On October 7, 1997, the Arlington County Civic Federation (ACCF) sponsored Candidates Night Debates for the Arlington candidates running in the special election for Tuesday, November 4, 1997. This session included four County Board candidates to fill the unexpired term of Jim Hunter, who resigned his Board seat in September 1997. The candidates included Barbara Favola (Democrat), Joszet Hudson (Independent), Arlene Smith (Reform), and Ben Winslow (Republican). The candidates were given up to two minutes for opening statements, followed by six questions from the Civic Federation delegates. The president of the Civic Federation, Bill Nolden, asked candidate Barbara Favola to speak first on this panel.
Barbara Favola (D): "Thank you Bill. I'm running for the County Board because I care about our future. I want to make a good community even better. I offer vision of careful investment and public safety, in our families, in our neighborhoods, and in our economic vitality. With respect to public safety, I would promote the benefit of community policing to nearly every neighborhood in Arlington. I would implement education and prevention programs in the area of public safety.
With respect to families, the quality of our community is directly related to the quality of our schools. I will invest in our schools. Sometimes families need support systems, that may mean helping older and disabled individuals to remain independent. It may also mean providing adequate preschool and supervised after-school activities for our young people. I will invest in Arlingtonians in a sensible, careful, and cost effective way.
With respect to our neighborhoods, I will use my five years on the Arlington County Planning Commission, building on my experience to continue to support the open space master plan and to support our beautiful parks. I understand that neighbors in Arlington are concerned about cut through traffic and in-fill development and I will do my best to work with neighbors and the community at large to address these issues.
With respect to economic vitality, I will work to ensure that Arlington's economic future is sound by attracting and maintaining businesses in a neighborhood friendly manner. This plan is in stark contrast to my primary opponent, who as a board member voted against gun control, against schools and against parks. My vision builds on our strength of the community. It will leave our children in Arlington at a safe and livable with excellent schools and beautiful parks. This is your choice, this is your future. I ask for your vote on November 4th. I thank the Civic Federation for inviting us, and thank you for the very helpful event to host and it's nice to be here. Thank you."
Arlene Smith (Reform): "Good evening. Thank you for inviting me. We know that not one of us can replace Mr. Hunter. No one could, he's unique. But please know that I've lived in Arlington in three neighborhoods for 34 years. I've raised two children, volunteered and worked here, mostly in manufacturing and real estate. Arlington is my home town.
Earlier on in the Reform movement, I've heard the call and was elected to lead. Something had to be done about money management, about our deteriorating air and water, about our educational problems. So I've spent five years promoting the Reform movement. I've hosted forums, given TV interviews, chaired a rules committee, and organized meetings and rallies. Whatever it took. Today when you vote, you have on the ballot a state approved third party choice, the Virginia Reform Party.
You're thinking, who needs this. We have the Arlington Way. With all due respect, we haven't made waves. The real Arlington Way is orderly, check out the County Board meetings. The Arlington Way is friendly. You can see a lot of hugging and cheek kissing. And the Arlington Way is fun. I think we have more festivals per capita than any town around. Had King George known the secrets of success, we would all be enjoying the English language. But what's happened to democracy's basis?
Sure, you can vote. But try to assemble and other taxpayers. The County has no countywide room rental price list. It's case by case. Try to publicize your meetings. It's not allowed on County property. Speak at County Board meetings, you'll get no response. Go to the local papers, they're beholding to the County for ads. The press usually ignores us, sometimes they make mistakes. Running for office in Arlington County is intimidating. That's the real Arlington Way. When you vote November 4th, don't be thanking a great provider. This Arlington Way is not democracy. You can change that. Vote Arlene Smith for County Board."
Joszet Hudson (I): "Good evening, thank you for inviting me here to speak. I'm very excited about this town and looking forward to serving on the County Board. I've lived in Arlington for over 10 years. I've held various positions, primarily teaching here in areas of the community. And, also, I find its been very exciting to live in Arlington. However, there is room for improvement and creativity, and I hope along with diversity to bring those things to the County Board.
The areas that I would like to focus on while working on the County Board, include: economic prosperity and expanding opportunity; access to high quality education, public service, and facilities; bring a balance between access to convenient transportation and residential, commercial, and industrial growth; and leaving a peaceful and cultural environment in which to live.
