Maura McMahon to challenge James Lander

Maura McMahon announces her bid for School Board at the Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting of Feb. 1, 2017. (Campaign photo)

School Board member James Lander, who four years ago narrowly squeaked out a Democratic caucus victory en route to re-election, will face another intra-party challenge this year.

Maura McMahon, who has been active in local school issues but less so in Democratic politics, on Feb. 1 launched her bid to unseat Lander in caucus voting to be held in May.

Without referring to the incumbent directly, McMahon called for “the need for fresh, innovative solutions” during an address to 150 Democrats at the party’s monthly meeting.

McMahon, who currently serves on the board of the County Council of PTAs, called for renewed efforts to reduce educational disparities between different groups and schools in the county, and to put more emphasis on providing economic diversity in schools when deciding on boundary changes.

She promised to bring “an open mind . . . fresh thinking and better solutions.”

McMahon also has served on school-system “working groups” focused on South Arlington elementary-school boundaries and the new elementary school adjacent to Thomas Jefferson Middle School. She also has been active with the PTAs of Barcroft Elementary School and Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

McMahon and her husband, Michael, are residents of Alcova Heights and have two children in county schools.

Lander, who was first elected in 2009, announced in January he planned to seek a third term and would compete in the Democratic caucus. Other Democrats have until Feb. 27 to file paperwork to participate in caucus voting, to be held May 11 and 13.

Chris Ditta, who serves as president of the County Council of PTAs and is backing McMahon’s bid, said she would prove “a very strong candidate.”

“She does what she sets out to do,” Ditta said, praising McMahon’s integrity.

Lander in 2008 unsuccessfully sought the Democratic endorsement for School Board, but a year later won the caucus and general election without opposition. In 2013, he barely escaped with a caucus victory over challenger Barbara Kanninen, taking 1,144 votes (51 percent) to 1,097 for Kanninen, who was making her first bid for elected office. (A year later, Kanninen would win a seat on the School Board, and currently serves as its vice chairman.)

Under state law, political parties are not allowed to formally nominate candidates, but can “endorse” them, which in practice amounts to the same thing. The name of the caucus winner will appear on the Democratic sample ballot that is handed to voters in November, and will be included in all party mailings during the election cycle.

Overseeing the party process will be Matt Weinstein, who was appointed caucus director at the Feb. 1 Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting.

While the Democratic endorsement gives School Board candidates a decided leg up – all five incumbents won it prior to general-election victories – other prospective candidates will have until June to file paperwork to run in the general election.