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March 27 special election offers rare chance for Arlington GOP

For at least the past three decades, low-turnout special elections have offered the only opportunities for Republican candidates to win a seat on the Arlington County Board.

In April 1993, the late Ben Winslow, a Republican party member running as an independent, narrowly defeated Jay Fisette in a special election to fill the seat vacated by County Board member Bill Newman, who became (and remains) a judge. Winslow was unable to retain his seat in the general election of November 1995.

In an April 1999 special election to fill the seat vacated by Al Eisenberg (who had been elected to the House of Delegates), Republican nominee Mike Lane defeated Democrat Charles Monroe by fewer than 200 votes. Lane lost his seat in that year’s November election, in which Monroe was elected to a full term.

Last November, Arlington County Board member Barbara Favola was elected to succeed state Senator Mary Margaret Whipple (herself a former County Board member), creating a vacancy that will be filled next Tuesday, March 27, in a special election with three candidates: Green Party nominee Audrey Clement, Democrat Libby Garvey, and Republican Mark Kelly.

I ran into Kelly at CPAC last month and talked to him about his campaign. This is the second time he’s sought a seat on the Arlington County Board. The first time was [1] in the general election of 2010, when he came in second in a three-way race dominated by longtime incumbent Chris Zimmerman. (All the election statistics in this article are drawn from records [2] posted by the Arlington County General Registrar’s office, going all the way back to the Cox-Harding election of November 2, 1920.)

In his campaign, Kelly is targeting Republican and independent voters whose primary concerns are fiscal responsibility and transportation. He explained some of those concerns in an interview with me [3].

When Kelly talks to citizens around Arlington County about priorities, “wasteful spending” comes up often in conversation. Another example is “what happened with the Artisphere in Arlington” (a performance and gallery space), “which has failed despite heavy subsidies by the county.”

What Kelly has learned is that “people want to see the county board focus more on core services – public safety, education, transportation, not so much on these vanity projects.”

Transportation, he pointed out, is “a big issue in Arlington. Recently there’s been some pushback against the HOT lanes lawsuit, in which the county “spent about a million and half dollars in tax dollars on lawyers to fight” high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 395.

Voters have a particular interest in transit and whether it meets their needs or not.

Kelly also noted the plan to build a trolley or light-rail streetcar up Columbia Pike, which he agreed is 19th century technology for 21st century problems.

The project, he said, has “been studied to death and right now,” if a planned trolley stop in Fairfax County does not get built, transit ridership (bus and trolley combined) “won’t really increase” despite spending “over $300 million on this project” without improving “any of the congestion that’s actually taking place on the Pike.”

Consequently, Kelly emphasized, “that’s a very unpopular project across Arlington, and for good reason.”

Bearing Drift readers who are interested in learning more about Mark Kelly’s campaign for the Arlington County Board can find information at kellyforarlington.com [4].