Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


It was an anxiety-ridden, but fruitful year in Arlington. My selected highlights for 2017:

In January, the Donald Trump Inauguration across the river drew smaller crowds than the one the next day for the pink-hatted women’s march. The entrance to the East Falls Church Metro was so jammed – the trains passing through already full – you couldn’t pull over to drop anyone off.

In February, a month after President Trump unveiled the first of several attempts to legally crack down on undocumented immigrants and refugees, county manager Mark Schwartz issued a statement detailing the limits of Arlington’s cooperation with the Homeland Security Department. The new polices had a powerful effect on Arlington due to its large and multilingual immigrant population. Churches and nonprofits stepped in to help, though the issue remains uncomfortable due to compassion fatigue and fear of terrorism.

In March, county preservationists, board members and community activists dedicated a marker on the old segregation wall’s remnants in the historically black neighborhood of Halls Hill. Also, the county gave up on developing the 118-year-old Reeves farmhouse in Bluemont Park, which it had purchased in 2001. The planned sale disappointed some neighbors who wanted an outdoor education center.

In April, Arlington embarked on an 18-month commemoration of the centennial of the U.S. entry into World War I. The task force faces a tough call on whether to update the segregated monument to the fallen in Clarendon.

In April, Natalie Hughes, owner of the Bookhouse used book shop, closed it after four decades. That came after the shuttering of other familiar businesses (the Ballston Mazda dealer, Hard Times Café and Iota music club in Clarendon, among others. Casual Adventure got another reprieve).

In May, Erik Gutshall defeated three others to win the all-but-determinative Democratic primary for county board—his second try. He went on to win in November.

In June, the Yorktown girls soccer team won the Virginia state championship.

In July, the county Board authorized a contract to replace and modernize the Lubber Run Community Center, built in 1956 at Park and North George Mason Drive.

In August, neo-Nazis descended on Dominion Hills Shopping center for a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the killing of American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell. Neighbors responded movingly that evening with a Facebook-driven flash mob counter-rally.

In September, the county board – in a first – tightened regulations on wild exotic pets.

In October, the board expanded the freedom for homeowners to erect accessory dwelling units. That’s one solution to disappearing affordable housing, though not popular with all in upscale residential areas.

In November, Arlington Democratic activists made national news helping elect Ralph Northam governor and converting slews of assembly seats (Arlington delegates Patrick Hope and Rip Sullivan were unopposed.) Also, after years of debate, the board approved a contract for the controversial but now less-expensive version of the Long Bridge Park aquatic center.

In December, new dynamic rush-hour tolling began on I-66, the shifting price tag for solo-drive trips a shock to some. But there were few signs of feared rerouted traffic clogging parallel arteries.

Finally, a 150 supporters gathered Dec. 13 for a farewell to Jay Fisette after his 20 years on the county board. “Arlington didn’t need to be gayer,” joked our mutual friend Bob Witeck, so he made it “greener and greater.”

Onward to 2018!


Washington-Lee High School took some hits this year from critics who charged that its namesake Robert E. Lee is a symbol of racism.

This fall I heard Peg True, a W-L graduate now a resident of Goodwin House retirement community, recall the Christmas of 1953 — the year before the Supreme Court’s ruling against school segregation.

Her W-L choir, she told me, performed Handel’s “Messiah” with African American counterparts at the old Hoffman-Boston High School. At the time, that touching act was illegal.