So there are some particulars, which I'm very concerned about and that is seeing to it that all of our pre- schoolers are allowed to attend school and that school be formal. I've been down in Richmond for about four years and I came back about a year and a half ago and had acquired a four year old while down there. And I found that the cost of having him was like a mortgage payment. I'm very concerned about safety, I would like to ensure that we have more police, police on the streets. And that we do get rid of the crime and just make it a safe environment particularly for the elderly. So, I'm hoping that I will get your support and please vote for me on November 4th. Thank you."
Ben Winslow (R): "Good evening and thank you for inviting me to be here tonight. I want to share with you my vision of Arlington, a safe Arlington where people can work and play and walk in the streets in complete safety. That's why I will emphasize my program for public safety, including 50 more police on the streets over the next five years. Expanded community based policing with zero tolerance for violent crime. Coordinated services for at-risk youth to expanded neighborhood prevention programs and gang interdiction programs.
I want to have an educated Arlington with the best educational program in the nation, where children are provided the means to read effectively. I have had children in Arlington schools in the 70's, in the 80's, in the 90's and my last one will graduate in 2001. And then I've got a granddaughter. I will work with the School Board knowing that good strategic plans for our schools, spelling out what we want our students to be and how we will get there. More teachers in the schools will be 145 more, smaller class sizes to deal with the children's educational needs, strict performance standards with barrier testing at key points. And buildings that are planned for, adequate for the task of educating our most precious resource and getting rid of those modular units.
On economic development, I support establishing an Independent Economic Development Authority. Working closely with the neighborhood and business community to achieve orderly economic growth.
In my vision, our neighborhoods are the heart and soul of our community. I will support and ensure the integrity of our neighborhoods to restore the fragile balance of economy, cooperation, and goodwill necessary to maintaining the viability of our neighborhoods and recently trashed by our County Board. On housing, I have always supported the Home Ownership programs and strong welfare to work program. Unlike my opponent, I believe the true measure of success is the number of new homeowners we have helped and the number of people we have helped achieve economic independence. I will work to expand housing opportunities for our senior citizens as well.
This is my vision of Arlington. A safe, secure and caring community, free of crime and violence, vibrant and growing in tolerance and vitality. I have been on the Board, I have experience both business wise and politically and I believe I am the best person for the job at hand. Thank you."
Bill Nolden: "Our first questioner, Rohan [Samaraweera] to be followed by Susan Johnson."
Rohan Samaraweera: "I'm Rohan Samaraweera from the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association and my question deals with the use of county facilities. Actually, I think Mrs. Smith raised the issue, but we don't get as a civic association to use the Central Library for our meetings and it's located right in the middle of our neighborhood.
Right on their room reservation form it says civic associations need not apply. The Ballston Partnership gets to use it. George Mason University gets to use it. What will each of you do if you're on the Board to change this policy which has been adopted by someone on the library staff?"
Bill Nolden: "Anybody want to start that one out?"
Ben Winslow (R): "Sure. Rohan, I have always opposed that policy, I'll work hard to change it and we will make sure that it changes effectively. You ought to be allowed to meet in the library."
Joszet Hudson (I): "I also think that you should be allowed to use the library for your meetings. It's probably very convenient for you and I would work very hard to see that you are allowed to use the library."
Arlene Smith (Reform): "You should not only be allowed to use county facilities. There should be a master list that tells you what the price of a room or a square foot is, to rent the room if there is a charge, and a schedule should be public. Do you know that if you would like to go and [Audio tape changed here.] What I find amazing is that we teach our school children for 12 years to be involved in the process and let me tell you, the moment you get involved in the process, you find out that there is nowhere to meet, you cannot publicize your meetings and so forth. This has to go."
Barbara Favola (D): "Rohan, I certainly believe that citizen groups should have access to our community buildings or our public buildings. I think you should talk to the library staff and see what the issue is, and why it has not been made available. I am very surprised. Clearly, citizens have always had access."
Rohan Samaraweera: "Well, we've done that."
Barbara Favola (D): "Well, when I'm on the Board, I will work to make that happen."
Rohan Samaraweera: "Thank you."
