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Fun fact (or maybe not so fun to some): Richard Nixon won the Arlington vote all three times he ran for the presidency: in 1960, 1968 and 1972.

And while modern-day Arlington County Board members may be no fans of Nixon, they do seem to have picked up on one of his political skills: triangulation.

Tricky Dick (no relation to Puppetry of the Penis, the limber, slightly naughty performance troupe that once called Rosslyn home, but we digress ...) understood that, in order to conquer your opponents, you first had to divide them. He’d play the Russkies off the Chinese, conservative Democrats against left-wing Democrats, you get the drift.

In the case of the ongoing Rouse estate preservation battle, Arlington board members have done a bang-up job of wriggling out the spotlight’s glare and casting themselves as a sympathetic ear, the voices of reason, rather than the body that is engineering the estate’s likely demolition.

The Feb. 23 public meeting on setting a public hearing to designate the parcel as a local historic district is a prime example. Advocates for preservation should have been screaming to high heaven that by setting the hearing for April, the County Board was all but inviting the property owner to raze it as soon as final permits are issued.

But the Feb. 23 meeting devolved into a clash of interest groups, with affordable-housing advocates jumping into the fray late in the game to argue that, instead of preserving the estate as open space, it should be turned into apartments, leaving the implication – this being 2021 – that anyone who disagreed could be a subconscious racist.

Both the proposal for apartments and the insinuations behind it managed to enrage the preservationists and royally P.O. [“permanently ostracize,” that is] some of the residents of surrounding single-family neighborhoods. Classic triangulation: Get everyone mad at one another, and they will forget to be mad at you.

County Board members were able to then look, doe-eyed, into their Zoom cameras and proclaim that they were trying to help everyone achieve their visions, but it was going to be hard, so very hard to achieve success.

We have said before that we don’t have a dog in this hunt, and that position stands. Preservationists have a point; housing advocates have a point; the property owner that wants to raze the buildings and sell the parcels has a point. And heck, we now also have to give County Board members credit for something that is a rare occurrence in their world: being clever.

But if we’re able to discern the gamesmanship that is really going on, we suspect the community is, too. County Board members hope that the demolition of the home will end the controversy. Time will tell if they get their wish.

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