Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpAh, Election Day. Autumn leaves tumbling ‘round yard signs, canvassing in chilly air… Oops.

For one district in Arlington, Election Day currently means Tuesday, Aug. 19. Voters must select the successor to state Del. Bob Brink, who decamped after 17 years to join the McAuliffe team as deputy commissioner for aging services.

Democrats, who’ve owned the seat that includes parts of McLean, were miffed in late June when House Speaker Bill Howell announced the hurry-up schedule. “It’s a real shame that the speaker chose to put it on Aug. 19 rather than Nov. 4,” said Arlington Democratic chair Kip Malinosky, noting that under the Virginia code, parties had a week to name a candidate. “Unfortunately, we are going to have to expedite this process in a way no one finds ideal.”

So after rushing out word for caucuses at Yorktown and McLean high schools, the Democrats’ eventual winner (1,111 votes out of 2,126) was attorney Richard “Rip” Sullivan. “August is when most people are either at the beach or taking their kid to college,” he told a private Democratic gathering.

Republicans on July 6 coalesced quickly around the better-known Arlington school board veteran and attorney Dave Foster. The speed-dating campaign was on.
This is a year when cramming in an off-season election can blow up conventional wisdom. Witness the elevation of independent John Vihstadt to the County Board and the shellacking of high-flying Republican Rep. Eric Cantor.

I phoned Speaker Howell and asked if scheduling for low turnout was in his playbook.

“That’s absurd,” he said. “It’s not in our interest to have low turnout. We did it because there’s another race on that date, and we thought we’d get both done the same time.” That other race involves the 90th House district in Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

Foster noted there’s a third special race Aug. 19, for the Senate seat from the 38th district in southwestern Virginia. That date was picked by the Democratic Senate leader, Foster told me. “I’d like to think when the most motivated and informed voters dominate, I do well. I’m well known in Arlington after eight years on the school board.”

By the night of Aug. 19, the debate will be moot.

I asked Foster, who gained stature as president of Virginia’s Board of Education, whether his campaign in Demville Arlington might be hurt by his work for defeated gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli. No, he said, “Arlingtonians know me well. I’ve helped a lot of people around the Commonwealth, and that’s why I will be effective as delegate for the 48th.”

Sullivan disagrees with Foster on how to expand Medicaid, address climate change and reduce income equality. But Sullivan’s loudest rap is that Foster soft-pedals how a Foster victory would thrill Richmond’s right wing. “If you look at his website,” Sullivan said Aug. 4, “Foster would love for the Arlington streetcar to be the biggest issue. Let’s remember that if he’d had his way, we’d have three different names” atop Virginia’s government –Cuccinelli, Mark Obenshain and E.W. Jackson.


During a walk by my daughters’ elementary school, memories were jogged by the sight of the fund-raising bricks on the ground in the front garden. Ours of 15 years ago read “We Loved Tuckahoe.” Other bricks recall friends who’ve gone through career changes, divorce, death. The adventure of parenthood.