Susan Johnson: "My name is Susan Johnson, I'm president of the Columbia Forest Civic Association. I'd like to ask the candidates what in their mind would be the most appropriate measures to control what many people feel has been a run away social spending indulged in by the County over the past several years. We have been enduring annual tax hikes. This has not been matched by an increase in responsiveness on the part of County staff and officials, and I believe that spending has been occurring to the detriment of other programs."
Bill Nolden: "Barbara, you want to start? We will start on this end this time."
Barbara Favola (D): "Yes, I think many programs should be evaluated for both their effectiveness and their cost efficiency. I think one thing Arlington has done right regarding some service programs is support non-profits, to provide services purely inexpensively, but more importantly with private dollars as well as with public monies. There's a great deal of leverage in there.
The other thing the County has to do more of is to apply for private sector grants, as well as federal grant money which is available for many programs. The fact of the matter is to really reduce social spending in human services programs over the long run, it is a costly proposition. We are finding that out with welfare reform. You really have to invest money to help people get off the rolls and remain independent. We find we need to provide child care services and transportation services. A fair amount of counseling is needed for individuals, who are looking for jobs. So it does not come cheap to actually achieve a goal of getting somebody off of welfare. So I think that should be put on the table. And lastly, I want to say that the ancillary services provide food stamps or transportation. These are safety net services which help people maintain their livelihood. Many people are working at minimum wage jobs or less than minimum wage, and they need some support services so they can continue to work. And I think those programs are important."
Arlene Smith (Reform): "First, I think we should start with the awareness that people, who are fiscally conservative don't want to throw everyone overboard. I am proud of the fact that Arlington does not play roulette with its people who have needs. We are very thoughtful about it. And I am especially tickled by the success of the partnerships.
The answer to the question, however, how to curb run away spending I think is simply that we need more balance in the process politically. That's the fact of the matter. I happened to have gone one cold wintery wet evening to sit in on a Fiscal Affairs [Advisory] Commission meeting. Mr. Russo [John Rosso], the Republican, had a number of very thoughtful things after he had gone over the budget. I imagine most of the other people were of the other party.
At that point, there was a great deal of nodding and winking, and I winked at you, you make the motion, we all said aye. And it was like this, there wasn't any real discussion about anything. I'm not saying the people hadn't perhaps thought about it earlier, whatever. Perhaps, they had good reasons, but it just makes sense that if you want give and take and you want real authentic discussion you can't have all the people on your Board coming from the same mindset. That's the solution."
Joszet Hudson (I): "There definitely needs to be changes in the spending, but I think what has happened is that we tried to make these changes happen too quickly without taking all of the opinions, considerations, the effect it would have on certain people. So there are ways to stop some of the spending, but you've got to also look at do it over a slower period of time. I do have some ways in mind that I feel could be used to make changes in order that it would not be quite as much spending or spending. And, I will try to work very hard on making those changes. But not that it hurts, you know you are taking way from some groups to benefit or hurting other groups, so I think that all of this has to be looked at and that I don't think was done when certain decisions were made."
Ben Winslow (R): "I do think that social service spending has increased more rapidly than any other area of county government, and that's really a fact. But it was not runaway, it was carefully planned.
And, I think what we have to do careful planning to move it back in the other direction as well. And, I think that what we need to do is to establish strong welfare to work programs. We need to provide services to people who really need them, and there is no question on that. We cannot harm people to just make a point. But we do need that welfare to work program. We need to provide child care and the other ancillary services that are necessary to help people go back to work. But once they are there I think we ought to continue to move them towards more independence. And, I think it's the independence factor that we have to struggle for.
As far as residential is concerned, I think we need strong code enforcement, aggressive code enforcement on our housing. And, I'm tired of people coming in and talking to me when I was on the Board. I wasn't tired of it, but it just appalled me. People would come in and talk to me about apartment units where the doors were falling off, toilets didn't work, and it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. And nobody would do anything about it, and I think we need aggressive code enforcement to make sure that our housing is maintained at an appropriate standard. Then we wouldn't even have to worry about subsidized housing, because we would have an adequate housing supply for all of our people. For all of them."
