In 2017, Virginia was the exciting spot for elections. In 2018, it’s quieter because of Virginia’s unusual statewide election timing. However, one of the nation’s most vulnerable Republican members of Congress is in increasingly blue Northern Virginia, and there will be important county legislative races in both Arlington and Alexandria.
As a city, Alexandria straddles many facets of the regional disparities in housing and transportation: Metro accessible around the edges, Beltway bounded, gridlocked highways. It has high incomes and high density towards DC, low incomes and high density to the west, and a wide swath of single family zoning in between. Alexandria’s population has grown at a faster rate than DC’s since 2010, and it shows no signs of slowing.
The King Street corridor in Old Town has both a higher-than-expected retail vacancy rate and consistent struggles with overcrowded roads near the waterfront on weekends. While the excellent Mt. Vernon Trail borders the eastern edge of town, bike path and trail connectivity further west is sporadic, lacking both access to larger regional trails and consistent connectivity in their own right.
The large apartment buildings near Eisenhower Metro station continue to exist amidst sparsely-connected vacant lots whose future remains indeterminate. Farther west, development is more dense adjacent to Van Dorn Metro station, but hemmed in by congested highways and interstates.
Alexandria's races: mayor and council
In Alexandria, the mayor is more akin to DC’s council chairman: first among equals in a legislative body. All members of the council are elected at-large, with the mayor being elected on a separate ballot.
Justin Wilson, an incumbent council member and Vice Mayor, is challenging the first-term incumbent Allison Silberberg, who unseated long-time mayor Bill Euille in the last race. Both Democrats, Silberberg and Wilson have frequently clashed in city council meetings over the past two years.
Silberberg was the lone dissenting vote against Wilson’s proposed 5.7 cent real estate tax rate increase, preferring the city manager’s more modest 2.7 cent proposal. Alexandria’s school had requested a significant budget increase to address capital outlays, while the city’s sewage and storm water infrastructure is in need of expensive remediation and repair. Silberberg was also one of two members to vote against rezoning the decrepit Ramsey Homes public housing for more, new housing.
Four of the six incumbent council members are running for reelection: Willie Bailey, John Chapman, Redella "Del" Pepper, and Paul Smedberg. Bailey is a single-term incumbent, while Pepper has been on the council for 33 years.
So far, at least six challengers have announced their intent to run: Dak Hardwick, Canek Aguirre, Mohamed "Mo" Seifeldein, Amy Jackson, Robert Ray IV, and Ashkan Bayatpour. All are Democrats.
Like many other parts of the Washington region, Arlington has a housing shortage and high cost of living. This past year, the county voted on whether to allow homeowners to build new accessory apartments, eventually voting to allow existing units to be rented out and to study their effects on the community. This issue will come up for a vote again this year. The County’s long-standing local funding for affordable housing projects is tapped out, even as more apartment rents become unaffordable.
Last year, the county and the US Army were discussing a land swap deal that would have supplied Arlington National Cemetery with room for expansion and the county room for development, but that deal fell apart. Another potential issue could be the proposed Crystal City pedestrian bridge that would give pedestrians a safe way to get to National Airport.
Transportation options will continue to play a big part in Arlington’s future. Since 2014, when the board voted against the Columbia Pike streetcar project, it has struggled to replace it. The latest proposal is a “premium transit network” of buses that will run more frequently down Columbia Pike. Additionally, the state recently awarded the county $17 million in grants from Virginia for various transit projects like the Ballston Metro station, improvements to bus stops, and the Shirlington and Pershing bridges. Without a larger Metro capital solution from the General Assembly and the region, Arlington’s budget will be highly constrained.
The race: county board
The Arlington County Board elects one or two members each year. This year, incumbent John Vihstadt is seeking re-election. He was first elected in 2014 as an independent during a special election.
He has two challengers so far: Attorney Matt de Ferranti, who grew up in McLean and has worked for Feeding for America and the National Indian Education Association. He is now Vice-Chair of the Arlington Housing Commission and chairs the Arlington Public Schools Budget Advisory Council. Chanda Choun is a cyber security expert and former member of the US Army who served in the Persian Gulf.
10th Congressional District
Republican incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock is a top target for national Democrats. Hillary Clinton won Virginia’s 10th District in 2016, 52-42 percent. The 10th stretches from McLean to the West Virginia border along the Potomac River along with a chunk farther south in Fairfax County, Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park.
A large portion of the population works in federal government-related and/or defense-related industries, and the voter base has shifted Democratic in recent years. The district helped elect Ralph Northam, and many state legislative seats in the district flipped to Democrats in 2017.
Comstock faces a primary challenger from the right in Shak Hill, who claims that Comstock is a Democrat in sheep’s clothing. Meanwhile, eight Democrats are vying for the privilege of running against Comstock in November. Their backgrounds vary greatly, as do their level of contributions. Those with war chests above $400,000 (in some cases far above) include current state Senator Jennifer Wexton, Army veteran Dan Helmer, former Obama State Department official Alison Friedman, Obama strategist Lindsey Stover, and former prosecutor Paul Pelletier. Much of the money has come from outside the district.
Traffic along increasingly congested roads with few good transit or bicycling alternatives is a major issue in the 10th, including the new I-66 tolls. So is housing affordability: most of the district is in the two most affluent counties in the nation by median income.
Given the tenor of the times, it is likely that the race will be most strongly defined by classic social issues like women’s health and gun control, as well as whether Congress should continue to be led by Republicans. Comstock has been walking a thin line on many of these issues every since her election four years ago.
The Virginia primaries will occur on June 12, 2018.
Correction: The initial version of this post said there were nine Democratic candidates in VA-10. Currently, there are just eight.