Local Commentary

Our Man In Arlington

A few days ago, we received a letter from our friend, Arlington’s Treasurer Frank O’Leary. It was addressed “Dear Fellow Democrat.”

The first sentence laid it out. “I will no longer be participating in the events and activities of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.”

While O’Leary emphasized that he remained “committed to the Democratic Party, and the Democratic values that we share,” his letter outlined the reasons why he was cutting his formal ties with the local party that he helped build through the years.

The resignation was the culmination of a series of events that has roiled the party since a few days before the November election. O’Leary sent out a letter to four North Arlington precincts responding to what he considered an irresponsible letter by his opponent and concluding that his opponent was being strongly supported by eight minority (read Afro-American) churches, primarily in South Arlington.

It was a stupid statement – particularly coming from a person who, as far as I am concerned, does not have a shred of racial – or any other kind of prejudice (except, perhaps, a misguided loyalty toward Penn State). Chalk it up to a fiery Irish temperament that characterizes at least one other major area Democratic political leader whom I will politely not mention.

Many of us contacted O’Leary, expressing our disagreement and surprise. In the end, O’Leary agreed and apologized. Then followed a convoluted series of events in the local party apparatus that led to two resolutions condemning O’Leary, using what I consider highly questionable procedures prejudiced against O’Leary. The subsequent “campaign” (O’Leary was unopposed) had some nasty personal incidents that he attributed to personal animosities of some party leaders.

At a recent dinner, an old Arlington friend – active in politics (Republican), civic, and legal affairs expressed great concern that the Arlington Democratic Party was being controlled by a very small number of individuals who were in effect a very narrow oligarchy. Add to this the fact that Democratic candidates are usually selected in caucuses that rarely exceed 1500 votes and the county almost invariably votes Democratic, our elected officials are really selected by a very narrow group of individuals.

On top of this, growing concern has been expressed to me by many very active Democrats that the personal agendas of a very few party leaders have replaced the party agenda and thus endangering the future of the party in Arlington. This is reflected in the intensity of the “O’Leary Affair”.

As most readers of this column know I have high respect for the Arlington Democratic Party and its leadership. and have for more years than I can remember been involved in party governance from the top down. I am not as pessimistic as some about the direction of the party. We have dynamic Young Democrats, and what appears to be an open party process.

Nevertheless, I think it is high time that we examine our direction and future as a party to assure that we maintain our broad and progressive base and reduce to a minimum our personal antagonisms and vendettas. We have done this in the past. We can do it now. If we don’t, I fear for the future.