Henriette Warfield: "Good evening. I'm Henriette Warfield, delegate from Yorktown Civic Association. I have a two-part question. First part for Ms. Hudson. The second part for her and the other candidates, as well. Ms. Hudson isn't it true you were going to run as a Democrat in the Democratic primary? Can you tell us what happened, and why you are running in this fashion? And the second part is: is what we are seeing a part of the Arlington Way and can all of you comment on your views of the Arlington Way?"
Joszet Hudson (I): "No, its not true that I was going to run as a Democrat. I had intended to run as an Independent. In the beginning, I was approached by the Arlington Democratic Committee to run, asking that I work through the Democratic Party. And, the reason I chose to run as an Independent was because the two Democratic candidates had already been announced and so the decision had already been made. And, I am running as an Independent."
Ben Winslow (R): "The Arlington Way, it's been variously defined as talking a problem to death. It was supposed to be and the Arlington Way is a misnomer. That's a term Bart [sic] used by a certain political organization, but there should be in Arlington a communication process whereby people can talk over problems, identify solutions, and implement those solutions. It should be a fairly short process and that is what I would like to see Arlington do. And that's what I will encourage, that's what I've always encouraged. That's what I did when I was on the Board. I tried to bring people together, identify solutions, and move to those solutions. One very simple example of that was the Abington Mausoleum. They couldn't do anything about that for 30 years, for 40 years. Its gone. I sat down with the right people and got the job done. Thank you."
Arlene Smith (Reform): "I've already told you what I think about the Arlington Way. What I would like to see it becomeis an atmosphere in which we can pretend that we are a lean, mean company. And to do that we need all the creativity and all the minds that we can put together, all the people who would want to participate instead of blocking people out. We say that more people who are enthusiastic about being included, the more material that we'll have to work with. We need to go over what we're doing very carefully, so that we get the most out of our dollars. So that we get the most people included in the assistance we're giving and I just think that is the improvement that we could make if we really tried."
Barbara Favola (D): "I think the fact that so many people, in nearly every meeting I've attended, commented on the Arlington Way that has been involved in the Arlington Way to a greater or less degree, is a statement that there is a process out there, that is fairly inclusive. Many people have been touched by it. You may not all have walked away with a positive experience, because decisions may not have always gone your way. But the point is that there has been efforts to involve many citizens responsible in the decision making process of the County. Does it work perfectly? No. Nothing works perfectly, especially when you try to be as inclusive as I believe the County has tried to be. There are ways for improvement. I think that County has to reach out more and involve certain sectors of the County, who have not traditionally been involved or may not directly know about an issue affecting them.
So there are steps that need to be taken. But the fact that everybody comments on it, I think is a testimony in and of itself, that people to some degree have been involved in the Arlington Way. I think that we have to step from there to try improve the process."
Joszet Hudson (I): "This is one of the reasons why I'm running for the Board, because I would like to bring more diversity. I think that Arlington has a number of ethnic communities and there hasn't been that concern, inclusiveness as one would think. And, I would just like to see a bit more inclusiveness, because we are a diverse population here in Arlington. We need to take into consideration of the concerns of all...."
John DePaul: "Good evening, John DePaul. I wanted to ask all of the Board candidates on the quality of schools. I realize that many County Board members hide behind the thought that it's a School Board problem, not County Board. Don't talk to us, talk to the School Board. What I would like to ask, what would you do to foster all these schools? Specifically, how much of the overall county budget in your opinion should be devoted to bringing quality education to the Arlington school system? And secondly, would you increase property taxes to pay for quality schools and quality education?"
Arlene Smith (Reform): "I don't have a definitive answer for what percentages and exactly how many dollars I need to look at what we are comparing with in any particular budget type. But I would say that first of all, we have a problem. When we have 10% of our students needing remedial education by the time they get to college, what were we doing the first 12 years? I think we do have some problem there and I think education is one of our number one priorities. So, as we look at the different aspects of the budget, it should be way up there in our consideration. Again, as with any of the other aspects we can be lean and mean, and we don't necessarily have to spend more dollars. We have a kind of tendency I think to feel that if we have a problem, why not? Sometimes that's the answer. But sometimes there are more creative answers."
