Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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I dined this month with some Arlington “Democrats in exile” at a retirement community.

The gang of six senior citizens share decades of political savvy and commitment – the only problem being that their home at Goodwin House-Bailey’s Crossroads is 100 yards into Falls Church.

That renders them ineligible to vote and impact the Arlington battles they loved so well.

“It’s a sore spot,” said Ann Yarborough, a Washington-Lee High School graduate and daughter-in-law of Texas Sen. Ralph Yarborough who has volunteered in Arlington’s electoral registrar.

“All of us felt it was a considerable sacrifice but were willing because Goodwin House is so nice,” said Bill Bozman, the widower of the longtime County Board member Ellen Bozman who chaired Arlington’s United Way and Red Cross.

“We all know Goodwin House leans Democratic, but we don’t get into political arguments,” said Peg Lorenz, a civil rights activist, candidate driver and events “kitchen crew” leader. “But Democratic politicians love coming” to Goodwin House, which, though nonpartisan, is a voting station and venue for community forums. One reason for Arlington’s activism is its small size,” Lorenz added. “It’s not hard to get to know your leaders.”

Most of these exiled Democrats arrived in Arlington in the 1940s or 1950s when the flood of postwar federal employees was challenging the old Virginia, segregationist Byrd machine. The “Save Our Schools” campaign pressed for taxpayer investment in schools as many Arlington-based federal workers sent their kids to D.C. schools (Yarborough displayed a bus token from that era reading “Serving our students”).

The Democratic-dominated but nominally nonpartisan Arlingtonians for a Better County provided a way around the federal Hatch Act for federal employees who wanted to fight Byrd, noted Jack Cornman, an aide to U.S. Sen. Phil Hart, D-Mich., housing activist and strategist for campaigns of Joe Fisher and Joe Wholey. “We would talk across party lines except on the race issue,” Cornman said. Conservative Chevrolet dealer Bob Peck was the Dems’ favorite to accuse of dirty tricks.

Lucy Denney, who cut her teeth in the 1967 county board race in which the Democratic team of Fisher and Jay Ricks knocked off Republicans Hal Casto and Les Phillips, said Arlingtonians “used to disagree and work things out and compromise. Today’s board is less collegial.”

All agreed the most effective Arlington pol was Ellen Bozman. “Ellen ran her first campaign as an independent, and her base was the League of Women Voters,” said husband Bill.

Denney’s husband Jerry recalled the time Bozman’s kitchen team offered to make a salad for an event but had to dispense with lettuce due to the farmworkers’ boycott.

Donna Cornman, a longtime precinct coordinator, remembered Democrats stretching a single turkey into tetrazzini for 100 at a fundraiser, where typically donors not only paid for food but helped with trash and wash-up.

“The press never understood the politics of Arlington,” said Jack Cornman. “They thought we had a machine because we turned out voters in all kinds of weather. But there was no patronage under the county manager form of government. All you got was appointments to committees and commissions that kept you up late.”

One highlight, said Lorenz, was when Joe Wholey lost a 1992 primary for state delegate against fellow Democrat Judy Connally. “Wholey led a caravan to Judy’s house to congratulate her. That’s the Arlington Way.”

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This month marks the first anniversary of an Arlington eaterie built around two hot trends: catering to overscheduled families and crowdsourcing working capital.

Taste by Katie, in the Dominion Hills Shopping Center, offers “reheat and eat” pre-ordered fresh-cooked organic meals, samples of which recently passed muster with my middle-brow palette. The lamb meatballs, spring pasta, spicy barbecue and candied dates are just a few examples, with gluten-free and veggie options. Katie Gilman’s “global cuisine” is aimed at busy couples, the elderly and young folks still mastering cooking.

The afternoons-only operation is being funded by a website solicitation with 49 backers so far, with a goal of $30,000 by late May. It’s organized by Gilman’s fellow Yorktown High School alums. “The idea is to fill a void for people who would rather sit and watch the news and not do all the work,” Gilman says. With her parents currently pitching in as a labor of love, Taste by Katie has its sights set on rising like a soufflé in a fiercely competitive business.