Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnp“Since this is the 2200th county board candidate debate, I brought my family,” joked Democratic candidate Christian Dorsey as four who hope to help govern Arlington appeared Oct. 21 at the Committee of 100.

Their evening advertisements for themselves – some familiar, some fresh two weeks before the Nov. 3 balloting – were preceded by behind-the-scenes drama.

Scott McCaffrey, the able Sun-Gazette editor and my friendly competitor, was originally to moderate the debate for the civics and banquet club that never endorses candidates. But the day before, his newspaper published with an editorial endorsing Republican-turned-independent Mike McMenamin.

This bothered the committee’s officers. So McCaffrey was disinvited as moderator, duties for which were handled by committee board chair Brian Marroquin. He credibly pressed candidates for examples whenever they sloganized vaguely.

In the to-and-fro over taxes, affordable housing, transportation and schools, all four candidates came across as intelligent and experienced. But I suspect the two winners – in an era when the ground is shifting under Arlington’s Democratic establishment – will be those who speak dynamically and approach the job as problem-solvers more than ideologues.

It doesn’t hurt to throw a sharp elbow. McMenamin and independent (formerly Green Party candidate) Audrey Clement blasted the current county board for overspending and an office vacancy rate at 21 percent (as dramatized, said Clement, who lives in Westover, by Arlington’s loss of tenants from the National Science Foundation, the Fish and Wildlife Service and, more recently, the Transportation Security Administration).

But Dorsey and fellow Democrat Katie Cristol turned their sights, subtly, on their electoral opponents. Cristol cast doubt on McMenamin’s generalizations about finding “efficiencies” in the school budget by removing duplication in snowplowing and computer services. “Be cautious about candidates who want to step outside the county budget and scrutinize the school budget,” she said.

McMenamin’s notion that a long-term solution for traffic on Columbia Pike is a new Metro line contradicts his opposition to greater density for affordable housing, said Cristol, who, like Dorsey, lives near the Pike.

Dorsey went after Clement’s “guesstimate” that the county’s affordable housing plan would cost $150 million, calling it a scare tactic. “If you actually read the plan, your concerns would be alleviated,” he said. “It goes through a litany of ways to pay according to our ability and triage tools – it doesn’t mandate a cent.”

Both independents called for cutting business taxes. “Arlington has not been business-friendly,” said McMenamin, who lives in Maywood.

He objected to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s plan to raise tolls on single-occupancy cars on I-66. “Why come do business in Arlington if it costs so much to get to work?” Cristol claimed a contradiction in her opponents’ plans to cut taxes while also rebuilding infrastructure.

One thing they all agreed on was a need to loosen rules on “accessory dwellings” so that more seniors and young people could afford living in residential areas.

Clement played the intellectual gadfly, saying the county “blindsided” the community on rezoning upper Rosslyn. McMenamin, who is endorsed by streetcar-slayer John Vihstadt, echoed Vihstadt’s skepticism on spending. He complained “the community gets in at the back end of process.”

Dorsey and Cristol want a new approach to marquee project spending but align with incumbents on affordable housing and transit.

Dorsey boasted he has the “temperament and experience to collaborate.” Perhaps that’s why all five current board members endorse him.


More on the shortest street in Arlington: Alert reader Bohdan Kantor double-checked me by tapping Google Earth measurements for my nominated N. Kansas and N. Lancaster streets.

Lancaster remains the shortest at 200 feet at its 36th Street location, but it picks up again at 14th Road and adds another 305 feet. Kansas weighs in at 440 feet, he reports.

Another Arlington shortie worth noting is N. Queens Lane, a 250-foot pedestrians-only stretch at Colonial Village dating to the 1930s. It shows up on maps like a normal road, Kantor says. (The novelty of Queen’s Lane also pointed out by my friend Fred Gosnell.)