Arlington may have changed in the last eight years, but for Paul Ferguson, the important issues remain the same. “Hopefully the voters will think I’ve made progress in my areas and will give me a chance to keep on working on them through another four years,” said Ferguson, the incumbent County Board chair.
Ferguson is again running on five core issues: support for schools, support for public safety, environmental initiatives, neighborhood conservation and pedestrian safety. After eight years on the board, Ferguson hopes his record on those issues will convince voters of his successes.
In support of education, Ferguson saw the initiation of a revenue-sharing agreement that automatically sends 48.6 percent of county revenue to public schools. “We’ve reduced some of the contentiousness in the budget process,” said Ferguson.
Marjorie McCreery, Arlington Education Association executive director, agreed. Helping to broker the revenue-sharing agreement was one factor that led the AEA to endorse Ferguson’s reelection bid this year.
“That has worked very well for funding the needs articulated by the school board and has reduced friction between the two boards and has allowed them to work more constructively,” she said.
Ferguson can point to the endorsement of the firefighters’ union as evidence of his success in public safety.
Environmental initiatives give the incumbent some of his highest marks from supporters. “For the last eight years, Paul has literally been the regional leader in environmental initiatives for Arlington,” said Patrick Eddington, a spokesperson for the Sierra Club, which endorsed Ferguson.
FERGUSON SAYS HE’S pushed developers to work on making their plans environmentally friendly. “Anybody who wants my vote knows they’re going to at least have to make an effort,” said Ferguson.
Under Ferguson’s chairmanship, the County Board adopted one of the toughest Chesapeake Bay Preservation ordinances in the state earlier this year.
Winning hearts of environmentalists could cost Ferguson support from some homeowners though. Some elements of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance, placing heavy restrictions on homeowners living near waterways, proved controversial.
Improving pedestrian safety has involved systemic changes, Ferguson said. “We’ve instilled a culture at the Department of Public Works that says, ‘How can we help the pedestrian?’” Prior to his tenure, Ferguson said, the emphasis was on traffic flow rather than pedestrian initiatives.
Shifting the focus away from managing traffic isn’t necessarily a good thing, critics say. Board members, including Ferguson, have cut down parking spaces on some recent developments in an effort to encourage residents not to own cars.
“It is crazy and naïve to believe that people are not going to have a car,” said Sarah Summerville, as independent challenger for County Board. “You will find that it is the men that believe people will give up their cars and take Metro. You won’t find a lot of women believing that. I’m not going to give up my car and walk to the grocery store at 9 o’clock at night.”
FERGUSON’S FIVE-PART platform has remained unchanged since his first campaign. If supporters see it as sticking with what’s important, opponents call it a lack of innovation.
“We are devoid of new ideas,” said Rich Kelsey, Republican challenger for County Board. With all five county board members coming from the Democratic Party, there’s no exchange of ideas, he said. “They’re from the same party, they’re from the same machine, and they don’t feel the need to be creative.”
Serving as Board chair while campaigning for reelection typically helps improve name-recognition and secure easy victory. But this year Board members found themselves dealing with several high-profile, highly-controversial issues, including the possibility of building a major league baseball stadium in Arlington. As Board chair, Ferguson served as the Board’s voice, and so has gotten much of the criticism.
“That’s part of the job,” said Ferguson. “You have to make decisions on difficult issues.”
“I will acknowledge that there’s some people who baseball is their priority issue, and I’m guessing they’ll be voting for Mr. Kelsey, who has shown strong support for it,” Ferguson said.
Single-issue voters on both sides of the baseball issue will pose problems for the incumbents. Baseball proponents are indeed likely to side with Kelsey, while many anti-stadium voters may follow Summerville to the polls, despite Ferguson’s eventual statement against the stadium.