Is the Arlington County government an ardent champion and regional – nay, national – leader on environmental issues?
Or is it a poseur who likes to take credit but seldom accomplishes much of substance?
The answer, as most times when given a choice between polar opposites, probably lies somewhere in the middle. Exactly where in the middle was where there was some disagreement among the four candidates seeking a four-year term for County Board.
“I question the county’s commitment” to environmental issues, independent Audrey Clement said at the Arlington County Civic Federation’s Sept. 14 candidate forum, held online.
Clement said the county government was good at “double-speak” and taking credit for things, but its efforts (or lack of same) on issues like tree canopy have left Arlington with “more runoff, erosion and heat-island effects.”
Another candidate who believes the county government isn’t pushing hard enough is independent Adam Theo, who said the best long-term strategy would be to “lobby, and lobby hard” in Richmond for changes to real-estate-taxation laws that would allow the county government to give preferential treatment to those whose land use is in line with environmental activism.
That might be a stretch even for the currently Democratic-controlled General Assembly, but Theo (who like all candidates was given just a minute to answer the question) came up with a shorter-term strategy to help the environment.
“Build a lot more permeable surfaces,” he said, encouraging developers to buy into the concept.
Incumbent Democrat Takis Karantonis said the heart of the county’s challenges is limitations imposed upon localities by the state government.
“We are waiting for jurisdiction from Richmond,” he said.
That’s an rationale that has worn thin with some activists on a number of environmental issues, who say the county government uses it as a timely excuse to not push the envelope in creativity.
Karantonis, however, said he and his board colleagues voted for a $200 million stormwater-management package, and that he is willing to go against his colleagues on environmental issues when he feels they are off track.
His third challenger, Mike Cantwell, said the county government often was tone-deaf. He pointed to delivering thousands upon thousands of “wasteful” composting bins to homeowners, who may have no interest in them.
Cantwell proposed one way to support Mother Gaia was to cut the number of motorized vehicles in the county-government’s fleet by one-third and also “encourage police to spend more time outside their cruisers and walking the neighborhood.”
Because of the Civic Federation’s debate format – the equivalent of a start-to-finish lightning round with tight deadlines imposed for each question – the three challengers did not have as much time to try and knock Karantonis off his game.
Although they tried.
“Takis knows how to go along to get along,” said Clement, calling him a “rubber stamp” for the status quo.
“We need County Board members who think and act independently and will listen, really listen,” said Cantwell (the only one of the four to remember to pitch his campaign Website address in closing remarks).
Theo ripped “the lack of diversity of thought” on the all-Democratic County Board, and said a window of opportunity to create change was coming.
“The future of Arlington County really does hang in the balance,” he said.
As the Democratic nominee, Karantonis is all but assured victory unless he makes some monumental blunder during campaign season. So far, he has not, and in his remarks at the forum, praised local residents for creating a “forward-thinking, caring community.”