Barbara Favola (D): "Right now approximately a third of our county budget goes to support the schools. I think its money well spent. I think the schools do do an excellent job in Arlington. I think the issue is ensuring that we can maintain a balance in raising the revenue to keep pace with the changing demographics and the changing needs that our students have. We have a higher percentage of students coming in with English as a second language. We have students coming in with not having the benefit of preschool. We have students who are in dire need of all day kindergarten. These kinds of programs which do impact the quality of our schools and the quality of our education do not compete with. As a County Board member I would look hard at the budget, I would look hard at the need or demand and I would look hard at where the program dollars were being spent. But, I'm strongly committed to an excellent school system and if I had to raise property taxes or real estate taxes to support the schools, I would do that."
Joszet Hudson (I): "I think that there needs to be made changes in the school budget. I've taken a look at it and I see that some programs where we're spending more than what I feel we should be spending in certain areas. I would try very hard not to increase the property taxes. But, there are creative ways of getting the funds that are necessary for the kind of quality education that I feel is very important. So, I would do everything possible in order not to cause any additional burden on the taxpayer.
Come up with some creative ways to bring some additional funding to our schools. One example is having businesses, adopt a school, and that's happened in several cases that I know of and that's quite helpful."
Ben Winslow (R): "I've already mentioned some of the things I would do to encourage better schools in our community. We need a strategic plan, right now we lack one.
That's what led to a $25 million dollar fiasco several years ago. That's what led to doing renovations on many of our school buildings and like Barrett School, they put a beautiful parkway there, $150,000. And they immediately, as soon as they reopened the school, put four modulars right behind the school. They did a complete renovation of that school, expanded it. There are other schools. There's one school that has 10 modular units. They don't call them relocatables, they don't call them trailers, they're modular instructional units now because they're permanent.
Something is wrong in the way we plan our schools and I think that there ought to be a joint operation between the County and the schools to develop an adequate building program for our schools and for our county facilities, so they can be interchangeable. We ought to consolidate building maintenance, construction building maintenance, and vehicle maintenance. At least if we consolidate all of those functions, I think we can save some money and pour that back into achieving excellence in schools by hiring more classroom teachers and getting them into the classrooms. And, hopefully being able to build enough classrooms so we can house the new teachers and the new students. So we need to have that kind of a strategic plan, so we can move ahead."
Bill Nolden: We have time for a few more questions. Would the panelists be interested in taking a few more questions?
Bill Nolden: Rebecca Gray, to be followed by John McCracken.
Rebecca Gray: "I'm Rebecca Gray, I'm here as a delegate for the Arlington County Taxpayers Association. However, this question I'm asking tonight at the request of the President of the Arlington Ridge Civic Association and the President of the Aurora/Highlands Civic Association. And, if you can't guess what this question is all about, as you probably know, a developer has filed with the County with a proposal to place a 40,000 square foot strip mall with residences, apartments on top of the Cafritz property on Joyce Street, that is right in back of the Fashion Centre in Pentagon City.
Now, if you are like I am, I have a hard time visualizing what 400,000 square feet is. What tells me is this is roughly 40% the size of the Fashion Centre Mall. So this is not an inconsequential amount of commercial space. Under the space development site plan which governs this site and has governed this site for 22 years, this property is zoned residential. The proposed development will require a change to the phase development site plan and the general land use plan [GLUP]. If elected to the County Board, would you support or oppose this development and change the phase development site plan and GLUP?"
Bill Nolden: "Thank you. Ben, I'm going to tag you with this one first, because you probably have the most experience in this."
Ben Winslow (R): "Okay. I don't know if I have the most experience in it, but this one I have some strong feelings about. There are a couple things. One is the County Board has made a series of blunders in that neighborhood over time.
The first one was not allowing the Navy to build on a site, on the old Western and Electric Site, because that way they don't need a traffic jam in the morning and evening. Now, they've got 12-hour day traffic jams down there. That's mostly because of that little mall that's across the street from the Fashion Centre. If they put another mall down there, where are they going to find the space to put the cars on the street? They are going to have double-deck those streets down there in order to get people in and out of the place.
I don't think it's wise, and the other thing is I can see no compelling reason at this point. And, everything I've read about this, I see no compelling reason to change the general land use plan in that area and change that from a residential designation. Just absolutely no reason at all."
