Election night 2003 brought few surprises for Arlington, as incumbents cruised to victory, resulting in continued Democratic dominance in all of the county's partisan offices.
On the County Board, Democratic incumbents Walter Tejada and Paul Ferguson, the current Board chair, fended off questions about their voting records by Republican challenger Rich Kelsey and independent Sarah Summerville.
Democrats also held on to Arlington’s seats in the General Assembly, with incumbents state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (31) and Del. Bob Brink (48) gaining reelection. In Arlington’s 47th delegate district, Al Eisenberg won the race to replace retiring Democratic incumbent James Almand, and Adam Ebbin won an unopposed race for the 49th delegate seat in South Arlington, replacing L. Karen Darner, another retiring incumbent Democrat.
In fact, Democrats won all Arlington seats up for partisan election this year. The only race the party lost was for the officially non-partisan School Board seat. In that race, Democrat-endorsed candidate Larry Fishtahler lost out to incumbent board member Dave Foster.
QUESTIONS ABOUT BASEBALL brought some attention to the County Board race, but ultimately Kelsey attacked the Democrats for increases in taxes over recent years, while Summerville questioned whether the current Board really makes its decisions in a public process.
But most voters disagreed with those tactics. June Million, a Cherrydale resident for 35 years, voted for the incumbents not because of their party affiliation, she said, but because she supports the work they’ve done in office.
“I think Arlington is doing an excellent job of providing services, shopping, good schools, good libraries, good parks, so I kind of want to keep it the way it is,” she said.
Julie Cantor stuck with the Democrats all the way down the line. Without closely-contested races or national-level offices up for grabs, Cantor saw few burning issues confronting voters. She headed to the polls this year out of habit, and to give her two- and three-year-old children an early lesson in civic responsibility.
Cantor’s husband David expressed similar responsible apathy. “I’m voting because she wants to vote,” he said.
Kelsey dreaded that voting pattern. Since Democrats have a comfortable majority in Arlington, Kelsey needed large numbers of protest voters who were willing to break from party lines over grievances with the board.
“If people actually look at the issues, we’ll win,” said Kelsey early Tuesday morning. “If people just show up looking for a sample ballot, that won’t help us.”
SOME VOTERS VOICED discontent, but on a smaller scale than the challengers needed. But at the polls, voter dissatisfaction was at times evident. County board was the most important race on the ballot, said Bill Novak, who felt the board has slighted the Cherrydale neighborhood. “My dissatisfaction was reflected in my vote,” he said.
The issue of a relocated Cherrydale fire station issue prompted Sheila Walsh, a Democrat, to vote against Ferguson and Tejada. Early this year, some Cherrydale residents expressed disappointment and anger at current board members and county employees, emotions sparked by a 13-year delay in building a new home to the fire station.
For some, the question of whether to support incumbents came down to a difference of opinion about the path the county has taken in recent years. Kirk Norton was looking to shake things up with his vote at the Jefferson precinct at Thomas Jefferson Community Center. “I’ve lived in Arlington all my life,” he said. “This county has gone downhill so much it’s unbelievable.”
Other voters were less concerned about the board election. Natalie Le came out to support Whipple and Brink, among others. “I’m happy with the job they’re doing,” said Le.
As of press time, Ferguson had taken 34 percent of the vote, and Tejada had secured 32 percent. Kelsey third in the race for two seats, by earning 17 percent, with Summerville close behind, with 16 percent.
IN ARLINGTON'S ASSEMBLY races, Whipple finished off Republican challenger Kamal Nawash by taking 72 percent of the votes counted by press time.
Eisenberg won his race against Republican Christian Hoff with 65 percent of the vote.
Brink will return to Richmond for his fourth term after besting challenger Steve Sass (R) by a 20 percent margin, earning nearly 60 percent of the votes to Sass' 40 percent.
In the school board race, voters broke party lines to support the incumbent, Dave Foster, who sought neither Republican nor Democratic endorsement. Fishtahler, while listed on the ballot as an independent, is a Democrat and ran with endorsement from the Arlington County Democratic Committee. Foster won out over Fishtahler in a 60-40 race.
Ingrid Morroy (D) beat out Tim Russo (R) for Commissioner of the Revenue by a 20 percent margin.
VOLUNTEERS AT POLLING places stayed busy, though not always on the election at hand. At some precincts, Democratic volunteers came armed with petitions for 2004 Presidential candidates. At Virginia Square, residents lobbied voters to oppose plans to relocate Washington-Lee High School to Quincy Park, an issue not on a ballot until at least next year.
Baseball supporters and opponents also had a busy day, posting signs and lobbying voters to support or oppose county board candidates based on their willingness to accept a stadium.