Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

In the last couple of weeks, Arlington Democrats felt the tremors of a political shift among some of the key players that will be interesting to watch, even if it is not quite as momentous as implied by the venerable Arlington Sun Gazette.

First came the much anticipated (at least among the cognoscenti) announcement from David Bell that he will not seek an unprecedented fifth term as Clerk of the Circuit Court of Arlington and Falls Church. Considering that a term in this case is eight years, Dave has been a fixture at the courthouse for a very long time.

He retires as the longest serving constitutional officer in Virginia’s history. Not bad for a guy who, when elected, was one of the youngest constitutional officers in Virginia’s history.

David came to Arlington fresh out of Pennsylvania State University in 1971 and immediately landed a job as clerk in the office of H. Bruce Green who had been Clerk of Court since the Flood. David was elected to the office in 1977, after having served as the appointed clerk upon the retirement of Green and the elevation of his successor to a judgeship.

I was chair of the Arlington Democratic Committee when David came into Arlington. He immediately became very active in the Arlington Young Democrats and was one of a group that included future Sheriff Jim Gondles, current Arlington Treasurer Frank O’Leary, and future House of Delegates leader Warren Stambaugh that converted the Young Democrats from a largely social organization into the active political organization it remains today.

Because of many nationally recognized innovations in his office, David has become one of the most highly respected clerks of court in the country.

Soon after David announced his retirement, current County Board Chair Paul Ferguson announced that he would run for clerk rather than seek another term on the County Board. Again, this was no surprise among the cognoscenti. Paul had been talking to friends about seeking a full-time political job (the County Board is strictly part-time) and jumped at the chance when David announced his retirement. He is particularly well-qualified for the job with a law degree from George Mason University (where he studied with my daughter and son-in-law) and a deep knowledge of Arlington civic life.

Finally, since Arlington politics will not put up with a vacuum for more than ten seconds, recently retired Arlington School Board Member Mary Hynes announced that she will run for the Ferguson seat on the County Board.

It is not clear whether any of these candidates will be opposed for the respective Democratic nominations. I doubt that they will. And no Republican has to my knowledge announced for any of the offices. The most popular and effective (actually, only) Republican officeholder in Arlington (who is officially an Independent), retiring School Board Member and former Chair David Foster, has apparently eschewed running for anything else – at least this year.

In terms of offices, this year’s election is the largest in Arlington’s four-year cycle. Five commonwealth’s offices, two County Board Seats, four House of Delegates seats, two State Senate seats and one School Board seat are up for grabs. Most of these (the School Board being the single exception) will probably be lightly contested or not contested at all – since they are all held by popular incumbents, (again, with the exception of the School Board).

It is an interesting fact of modern Arlington political life that our most active election year will probably be its quietist.