It cost her the goodwill of many in the county’s Democratic ranks, and four years ago nearly cost her her job, but Libby Garvey says she has no regrets.
Garvey, now seeking a third full term on the Arlington County Board, used the Sept. 8 Arlington County Civic Federation candidate forum to remind voters of her full-throttle opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar system – the biggest political controversy of recent years.
Garvey said it took a “tremendous effort” to defeat the proposed 5-mile-long transit line, but pronounced no regrets.
“I am still paying the price for it, but we are a stronger county,” she said. “Arlington is in a much better place.”
In the early 2010s, Garvey was a voice in the wilderness against the streetcar proposal, her opposition ridiculed by many who expected it could be brushed aside on the way to getting a modern transit line along the Columbia Pike corridor.
But Garvey ignored the snickers and went about her business. And in the spring of 2014, she broke with her party by supporting independent John Vishtadt – another streetcar-doubter – over a Democrat in a County Board special election.
Vihstadt won that race, but a pro-streetcar County Board troika of Jay Fisette, Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada bided their time in expectation that Vihstadt would be defeated in the November 2014 general election.
Except he wasn’t. Vihstadt won again and, within a week, Fisette and Hynes switched sides to kill off the $350 million proposal. (To this day, Tejada remains convinced that decision was a mistake.)
Garvey and the Arlington County Democratic Committee parted ways for a year, although at the debate Garvey said she had been “thrown out” while in fact she resigned prior to an expulsion vote being taken. In 2016, back in the party fold, Garvey was challenged for the Democratic County Board nomination by Planning Commission chairman Erik Gutshall, who managed to take 45 percent of the vote away from the incumbent but fell short.
(Gutshall was elected to the County Board in 2017, succeeding Fisette, but died in office earlier this year.)
While Garvey on Sept. 8 was taking a victory lap for killing the streetcar, her 2020 opponent – Audrey Clement – didn’t appear to be caught up in the moment. The streetcar has been “the only gold-plated program” Garvey has ever opposed, sniffed Clement, who also opposed the project.