Arlington Democrats Aim to Export Success Across Va.

How will Arlington cope with the stress on its infrastructure – from schools and open space to transportation – brought about by growth, without losing what makes the community special?

The four Democrats seeking to succeed Jay Fisette on the County Board suggest it will require planning, money and a willingness by interest groups to compromise for the greater good.

“We are going to have to give a little – all of us,” said Vivek Patil, the lone political newcomer in the field of four that will square off in May caucus voting, with the winner moving on to the general election.

Patil joined Erik Gutshall, Kim Klingler and Peter Fallon at an April 12 candidate forum hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100 at Marymount University. It is one of a number of forums leading up to the Democratic caucus.

In questions from the audience, the candidates were asked if they supported the county manager’s request for a 2-cent increase in the existing real-estate tax rate; if they sided with the Arlington County Civic Federation, which wants no tax-rate increase; or fell somewhere in between.

Only Patil, who serves on the Economic Development Commission, was specific, saying he backed the 2-cent increase. Others were more general in their remarks:

• Gutshall, who chairs the Planning Commission and last year took 45 percent of the vote in a Democratic primary challenge to incumbent County Board member Libby Garvey, continued to press for a balance between meeting needs and not pricing out the community.

“I want to be a voice . . . for fiscal discipline,” said Gutshall, who noted that as a small-business owner, “I pay pretty much every kind of tax there is.”

“Rising property values are not a blank check” to government, Gutshall said.

• Fallon, who has served on the Planning Commission and other government bodies, said that while tax increases were likely to be regular occurrences, “fiscal accountability is very important.”

“Are we getting as much value, serving as many people as we could or should?” he said.

• Klingler, who chairs the Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission, said her strength on the County Board would be compatibility.

“When you put teams together, you want them to be complementary,” she said. “I want to be part of that team – I think I can complement them.”

Klingler did criticize County Manager Mark Schwartz for putting “lightning rods” – programs that were unlikely to ever be cut by the County Board – on his list of potential cutbacks to reduce the size of the tax-rate increase.

The hour-long forum touched on issues ranging from the proposed land swap with Virginia Hospital Center to whether Arlington should be, or already was, a “sanctuary city.”

Given that the candidates might well need support from their opponents’ supporters in order to make it to victory due to the caucus’s “instant-runoff” rules, there were few fireworks. Fallon, who tacitly admitted he may be no purring pussycat personally but could “take ownership of a problem and deal with it,” did take a mild swipe at the other candidates late in the evening, but otherwise there was a sense of collegiality.

“This is a very strong field,” Gutshall said.

The winner of the caucus will face independent Audrey Clement, and perhaps others, in the Nov. 7 general election. Candidates have until June to file paperwork to run.

Committee of 100 chairman Scott Pedowitz said the organization anticipated hosting a similar forum with the general-election field of candidates in the fall. The April 12 debate was recorded by Arlington Independent Media and will be available shortly through the Web site at www.arlingtoncommitteeof100.org.

Pedowitz said that while the Committee of 100 steers clear of partisan politics, it was good for candidates to hear from a broader swath of the public than they might be exposed to at all-Democratic events leading up to the caucus.

Gutshall, Klingler and Fallon each has run unsuccessfully for County Board before, which is no sin in Democratic circles; Fisette, who has been on the board nearly 20 years, made it on his second try, winning in 1997 after losing a special election to Republican Ben Winslow three years before.