Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


 Because it’s spitting distance from the political city, Arlington has long been a crossroads for presidents and those who aspire to the gig.

This election year our fair county appears a near-lock for Democrats. (Stop the presses!) But a scan back through history during my sentient lifetime shows plenty of prominent Republican candidates who’ve committed politics here on Arlington soil.

This year’s man, Mitt Romney, blew through on May 2, 2009, when he appeared at the Pie-Tanza pizza parlor at Lee-Harrison shopping center. He spoke at a “town hall” before cameras with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. Footage was broadcast on “The Daily Show” and the pizza staff still talk about it.

George W. Bush established a more substantive presence in Arlington when he set up the 2004 Bush-Cheney reelection headquarters in a high-rise on Wilson Boulevard. He also made his local mark the time in 2001 when he dined on Tex-Mex at the El Paso Café at 4235 N. Pershing Drive. The proprietors still keep his chair on display.

(Before he became president, Bush the younger was spotted in 1988 with his father in an Arlington Chinese restaurant. Bush the elder would have passed through Arlington on any number of occasions on his way to his favorite Chinese restaurant on Route 7 in Falls Church, and earlier on his way out to CIA headquarters in Langley.)

President Reagan, like dozens of predecessors, appeared often at Arlington Cemetery, and in 1980 set up his Reagan for President headquarters on St. Highland Street. (In his private life, Reagan had two other Arlington connections: During his presidency he dined frequently at the Rock Spring Road home of his longtime aide Nancy Reynolds, and years earlier, his daughter Maureen briefly attended what today is Marymount University.)

President Obama may have set the modern record for personal appearances in Arlington. Call them field trips to promote school reform—with a smattering of politics. Over his three-plus years, Obama has made appearances at Wakefield High School, at Washington-Lee High, and at Long Branch Elementary, where he read aloud from his children’s book.

(W-L, during the 2008 campaign, was also the site of a well-publicized visit by Obama’s then-rival, Hillary Clinton, whose own campaign headquarters were on Arlington’s North Fairfax Drive.)

More tantalizing was Obama’s 2009 meal at Ray’s the Steaks restaurant on Wilson Boulevard, which he followed up in 2010 by bringing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to the affiliated Ray’s Hell Berger.

John Kerry, the Democratic standard-bearer in 2004, arrived in 2006 to boost the Senate candidacy of fellow Vietnam War veteran Jim Webb—the two appeared near Webb’s headquarters in Clarendon with all manner of Arlington officials.

The peripatetic Bill Clinton doubtless zoomed through Arlington uncounted times. I’ve got a report of him speaking at the Crystal City Marriott in February 2011 at the Agriculture Department’s Agricultural Outlook Forum.

And the 2000 nominee Al Gore for decades lived in Arlington, in the Aurora Hills neighborhood.

My earliest memory of a national candidate sighting took place at National Airport in the fall of 1968. There on the tarmac, I watched as Democratic hopeful Hubert Humphrey stepped out of a plane. An exuberant woman from his campaign led the crowd in the theme song: “Let everyone here kindly stand up and cheer!” 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at cclarkjedd@aol.com