, Watergate had turned the 10th Congressional District away from Republican leadership and toward Democrat Joseph Fisher, who had been a distinguished chair of the Arlington County Board. Fisher edged Broyhill out of the seat, and Broyhill returned to private life.

He stayed active in the community, though, along with his lovely wife, Suzanne, who is a major leader for the arts in Arlington and Virginia. We will miss Joel Broyhill.