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Week In Arlington

NAACP Forgives Treasurer

The Arlington chapter of the NAACP forgave Treasurer Frank O’Leary (D) last week for sending out a controversial campaign mailing.

For weeks now O’Leary, who has served as Treasurer since 1984, has endured demands from prominent members of the county’s black community that he resign. But at a tense NAACP forum in which O’Leary answered tough questions and pleaded for forgiveness, chapter president Dr. Talmadge Williams expressed a desire to move on.

"I’m asking you tonight to forgive Frank," Williams said to the NAACP members in attendance. "We can’t forget what he did [but] I want to receive Frank back into the fold."

The furor stemmed from a letter that O’Leary mailed on June 7, less than a week prior to the primary election in which he was facing local African-American attorney Bob James. The letter, sent to 1,500 households in predominantly-white North Arlington, sharply criticized James’ plan to invest county money in minority-owned banks and claimed that James was being supported by "eight minority churches."

In the outrage that ensued, the county’s elected officials, many of whom were close, personal friends of O’Leary, strongly rebuked his letter and the local Democratic Party withdrew its support for O’Leary’s reelection campaign.

At the meeting, O’Leary rationalized his criticisms of James’ investment plan, saying that there is only one minority-owned bank in Northern Virginia and this bank has not expressed interest in holding county funds.

But he did not attempt to defend his claims that James enjoyed church support. When asked what his definition of a minority church was, O’Leary replied that "I was wondering that myself." He also said he did not know which specific churches he perceived as supporting James in the primary.

Throughout the forum, O’Leary expressed remorse for sending the letter and frequently described it as an unwise lapse of judgment.

"As a result of my foolish action, I think I received… 40 votes," he said. "It was not a smart move… There are more mistakes in all of this than I can count."

While the leader of the Arlington NAACP expressed a desire to absolve O’Leary, not all of its members were as forgiving.

School Board Member Frank Wilson and former County Board candidate Sarah Summerville peppered O’Leary with pointed questions about his motivations in sending the letter and appeared unsatisfied by his answers. But, in the end, Williams insisted that the county’s black community not make a permanent enemy of the Treasurer.

"We are not turning our back on Frank O’Leary," he said.

— David Schultz

Professors Work With H.S. Students

Bridget Murphy, a communications professor at Marymount University, worked with several Yorktown & Washington-Lee High School students this year on a combined graphic and literary art project

The project, called Arlington Urban Explorers, "celebrates the rich multi-cultural influences that make up Arlington County today," Murphy said in a statement.

This project provided an opportunity for Marymount faculty to share their knowledge with the community. "It celebrates diversity, while highlighting our shared humanity," Murphy said.

The student participants were Patricia Sever of Washington-Lee and sisters Christine, Helen, and Nina Stoddard of Yorktown. They interviewed, explored and documented their own heritage and other cultures in their community through poems, prose and artwork. Working with Murphy, they used state-of-the-art computer design software to create their final pieces. The students also received assistance with the literary side of their projects from English professors Marguerite Rippy and Ellen Herbert.

Christine Stoddard said that she found the whole process to be fun.

"I enjoyed sitting down in the computer lab and just asking questions," she said in a statement. "It was exciting to interact with a professional in the graphic design field." She will be attending Grinnell College in the fall on a full-tuition scholarship and plans to pursue a career that combines writing and graphic design.

The students’ work is now on display in the Lodge on Marymount’s campus through Sept. 1.

Arlington Grad Wins Scholarship

Yorktown High School graduate Chelsea B. Sklar received the prestigious National Merit Scholarship last week, the only of 12 finalists from Arlington to receive the award.

Sklar is one of the 8,200 winners of the National Merit Scholarship across the country this year out of the 1.4 million who applied by taking the PSAT test, which served as an initial screening of program entrants, in 2005. The National Merit Scholars will receive a total of $34 million dollars this year towards their education.

Sklar will be attending the University of Southern California where, according to an Arlington Public Schools statement, her major will probably be English.

Arlingtonian Volunteers In Nepal

Jefferson Yarborough, a native of Arlington, is spending his summer in working to foster democracy in Nepal.

Yarborough, currently studying at Columbia University, is an Advocacy Project Peace Fellow with the Collective Campaign for Peace, a human rights advocacy group that was founded in 2001. He has been promoting information production in the months leading up to the country's upcoming election.

The Advocacy Forum, one of the Collective Campaign for Peace's partners, has documented more than 1,300 new cases of torture in Nepal since the restoration of democracy there in April 2006.

During his stay in Nepal, Yarborough will be writing a blog about his experiences. His thoughts on such topics as gender discrimination, Maoist rebels and the fledgling Nepalese democracy can be read at advocacynet.org/blogs/index.php?blog=84.