He was elected as an independent, but County Board member John Vihstadt returned to his Republican roots on May 27, advising the Arlington GOP to find candidates with deeper connections to Arlington civic life.
“We’ve tended to nominate people who don’t have a lot grounding in the community,” Vihstadt said during a 30-plus-minute presentation to the Arlington County Republican Committee. “Everybody needs to step up to the plate, get involved.”
Vihstadt, who had the endorsement of Arlington Republicans (and Greens) in two successful County Board bids against Democrat Alan Howze last year, said the campaign mailer that had the greatest impact was one that showed his extensive community engagement, compared to what he suggested was less from Howze.
“That type of integration into the community . . . really made the difference,” Vihstadt said during a presentation that ultimately moved from political issues to topics of county governance.
Arlington Republicans have until June 9 to nominate candidates for the two open County Board seats on the Nov. 3 ballot, but no candidates have publicly stepped forward to seek the GOP nod. If that deadline passes without nominees, the GOP then expects to vote June 17 on whether to endorse Michael McMenamin, who like Vihstadt in 2014 plans an independent County Board bid despite his deep ties to the Republican ranks.
At the May 27 Republican meeting, McMenamin – who is wrapping up two years as president of the Arlington County Civic Federation – made no secret of his desire for Republican backing.
“I’m going to need all your help,” he said, calling 2015 “a watershed year.”
“Do we want to move forward with new blood . . . to set a new agenda?” he asked.
McMenamin twice sought a County Board seat under the Republican banner, losing to Democrat Chris Zimmerman in 2006 and to Democrats Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada a year later.
It was the decision by Hynes and Tejada not to seek new terms this year that opened up the County Board race. Six Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination in a June 9 primary, with the winners facing off in November against McMenamin and Audrey Clement, who also is running as an independent.
In his remarks, Vihstadt echoed a theme of county Republican chairman Matt Wavro, urging party members to apply for appointments to government boards and commissions.
“There’s a niche for you,” he said.
There’s no guarantee the Democratic board majority will agree to appoint significant numbers of Republicans to such posts, Vihstadt said, but “I’ve gone to the mat for a few people, and I’ve been successful.”
Vihstadt was able to deflect several efforts by Wavro to dislodge him from the dais and move the meeting to its next agenda topic. McMenamin, who was next up – and who had just come from an Arlington Chamber of Commerce candidate forum – promised to keep his own remarks brief.
“I’m hungry and you’re probably tired,” McMenamin deadpanned.
Time is ticking for Republicans to field candidates not just for County Board, but for the five constitutional offices and for legislative seats on the Nov. 3 ballot. The filing deadline for all those slots is June 9 at 7 p.m.
“If anyone’s interested – if anyone knows anyone who’s interested . . . we’ll sit down and have a conversation,” Wavro said.