Joszet Hudson (I): "I like Arlington because it does have a lot of space. And, I prefer less traffic and congestion and that kind of thing. I've lived in a lot of large cities and I would certainly not support ...."
Arlene Smith (Reform): "I have to say I'm probably not as deep in this, as Ben certainly is and perhaps others. I didn't know I was running for this office until 8 days ago and I haven't done my homework. But I will tell you my general feelings on the subject. We cannot say that a plan that we made 22 years ago has to be stuck in concrete. I don't think that would be good management.
It's a shame that we have to change those things, but if we don't maintain and increase our commercial base, we're just going to have pay more property taxes so we need to weigh these things. So I'm not unilaterally opposed to that plan until I've gotten into more. I will say that I agree that we too often allow too many concessions to developers and end up with cramp parking and that kind of thing. We live with into the future so I guess those are my comments on it."
Barbara Favola (D): "This is a very hot issue. You may notice already, but I feel I need to explain to the audience there is a two-phase process currently in place now to look at the project you are referring to. There is a Pentagon City task force which is to look at development in the entire Pentagon City area. So some point, we can get on paper citizens' view of the impact that the area to manage some of their concerns and then what the overall vision is of the whole area, which I think is important. Because additional projects, additional proposals are going to come forward, and we need to have some type of a sector plan as well.
In the second phase, as the project continues to move along, it will go through a site plan review process, which is at the point where conditions are put on a project and the project is shaped to a great degree the end along the line of community acceptance and the developer acceptance. I can't tell you exactly where we are in this phase. But's it's way too early to comment on whether one of us would accept the project. We don't know..."
Rebecca Gray: [The audio tape recorder did not clearly pick up the comment here]
Barbara Favola (D): "Well, I can tell you this. The developer certainly does not have a right to a change in the land use plan. He does have a right to a fair hearing and I think that's what is going on right now. In making a decision is to go through a process which actually looks at the entire Pentagon City process is a good thing whether this project walks away or not. So I guess at this point I'm saying lets cross this goal a little farther, lets get our views down. If the project is not workable, the County Board knows they know. But I think we have to go through the exercise of looking at what's out there, or thinking about what it is we want and then actually take down the impasse we're willing to live with and then take a step further."
John McCracken: "John McCracken, Rock Spring Civic Association. If we have the personal property tax reduction as Gilmore proposes, where in the Arlington budget do we accommodate the shortfalls?"
Joszet Hudson (I): "Okay, I like this one, because there are many ways of coming up with funds to replace the personal property tax. I don't like the personal property tax. I'm driving a 86 Dodge Omni, because I don't want to pay the high cost that I had to pay previously by driving an expensive car. And, so I would devote a great deal of my time to seeing to it that we do phase the personal taxes out."
Arlene Smith (Reform): "At this point, I am against getting rid of the personal property tax period. And, I'll tell you how we can. Mr. Winslow said the other day, that this was too complicated, this was too expensive to come up with a plan that you sent your money in a few times a year. If he had been self-employed at some point, he would recognize this. The 1997 Virginia Estimated Income tax declaration and payment vouchers, you just do it the same way."
Barbara Favola (D): "I too am not in favor of reducing the property taxes. If you consider everything that's now County under the property tax current budget, it would be a reduction of $62 million which is an enormous amount of money. If we focus just on the car tax, which is mostly what the property tax is and what most people think of as the property tax, that would be a reduction of $34 million. That is more than what the County spends in total to support the entire police force for one year. This would be an extremely serious problem, and it is very dangerous. Now fortunately, Mr. Gilmore's plan would have to be approved by the state legislature and the state legislators all represent county localities in the state of Virginia and the county localities depend upon the property tax. So the probability of this tax of passing is slim to zero, so that's my view on the property tax."
Ben Winslow (R): "I have a little bit to say here. The problem is that Mr. McCracken's statement had a faulty premise. He said, "if the personal tax was eliminated, how would you make up the shortfall?"
Well, the way you make up the shortfall is Mr. Gilmore has said he would send on a dollar per dollar basis, reimbursement to the County for any loss of revenue. There is one simple way to make sure that happens. Let's be like Mr. McQuire, show me the money from the state. Let Mr. Gilmore show us the money and we'll reduce the personal property tax. It's that simple."