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New Candidates Make Their Cases to Democratic Rank-and-File

Updated: Apr 9

Gazette Leader, Scott McCaffrey, Feb. 9, 2024 at 9:49am

The Arlington County Democratic Committee’s candidate roster filled out significantly Feb. 7, with a new County Board contender and three new School Board candidates launching bids in front of the party’s rank-and-file.

That brings to four, in each race, the number of announced candidates leading into springtime party primary/caucus season, and “we’re not over,” predicted county Democratic chair Steve Baker.

At the monthly Democratic meeting held at Lubber Run Community Center, Tenley Peterson announced plans to compete for County Board in the June 18 primary, joining a field that already includes James DeVita, Natalie Roy and Julie Farnam.

Also at the meeting, Kathleen Clark, Larry Fishtahler and Zuraya Tapia-Hadley launched bids for School Board, joining Chen Ling in a nomination fight that will be decided in May caucus voting.

(None of the incumbents whose seats are on the November 2024 ballot – County Board member Libby Garvey and School Board members Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy – will be seeking re-election.)

It’s getting a tad late for candidates to be hopping into the race (especially for School Board, where the filing deadline for the caucus is Feb. 17). But others could still join the fray.

J.D. Spain Sr., who last year finished fourth in a six-candidate Democratic County Board primary, has announced plans to run again, but did not deliver remarks to Democrats on Feb. 7.

Others, however, were eager to grab the microphone and make their case.

“We must be intentional in how we grow and adapt,” said Peterson, who previously served on the county government’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission and currently serves on the Planning Commission.

Pronouncing herself a supporter of the Missing Middle housing policies adopted by the County Board, Peterson used her three minutes at the lectern to press for more school support, action on stormwater issues, strengthening the social safety net and boosting parks and trees.

School Board aspirant Clark said that as vice chair of a school-system strategic-planning body, she already had listened to “thousands of families.”

“Arlington deserves a School Board member who takes action to fix problems,” she said. “Our school system must work well for all students.”

Tapia-Hadley, who has served on the school system’s Educational Technology Advisory Committee, said the 27,000-student school system stood at a crossroads.

“I want to lift all voices,” she said, expressing concern that the system might “fall back in ways that will deeply hurt kids.”

Fishtahler may be the most interesting case. It was 21 years ago that he was the Democratic endorsee trying to spoil the re-election bid of David Foster, a Republican-leaning independent and (to date) the last non-Democrat to serve on the School Board.

Despite Fishtahler’s bona-fides as one-time head of the County Council of PTAs, the county’s Democratic leadership in 2003 largely left him to fight it out on his own. Foster, who in 1997 had to wait until the final precincts reported to declare victory over Democrat Sharon Davis, ended up with a  62-to-38-percent 2003 victory over Fishtahler.

Fishtahler is running now, he said, based on his experience in retirement as a substitute teacher in the school system, suggesting that the current school leadership doesn’t know “how it feels to actually be in a classroom, working with students.”

“Confidence in leadership . . . continues to decline,” he said.

Party chair Baker, always a glass-half-full kind of guy, pronounced himself impressed by the fields that have emerged for local races.

“So many wonderful people committed to public service,” he said.

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