County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman coasted to re-election Tuesday night, easily defeating his two challengers in a year that saw a record turnout in Arlington for a non-presidential election.
Zimmerman finished with 65.7 percent of the vote, besting his performance in 2002 when he captured 61.3 percent. Republican candidate Mike McMenamin garnered 29.3 percent of the votes, and Green Party contender Josh Ruebner netted just over 5 percent.
Zimmerman said that the large margin of victory was an affirmation of his governing philosophy and record of accomplishment during his 10 years on the board.
"I am very grateful to get this vote of confidence," Zimmerman said during the Arlington County Democratic Committee's election night party at Cecelia's Restaurant on Columbia Pike.
"Arlington voters support the kind of progressive approach to government that we are taking," he added.
The results were a major setback for the county's Republican Party, which believed they were headed for their best performance in years. Republican leaders had hoped that a combination of higher taxes and a burgeoning discontent with county spending would lead residents to rebel against Zimmerman, ending the Democrats' monopoly of the board.
Instead, Zimmerman nabbed the highest vote total of his four runs for office. Democratic leaders said the results proved that while residents may be irked by higher taxes they are pleased with Zimmerman's leadership and the board's policies.
"Overall, people are happy and enthusiastic with the way this government is being run," said Peter Rousselot, chair of the Arlington Democratic Committee.
During the campaign Zimmerman highlighted his role in expanding the county's transportation network, fighting to retain affordable housing and making Arlington a safer community.
The wide margin of victory "shows the support for the policies I have been working on," Zimmerman said.
MCMENAMIN SAID he was disappointed by the outcome of the race but proud of his spirited and issues-driven campaign.
"We worked very hard to the end," McMenamin said. "I gave it my best shot and we ran a really good campaign for the first time out."
McMenamin, president of the Maywood Civic Association and a member of the county’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee, was spurred to run because he believed the County Board was disengaged from the needs of the Arlington's residential neighborhoods. He also made bringing greater fiscal responsibility to the board and lowering taxes the centerpieces of his campaign.
Geoff Schwartzman, McMenamin's campaign manager, said that even though McMenamin lost, residents agreed with his message that the County Board needs to do a better job listening to the concerns of neighborhoods.
"What Mike was saying wasn't rhetoric but the real issues people are concerned about'," he added.
Ruebner, a political novice operating with a shoestring budget and little name recognition, surprised many in the county by grabbing five percent of the vote.
"Both I and the Green Party are extremely pleased at the strong showing we had for our first ever contested County Board election," he said. "I am very grateful that thousands of Arlington residents voted for me and agreed with my critique of the Democratic Party."
Though Ruebner had little involvement in county politics before declaring he would run for County Board, his campaign to increase Arlington's stock of affordable housing resonated with many voters. Ruebner believes that the County Board has kowtowed to developers, leading to the loss of Arlington's economic and cultural diversity.
"We sent a strong signal to the Democratic Party that a lot of people in Arlington are upset with the course of the county's politics and are looking for a change," he added.
ARLINGTON VOTERS FLOCKED to the polls in record number, spurred by a competitive senate race and the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Turnout was 56.16 percent — with 73,465 Arlingtonians voting — the highest ever in the county in a non-presidential election. Democrat Jim Webb captured nearly 73 percent of the vote in Arlington, approximately the same percentage of voters who cast ballots against the constitutional amendment.
Democratic and Republican leaders agreed that the high turnout in the heavily democratic county helped boost the fortunes of Zimmerman and Sally Baird, who was elected to School Board.
"Many of these voters were simply saying that we do not like the national Republicans," Rousselot, head of the Arlington Democratic Committee, said.
Schwartzman added that it was a nearly impossible task to convince voters to differentiate the County Board race from the national political environment.
"Our issues are street paving, not the war in Iraq," he said. "But when the animosity for national Republicans is at such a high level, it is very difficult."
Zimmerman said that having two knowledgeable opponents forced him to work hard for his re-election and will make him a more effective leader in the future.
The political future of Ruebner and McMenamin is unclear at the moment. McMenamin said he enjoyed the campaign and that he would consider running again.
"We laid a good foundation," he said.
Ruebner expects the Green Party to field candidates in future years, but was not sure if he would give it another go.
"We have a lot of Green Party members who were very energized by this election and are willing to play a more active role.