John Vihstadt makes endorsements

John Vihstadt, center, the lone independent on the Arlington County Board, is endorsing Democrat Christian Dorsey and Republican-backed independent Michael McMenamin in the Nov. 3, 2015, County Board election.

John Vihstadt, who last year ended Arlington Democrats’ 15-year monopoly on the County Board, has endorsed fellow Republican-backed independent Michael McMenamin in this year’s board race.

No surprise there. But then comes the twist: Vihstadt also announced his support for Democrat Christian Dorsey.

There are “four very strong and interesting candidates” on the ballot, Vihstadt said at the Sept. 23 Arlington County Republican Committee meeting. “They all have their pluses, they all have their minuses.”

At that meeting, Vihstadt announced his endorsement of McMenamin – praising him as a consensus-builder who understands issues important to neighborhoods – and followed up with a declaration of support for Dorsey on the morning of Sept. 28.

“I’ve known and respected Christian and Mike for years,” Vihstadt said in a statement. “They’ve both shown a willingness to challenge the status quo.”

In two elections last year, Vihstadt defeated Democrat Alan Howze to abscond with a County Board seat held for more than 15 years by Democrat Chris Zimmerman, who resigned early in 2014. (Fun fact: Both Dorsey and McMenamin took on Zimmerman in past elections, one in a Democratic caucus and the other in a general election. Zimmerman won both races.)

Vihstadt became the first non-Democrat on the board since Republican Mike Lane briefly held a seat in 1999.

The endorsement came as the campaign of McMenamin, an attorney and former president of the Arlington County Civic Federation, works to make inroads against Dorsey and fellow Democrat Katie Cristol. That pair won the June Democratic primary, and are joined on the Nov. 3 ballot by McMenamin and independent Audrey Clement.

McMenamin ran for County Board as the GOP nominee in 2006 and 2007, falling short to Democrats each time. He believes voter discontent – which helped carry Vihstadt to dual victories last year – could help him, as well.

“I think this is the year we can do it – but it’s going to take a push,” McMenamin said. “There is some pent-up anger at the County Board. I hear a lot of people saying ‘Anyone but a Democrat.’”

The quest to topple the dominance of Democrats could be a harder sell in 2015 than it was in 2014, as the controversial Columbia Pike streetcar project is now off the table (for the moment), and because Cristol and Dorsey have positioned themselves as new-generation Democrats not tied to existing board members.

Both Vihstadt and McMenamin made the decision not to seek the Republican nomination in their runs, but received an endorsement from the party. In practical terms, the differences are minimal.

If Vihstadt’s endorsement of McMenamin was not entirely unexpected, his support for Dorsey might come as a surprise. Dorsey said he’s happy to have it.

In a statement – which noted he has now been endorsed by all five incumbent County Board members – Dorsey praised Vihstadt’s work in office.

“Since he was elected [in April 2014], John has been diligent in ensuring community leaders and stakeholders have meaningful input in the county decision-making process, and has, with the support of other board members, worked to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars by creating a performance auditor position,” Dorsey said. “These are all initiatives that are important to Arlington, and that I’ve been talking about throughout this campaign.”

Arlington’s five County Board seats are elected on a rotating basis, with one seat up for grabs three of every four years and two on the ballot the fourth. All four candidates on the 2015 County Board ballot will run as one, with voters getting two picks and the top two finishers taking their seats Jan. 1 to succeed retiring Democrats Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada.