Should Arlington push to innovate, to find ways to improve the lives of residents? Or, should it do less, more slowly, and more fearfully? This is the question facing voters in November’s election for Arlington County Board. We think the answer is the former, and Arlingtonians should elect Matt de Ferranti.
De Ferranti, the Democratic nominee, has emphasized crafting a “new vision for Arlington’s future.” He brings a wide array of professional experiences - small city attorney, teacher/education advocate, affordable housing activist - that are pertinent to the challenges Arlington faces.
When we interviewed him for the primary, de Ferranti emphasized building housing that would be affordable across a variety of incomes and available to younger workers who can build income and own homes in the future. He was also confident about the county’s ability to provide housing and resources for those experiencing homelessness.
He said that leaders needed to be “relentless” about listening to residents, and to have shared values that can help leaders make decisions to help all residents “across income spectrums.”
De Ferranti was also cognizant of the different obstacles the board faces, saying, “[We need to] find the best ways to embrace growth that are mindful of the challenges implicit in it. There are inevitably [going to be] challenges with growth, but we shouldn’t shy away from them and we should be willing to invest in the future.”
Contrast this with John Vihstadt, the incumbent member of the Arlington County Board who is running as an independent. When we interviewed him and asked what his top achievements were, he cited creating an Inspector General for the county and shutting down projects he called wasteful. He didn’t list any positive achievements that moved the county forward.
Vihstadt has played the role of skeptic on the County Board, rarely leading on any issue but interrogating proposals before deciding to cast a vote. While asking questions is important and valuable (and we have no problem with an Inspector General ensuring taxpayer money isn’t spent fraudulently), Vihstadt has not pushed for a positive vision of his own.
Instead, he said, some of his constituents have even criticized those times he does decide to vote with his colleagues on the County Board. This is a small segment of Arlington voters, overrepresented in some online comment sections, who think the board just needs to be more fractious and less productive. These are residents for whom the schools, transportation, and housing are perfectly fine and who like to see political fireworks. But if Arlington chooses to embrace the status quo, rather than seeking to strengthen and integrate today’s vibrant and diverse communities to better prepare for tomorrow’s, it risks a slow devolution towards stratification as a wealthy, close-in enclave of DC.
On transportation, Vihstadt rode opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar to victory in 2014, but then was much less vociferous in pushing for improved bus service in its place. It has taken nearly four years for bus improvements to be rolled out. Had he used his bully pulpit to keep the pressure on, it’s highly likely solutions would have been advanced more quickly
Some Vihstadt supporters we know have said they feel county staff aren’t very responsive, and that Vihstadt stands up for them. We tried to ask about this in our interview, though Vihstadt didn’t take the opportunity to really opine on county staff responsiveness at that time. Others have argued that Vihstadt’s role there is skin deep; he critiques staff proposals for programs without bringing his own plans in their place. In our interview, he clearly embraced this role of interrogator and a brake on county activities.
He did suggest that he’d be open to “a conversation” about allowing multi-family housing including affordable housing in single-family areas, though he wouldn’t say if he’d ultimately support such an idea or not. This is similar to his previous stance on accessory apartments, where he did support loosening rules on basement units but opposed a related provision to allow them in garages or other external buildings outside the existing home’s footprint.
Arlington cannot afford to rest on its laurels and quibble over marginal improvements, or worse, backtrack on important existing programs that help to make Arlington a safer, more accessible, and healthy community. Voters should choose Matt de Ferranti on November 6.
This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our board and other volunteer committees.