[Updated with round-by-round vote totals and comments from Karantonis and independent candidate Susan Cunningham, as well as announcement of a Republican nominee.]
Takis Karantonis, the former executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, has won the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s nomination for the upcoming County Board special election, making him the odds-on favorite to fill the remainder of the term of the late Erik Gutshall.
Karantonis ran behind School Board member Barbara Kanninen in the first round of voting, but picked up significant support from those who had cast ballots for Chanda Choun and Nicole Merlene and won on the third round of voting.
While Karantonis was piling up votes from Choun and Merlene supporters, Kanninen was left far behind. In the third round, Karantonis had 60 percent of the vote, far more than the 50 percent needed for the nomination, while Kanninen had 38 percent of the vote.
Because of unique circumstances – the need for a quick caucus to meet filing deadlines coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic – the Arlington County Democratic Committee was forced to restrict voting to the roughly 275 members of its top leadership.
How the voting went:
• First round: Kanninen, 80; Karantonis, 77; Choun, 60; Merlene, 30. (Merlene was eliminated and her votes reapportioned as directed by her voters.)
• Second round: Karantonis, 94; Kanninen, 85; Choun, 67. (Choun was eliminated and his votes reapportioned as directed by his voters.)
• Third round: Karantonis, 149; Kanninen, 94. (Karantonis declared victor.)
The Arlington County Democratic Committee has used instant-runoff voting in previous caucuses, mostly for School Board. This race marks the first time the candidate who was on top of the voting in the first round did not end up the eventual winner, and suggests that Kanninen’s service during a contentious era in School Board history limited her appeal among caucus voters.
After the results were announced, Karantonis pivoted to lay out a vision for voters in the special election.
“I am committed to ensuring that our community builds on our legacy of safe and walkable neighborhoods; ethnic and cultural diversity; excellent schools, public places and facilities; fiscal responsibility and accountable governance; and an unwavering commitment to community involvement,” he said in a statement after the results were announced.
Democrats are planning a “virtual coffee hour” with Karantonis on Sunday, May 10 at 11 a.m. For information, see the Website at www.arlingtondemocrats.org.
Karantonis is vice chair of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, and previously was president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association and board chair of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment. He has been active in the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.
The filing deadline is Friday for the election, which is slated for July 7. Civic activist Susan Cunningham has filed as an independent and is waiting in the wings.
“I welcome Takis to the race and look forward to a positive campaign that lays out our different visions for Arlington’s future,” she told the Sun Gazette.
Cunningham is working to pull together a coalition that could repeat a special-election scenario that played out in 2014, when independent John Vihstadt defeated Democrat Alan Howze in a race necessitated by the resignation of board member Chris Zimmerman.
The success of Vihstadt helped doom the Columbia Pike streetcar proposal and several other high-ticket county capital projects. But in 2018, Vihstadt fell victim to Democratic anger over the election of Donald Trump two years before, losing a re-election bid to Democrat Matt de Ferranti.
The Arlington County Republican Committee, which in recent years has found it challenging to field candidates, announced May 7 that retired attorney Bob Cambridge had won the GOP nod for the special-election ballot.
“Bob will bring a robust discussion of important local issues to this race – focusing on fiscal accountability, government transparency and planning for the future,” GOP chairman Andrew Loposser said, promising a “virtual” kickoff in coming days.
But the GOP fielding a contender may be good news for Karantonis, as Anderson, Cambridge and any other candidates who might beat the May 8 filing deadline largely will be splitting up the anti-Democratic vote, which in Arlington general elections rarely tops 30 percent but could be higher in a low-turnout special election. The special election will be a winner-take-all format, even if the top vote-getter polls less than 50 percent.
In the current race, the all-Democratic Arlington County Board and Arlington County Democratic Committee each attempted to have the July 7 election – whose timing is set by the Code of Virginia – delayed to September or even the Nov. 3 general election. The request was quickly and unceremoniously rejected by the Virginia Supreme Court. Arlington’s Democratic leadership tried to blame Republican-leaning justices on the Supreme Court, but most neutral observers agreed the request to significantly delay the election had almost no chance of success.
Gutshall, who was chairing the Arlington Planning Commission when he was elected to the County Board in 2017, died April 16 after a two-month bout with brain cancer.The winner of the special election will serve out the remaining 18 months of his term.