Not The Same Old Song And Dance
Arlington County candidates mix it up in a lively, informative and musical debate.
By By David Schultz
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Here’s something you’re unlikely to see at a political debate anywhere else in the country: a candidate forgoing her opening remarks to sing a duet with her twin sister.
This musical display was part of a lively and at times tense discussion of the issues at the annual Arlington County Civic Federation Debate last night.
Of course, the main attraction of the debate, held in a packed conference room in Virginia Hospital Center and broadcast on local public access television, was the glut of local candidates in attendance. Of the 21 state and local candidates whose names will be on Arlington ballots this November, 18 were in attendance at the Civic Federation debate.
HOWEVER, it appeared that many in the audience were there to hear only five people speak — the five candidates running for two seats on the Arlington County Board.
Billed as the “main event” by debate organizers, the candidates — Democrats Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes, Republicans Mike McMenamin and Joe Warren and Green Party candidate Josh Ruebner — engaged in a spirited discussion of the issues that became negative at times.
The three non-Democrats focused much of their rhetoric against Tejada, the current County Board Vice Chair and the only incumbent in the race.
Ruebner decried what he saw as the Board’s lack of progress in solving the affordable housing shortage, which he said has priced out many immigrant families from living in the county.
“Diversity is under extreme threat,” he said. “We have a diversity policy in Arlington and it’s called ‘Don’t let the door hit you on your way out to Woodbridge.’”
Warren, the only of the five candidates to have never run for public office before, drew a contrast between himself and the all-Democratic County Board, saying that “One-party monopoly control of the Board may no longer be what is in your best interests.”
When the topic of public funding for the arts was brought up, McMenamin criticized what he saw as the Board’s pandering to its constituents by promising to raise funding but not following through.
“I won’t make a promise and have it not come to fruition,” he said.
OF THE FIVE candidates, Tejada was the only one to voice unequivocal support for raising arts funding, describing Arlington as “a Mecca for the arts.” Even fellow Democrat Hynes, a longtime School Board member who is trying to make the leap to the County Board, said that “There’s not enough money to go around.”
While Tejada, who is in his first reelection campaign, was forced to deal with heavy criticism of his record, he never lost his cool and focused on emphasizing his governing philosophy which he said is based on “the principles of social and economic justice.”
“We have the lowest unemployment rate in Virginia. We have one of the lowest tax rates in Virginia,” he said. “[But] we must work together to provide housing opportunities for all residents.”
SPARKS FLEW between other candidates at the debate as well.
County Board Chairman Paul Ferguson (D), who is resigning at the end of this year to run for the Clerk of Courts position, received some criticism from his opponent, Republican Mark Kelly.
“My opponent has had 12 years [on the County Board] to try,” Kelly said, “But he has failed to show responsive leadership.”
Kelly cited his time as the Chief of Staff for former U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.) as evidence that he could “roll up [my] sleeves and lead people” in what he described as an “administrative position.”
Ferguson, for his part, focused on his vision for upgrading the technology systems in the Clerk of Courts office and cited his experience as an attorney as evidence that he is qualified for the job.
While both candidates gave plaudits to outgoing Clerk Dave Bell (D), who has been in the office for more than three decades, Ferguson mentioned his would-be predecessor’s name multiple times.
“Over the last 30 years, Dave Bell has done a great job,” he said. “I am proud to have his endorsement.” Ferguson added later that, “I have a lot of the same qualities that Dave Bell has.”
THE EVENING also featured a brief appearance by embattled Treasurer Frank O’Leary (D). The local Democratic Party voted to cut off all support for O’Leary earlier this summer after a campaign letter O’Leary mailed to voters caused an uproar among people who found it racially insensitive.
“I doubt there is anything I can say in two minutes that could improve your opinion of me,” said O’Leary, who is unopposed in the general election.
The debate ended on an unusual, if entertaining, note, so to speak.
Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy (D), who is unopposed for reelection, opted to sing a song about her platform rather than speak about it. She and her twin sister, Judith, teamed up on harmonies and an acoustic guitar to tell prospective voters, to the tune of The Everly Brothers’ “Devoted To You,” that “Arlington, you can count on me/For good service and efficiency/‘Cause of this I hope you’ll say/‘We’re voting for you.’”