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New Era of Fiscal Sanity for Arlington County Board?

After winning yesterday's special election with 57% of the vote, independent John Vihstadt deserves many kudos for his well-run campaign. A campaign that focused on issues that we have frequently growled about.

At the Arlington Sun Gazette's new InsideNoVa website today, Scott McCaffrey's began his "day after" reporting this way:

"All sides in the Arlington political spectrum may be waking up with hangovers today, but for different reasons: Supporters of independent John Vihstadt celebrated the night away, while the Arlington Democratic establishment finds itself itself punch-drunk after losing its first County Board race since 1999.

"Riding an apparent wave of voter discontent, Vihstadt on Tuesday easily defeated Alan Howze to win the County Board seat vacated in February by Chris Zimmerman."

Meanwhile, at ARLnow.com. the lede in Ethan Rothstein's reporting was:

"As the dust settles from Republican-backed independent John Vihstadt’s victory in the Arlington County Board special election last night, those in and around Arlington politics are surveying what could be a new political landscape.

"Vihstadt won by a significant margin — 57 percent to Democrat Alan Howze’s 41 percent — in a special election that saw an unofficial tally of 22,209 votes. Democrats saw the result partly as a result of not enough voter turnout, while Vihstadt’s supporters — Republicans, Democrats, Greens and independents among them — viewed the election as a referendum of County Board policy.

“John’s overwhelming victory tonight is a testament to the growing number of Arlingtonians who are tired of a County Board that dictates its own priorities instead of listening to the voices and concerns of the community,” the Arlington County Republican Committee, said in a press release.

“Despite attempts to nationalize the issues in this race, the principles of fiscal responsibility and local project prioritization won out — and with a 15-point lead,” Arlington-Falls Church Young Republicans President Matt Hurtt said in a press release. “John is perfect for the job, and will bring balance to an overwhelmingly Democrat-controlled county government.”

Rothstein also reported:

"One local political observer, who preferred to remain anonymous, said Vihstadt’s victory was attributable to strong fundraising efforts, his experience and his liberal position on social issues, among other factors. The observer also said Democrats may have been distracted by the June primary in the 8th District congressional race.

“I think the thing to watch will be the CIP, due out soon,” the observer said. “Will there be a financing plan finally put forth for the Pike streetcar? What will be proposed . . . for the Aquatics Center? Garvey and Vihstadt have common ground here — what will the other three do?”

The Washington Post's Patricia Sullivan and Rohan Nadkarni provide a comprehensive overview of yesterday's special election, and astutely observe:

"The wide margin of victory surprised Vihstadt, a real estate lawyer at a D.C. firm, who noted that most of Virginia’s Democratic establishment lined up for Howze and offered him campaign appearances, phone calls and financial support.

"Vihstadt countered the party’s overwhelming strength in Arlington by telling voters that the board would benefit from fresh thinking and a more skeptical approach to spending tax dollars on costly projects such as streetcars and high-end swimming pools.

“They threw everything they could at us,” Vihstadt said Tuesday evening from a neighbor’s home, where he was celebrating. “We forged a true coalition of Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians and independents who yearn for accountability, transparency, fiscal responsibility and balance rather than a continuation of the echo chamber and status quo.”

The Washington Post pair also observed:

"The last time a non-Democrat was elected to the Arlington County Board was in 1999. Republican Mike Lane won a special election and was defeated in the next general election. Except for Vihstadt, all of Arlington’s elected officials are Democrats.

"Tuesday’s election may have focused on local issues more than ideology, however. Vihstadt hit the County Board hard over its support of the Columbia Pike streetcar, a $1 million bus stop, the over-budget Long Bridge Aquatics Center and other capital projects."

Finally, at the very far left blog, Blue Virginia, lowkell opines on the "winners and losers" from yesterday's special election. Some of the entries are to be expected. Others, however, are surprising even to this 26-year county resident. His choice for Loser #1 was former Board Member Chris Zimmerman. He also links to some interesting observations at the political blog, Not Larry Sabato.

It will be interesting to watch the next several meetings of the Arlington County Board. We trust he will carry forward with his focus on fiscal responsibility, and not just on the two most prominent of the current Board's vanity projects, i.e., Columbia Pike trolly folly and the Aquaticsphere. Also important will be seeing where the full Board follows his call for an independent internal audit function to evaluate programs' efficiency and economy. Another area where Vihstadt can focus is to support greater disclosure of county spending and reviewing just how real estate assessments relate to sales prices, including getting to the bottom of the skyrocketing assessments at Clarendon's restaurants, which was reported by ARLnow.com on February 26, 2014.

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