The Politics of Fear
Contact: Miriam Gennari, Press Secretary, Virginia Green Party, 703-549-1422, firstname.lastname@example.org
Audrey Clement made no speech after losing her campaign for a seat on the Arlington County Board. She simply thanked her supporters and headed out to return the rental car she had driven from poll to poll all day. She seemed ready to rejoin the ranks of "Arlington's Conscious," which is what the Arlington Green Party has come to be known as.
The real story, however, is not the number of votes Clement received from progressives -- the real story is the voters. In its coverage of the race, Hynes, Tejada win bids to keep Arlington County Board seats, Washington Post reported how dissatisfied Arlingtonians are with their de facto one-party system. Issues over the development of East Falls Church, Crystal and Pentagon City and the Columbia Pike Trolley have sparked harsh criticism from citizens in every corner of the County. Many wonder how the Democratic Party continues to maintain its strangle hold given the widespread discontent.
One poll worker talked about dozens of senior citizens being driven in by nursing home vans and scores of first time voters determined to cast a ballot for Clement. Many voters complained about reduced services and air quality so bad they cannot go outside during the summer. It seemed everyone had a laundry list of concerns, from traffic congestion and overcrowded schools, to poor infrastructure maintenance and Arlington's loss of its tree canopy.
So why did Tejada and Hynes win? The truth is fear. Arlington's Democratic leaders enjoy talking about problems, but fear solving them could loosen the Party's control. The County board, which created or sustains many of these problems, pretends to have an open door for discussion. From task force meetings to planning sessions, everyone is welcome to get involved. Unfortunately, regardless of the amount of community input and money that goes into the process, these officials already seem to have made up their minds. In the meantime, well intentioned citizens are afraid of doors being closed to revenue streams, such as less funding to Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment (ACE) or The Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). In many ways these organizations have become part of the problem. Unhappy citizens play it safe and vote for the Devil they know, if only to allow their organization to survive for one more stream clean-up or to hand out one more free bag of rice to a needy family. Arlington's one-party state is also perpetuated, in part, by groups like the local Sierra Club, who offer unfounded endorsements to unworthy candidates. Maybe I'm being cynical, but it seems some groups prefer the status quo because civic discontent fosters membership growth and fundraising.
Supporters of Arlington's entrenched politicos argue that life in Arlington is pretty good compared to other cities and towns around America. They accused Clement of not being connected to the community, not being involved, and not appreciating what a great county Arlington is.
The way I see it, Walter Tejada is a good man and very capable of seeing the trouble on the horizon. He might have been more effective had he someone like Clement who shared his concern for affordable housing and preserving the diversity in which Arlington prides itself. Mary Hynes is a thoughtful communicator and with Clement's no nonsense analysis of issues, like the single-use Styrofoam ban or the more widespread use of renewable energy in government buildings, Mary could have been trusted to support sustainable development. However, the sad truth is that as a group, winning year after year, despite cries from citizens of every demographic, the County Board is no longer motivated to listen to the community.
So did Arlington make the right decision to play it safe? To be honest, it does not matter. The bulldozers are coming. The buildings are going up. Behind them will come more cars, more children to educate and more waste to dispose of. The Arlington Republican Party laughed at Clement's efforts to engage voters. The GOP seems to have lost its passion for a good political debate in Arlington and in many ways they remind me of the Roman emperor Nero, who allegedly fiddled while Rome burned. The message from the Arlington Democrats seems pretty clear. If you aren't happy or can't afford to live here – Move! If Four Mile run is polluted, children with asthma have to spend their summers indoors, and all the blue collar workers (teachers, policeman, nurses) have to move to Prince George County - Bummer! Be ready Arlingtonians to spend even more of your life sitting in gridlock every day. My suggestions get a face mask and a bike. On the bright side, at least the election did reaffirm one thing: we have only the Democrats are to blame. Who can argue with that?
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