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Democratic Rivals Face Off Before Primary

Dorsey, Zimmerman focus on affordable housing as they fight for May 14 nomination.

Most of the candidates at the NAACP forum had half a year before they faced a vote.

With the Nov. 5 elections still more than six months away, County Board and school board races have gotten off to an early start, with candidates beginning to announce in January.

All five current candidates gathered in the basement of the Lomax A.M.E. Church in South Arlington Monday night, for one of the county’s earliest candidate debates.

But with a primary on May 14, Christian Dorsey and Chris Zimmerman had real campaigning to do at the April 29 candidates’ forum. Both Dorsey and Zimmerman are running for the Democratic nomination for this year’s open County Board seat, and they have only two weeks left for debates.

Debate between the two on Monday centered on affordable housing – whether enough has been done to preserve it in the county, and what needs to be done in the future.

"This is really a crisis of leadership," Dorsey said. "This past weekend, the board approved a townhouse project in Crystal City, a project that adds 215 townhouses to the area, and only five affordable units."

Redevelopment of the area is great, Dorsey said, but the affordable housing there, as in the rest of Arlington, was insufficient. Part of the problem, he said, was that by the time the board approved a project, all of the real decisions had already been made by county staff.

But Zimmerman said criticizing ongoing problems in Arlington was like criticizing a work in progress. "It’s true we haven’t solved every problem," he said, addressing issues of homelessness, low wages and affordable housing shortages. "But I think Arlington has gone farther toward addressing them than any other jurisdiction in the Washington region, and I will continue the approaches that have worked."

<b>DORSEY AND ZIMMERMAN</b> were not the only candidates in the County Board forum: they were joined by Mike Clancy, Republican candidate for the seat. Clancy ran in last November’s election against board member Jay Fisette.

Clancy faces no opposition for the Republican nomination, but he used the opportunity to get an advance look at his prospective opponents in the campaign leading up to the November ballot.

Last year, Clancy focused on public safety as he ran against Fisette. Monday night, like Zimmerman and Dorsey, he talked mostly about affordable housing. The problem, he said, was tax rates and increasing assessments that put Arlington homes beyond the reach of most.

The solution, he said, could be housing co-ops, and tax credits, allowing non-profits to operate Section 8 housing and other affordable units in the county.

<b>WITH A FOCUS</b> on affordable housing, the debate could be seen as home turf for Zimmerman, the current County Board chair now in his sixth year as a board member.

He has been outspoken at board meetings about pushing for affordable housing in the county. As proof, he pointed to votes he had cast against building projects over the last year, projects like Twin Oaks and Liberty Center.

In the next year, Zimmerman said, he wanted to implement housing co-ops, an improved affordable housing policy, and a consolidated county housing department, combining agencies now spread across five or six county departments.

But that should be cause for alarm, Dorsey said; after six years, Zimmerman should already know what the solutions were. "You ought to be a little wary when this is a community problem they’ve been looking at for decades," he said.

<b>DORSEY, A NEWCOMER</b> to county politics, said he had seen the issues facing the county upclose, running a non-profit service teaching literacy to children in homeless shelters.

He didn’t want to minimize Zimmerman’s contributions during his tenure on the board – "we heard about affordable housing units we’ve gained," he said – but the county had lost a quarter of its affordable units over the last 20 years.

However many points Dorsey scored with the debate, he still faces long odds in two weeks, running against a veteran board member and current chair. Still, he hoped to win.

"I hope you’ll come out in a couple of weeks. You have a choice: to elect a person committed to issues because they create injustice, strictly because that’s not the Arlington way," he said.

Zimmerman, for his part, also sounded hopeful about his likely victory in two weeks, and also paid tribute to the Arlington way. "I look forward to a good campaign, I hope for the next six months or so," he said. "I’m proud of what I’ve been able to achieve. But mostly I’m proud of the community’s part in it."