Let the race begin.
School Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes’ announcement last week that she will not seek re-election in November after 11 years of service sent leaders of both parties scrambling to line up candidates to contest the open seat.
School Board elections are non-partisan affairs, but both parties usually endorse candidates.
Though only one resident- Sally Baird- has officially declared her candidacy, the upcoming retirement of Hynes has caused several aspiring politicians, including Jim Rock and Cecelia Espenoza, to consider running. In the coming weeks, others are expected to announce that they will seek the Democratic and Republican endorsements, or run as an independent, for what is expected to be a hotly contested race.
While Republicans are optimistic that they can win the open seat, the action is most acute on the Democratic side, which will now hold a caucus to name their choice. During the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s Feb. 22 meeting, the executive leadership of the organization will set a deadline for candidates' filling for the party’s endorsement.
The party will likely hold the caucus in mid-to-late May, said Democratic Committee Chair Peter Rousselot. In Virginia, residents do not have to register by party, so anyone who is registered to vote can participate in the caucus as long as they sign a pledge agreeing to support the winner.
Last May, the caucus was held at Washington-Lee High School, where Ed Fendley defeated Rock by a vote of 1,675 to 1,292. Fendley won the November general election, beating the Republican-endorsed Bill Barker and Independent Espenoza, to replace retiring Democrat Elaine Furlow.
Seven Democrats have approached Rousselot in the past few months to discuss running for the School Board in the future, he said. But he is unsure how many of them will actually jump into the race now that Hynes is retiring.
So far Baird, who currently serves as co-chair of the board’s Early Childhood Education Advisory Committee and as vice president of the Drew Model Elementary School Association, is the only Democrat who has formally declared her candidacy.
Baird, 41, lives in South Arlington and is the parent of two sons, a five-year-old at Drew and a two-year old. She is vice president of production operations for Tax Analysts, a non-profit tax publishing company.
“It’s not often there is an opening for School Board, and my kids are young and I feel very close to the subject,” Baird said. “...Right now I’m meeting people and finding out what issues are important to them.”
Baird, who has been endorsed by Fendley and County Board member Jay Fisette, said her involvement with Drew and early childhood education issues have spurred her to run.
“One of the things that has hit home to me working with Drew parents and teachers is how important the school community is to setting the stage for learning,” she said. “It’s not just about teaching students, but helping engage parents and help connecting them to their children’s education.
Rock, who lost to Fendley in last year’s Democratic caucus, said in a phone interview on Monday that he was strongly considering running again for School Board, but had yet to make a decision.
“I have been talking to my supporters from last year and assessing whether make another run,” Rock said. “Some people really want me to get in and I just need to think about it a little more.”
THE COUNTY’S REPUBLICANS are also gearing up for their caucus, and are buoyed by the fact that they will not have to run against the electoral juggernaut that is Hynes, officials said.
“With an open seat we have a much better chance,” said Arlington County Republican Committee Chair Bill Lockhart.
The Republican’s will also hold an organizational meeting to determine the endorsement process. Lockhart said he met with two prospective candidates last week.
Last year, Barker, who also ran unsuccessfully in 2004, won the Republican endorsement without challenge. He had assumed Hynes would run again, so has not given much thought to a third bid.
“It’s premature at this point as to whether I will try for a third time,” he said. “But I think we accomplished a lot over the past couple of years.”
Beth Wolffe, the Republican-backed candidate who lost to Hynes in 2002 and who some Republicans had been urging to run again, said she will not seek office because of family and work obligations.
“I would very much have like to do that, but to my great disappointment I won’t be running” she said.
But one familiar name could be back on the ballot again this year. Espenoza, who garnered 20.55 percent of the vote in November as an Independent, seems to be leaning toward another run, though she has not officially announced her candidacy.
Espenoza is an active Democrat in Arlington, but would have to run again as an Independent because as an employee of the Justice Department she is precluded from seeking elected partisan positions.
“I’ve been contemplating it and been encouraged by several individuals,” she said. “I’m hopeful we can do what both parties say is impossible. I trust the electorate in Arlington and am willing to run as an independent.”