Three down, one more to go. Incumbent County Board member Walter Tejada (D) has run three campaigns this year, two of which gave him the chance to complete the term of late board chair Charles Monroe.
On Nov. 4, Tejada hopes voters will give him a four-year term to complete Monroe’s legacy and create a legacy of his own. “I am my own person, but there are many things I share with Charles that I would like to push to benefit the entire community,” he said.
Tejada is running a joint reelection campaign with Board chair and fellow Democrat Paul Ferguson. But the two have separate platforms, and voters can choose one, both or neither of the two incumbents.
If reelected, Tejada says education will be a top priority. That means ensuring adequate funding for public schools. He also advocates creation of a “Community Role Models” mentoring program. “Eighty percent of the population does not have any connection to the schools,” said Tejada. “I see that as a huge opportunity.”
Supporters say Tejada has the ability to reach out to a wide variety of people to make programs like that work. “It’s just a natural gift that some people have and some people don’t,” said Peter Russelot, who first met Tejada at an affordable housing forum in 1997. “He listened very well to the people from the audience. This was particularly in evidence with the immigrant community.”
If reelected, Tejada said he will continue to work to increase minority involvement in local government, and will work to preserve the county’s open space and park land, which benefit all Arlington residents.
Tejada also considers himself an advocate of fiscal responsibility. That doesn’t mean he would advocate large tax cuts though. “At a minimum I would like to maintain the quality of services we enjoy in Arlington,” he said.
Tejada also advocates establishing an office of the Public Defender, a move, he said, which would ensure that even the most economically disadvantaged residents get fair legal treatment.
AS THE FRESHMAN member of the county board, Tejada has fewer success stories to point to than his running mate does. But that has its advantages as well.
Tejada has voted on only one budget, so he is less vulnerable to opponents’ criticism that tax bills have risen by an average of 62 percent over the last four years, when Ferguson and Monroe were elected.
But with few split-decision votes on the board in recent months, Tejada has lumped himself in with the other board members, opponents say.
“They’re our version of peanut butter and jelly — they just go together,” said David Avella, Arlington Republican Committee chairman.
With the slogan, “For all Arlington,” Tejada came to the board poised to be a voice of the people. But Avella said he hasn’t delivered on that potential. “He has not had the type of impact that people had hoped for when he got elected,” said Avella. “The opportunities he promised for folks when he got elected haven’t come true.”
BUT TEJADA’S SUPPORTERS say they have already seen increased minority participation at county board meetings as a result of Tejada’s outreach. “Walter is a terrific new presence on the board, particularly in terms of reaching out to the immigrant community,” said Dan Steen, Arlington County Democratic Committee chairman . “He’s been a terrific ambassador.”
Opponents say they want more than just an ambassador for the Democratic agenda. “As much as I agree with Democratic principals, it seems that no one is following through with that on the board,” said Tom Fatouros, a lifelong Democrat who switched sides and supports Republican Rich Kelsey, one of Tejada’s opponents. “We have this choking political machine that doesn’t allow dissent and doesn’t allow new ideas to be brought up.”
Tejada admits he’s still learning on the job, but said he has followed through on the campaign promises that helped him get elected earlier this year. He voted with other board members to lower the real estate tax 1.5 cents, which still provided more than full funding for public schools, and he has successfully pushed for more synthetic grass fields in local parks.