Arlington Democrats elect new chair for 2018-19

Jill Caiazzo chairs the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

With a political crisis of unprecedented proportions swirling at the statewide level, Arlington Democrats are reacting at perhaps the only pace available to them – one day, and one step, at a time.

“We will get through this,” a visibly weary Jill Caiazzo, chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, said at the organization’s monthly meeting on Feb. 6. The  evening’s agenda may have been focused on announcements by local candidates, but the real focus was very much on the unfolding, and increasingly bizarre, situation in Richmond.

Virginia’s three statewide elected officials, Democrats all, are facing various scandals that have cascaded upon the political landscape in recent days. Whether Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring will survive, and what the long-term impact to the Democratic brand, which in recent years has been ascendant in the Old Dominion, will be, are all open questions.

“There is no denying that Virginia Democrats have faced serious challenges – they must be addressed,” Caiazzo said. “We’re taking these matters seriously.”

The local party stopped short, however, of considering any resolution of censure or formal call for any of the office-holders to resign, preferring to keep the focus on the party’s local responsibility.

“We know our job, and it has not changed,” said Carol Fontein, who heads precinct operations for the party. “We are certain we have the best team, the best volunteers, the best candidates.”

But the local party clearly is doing what damage control it can. Caiazzo hastily scheduled two “listening sessions” for coming days, and party officials and the rank-and-file will be in the community “making sure that we are out there and talking to everyone,” said Kim Phillip, who helps lead outreach for the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

No matter the outcome of the individual cases of Northam, Fairfax and Herring, the road for Democrats to win majorities in the House of Delegates and state Senate seems to have gotten significantly rockier in the past week. Republicans hold slim majorities in each house.

With Arlington’s legislative seats safely in Democratic hands, the local party has been planning to export volunteers and cash to help in competitive districts statewide.

“Our mission remains clear: We need to elect good people to the General Assembly,” said Steve Baker, who heads Democrats’ “Beyond Arlington” initiative.

But the damage may already have been done, although its full extent is not yet known.

“We clearly have more reckoning still ahead,” acknowledged County Board member Katie Cristol, who went ahead with previously scheduled plans to kick off her re-election bid at the meeting.