Arlington voters tend to reward candidates for local office who talk the talk of progressive leadership, but ultimately put their efforts into the nuts-and-bolts of local governance.
Chanda Choun, who has embarked on his third bid for a County Board post, seems ready to push the envelope in both rhetoric and policy, hoping to ride a wave of “woke” activism into office.
Choun, who is attempting to unseat sitting Democrat Takis Karantonis in a June primary, did not pull many punches in an April 7 kickoff speech before the Arlington County Democratic Committee rank-and-file.
“Takis was not the best candidate to represent Arlington” during a politically and racially charged era, Choun said in a three-minute kickoff speech. (Karantonis spoke to the same body for the same length of time in March.)
If elected, Choun said he would be an elected official who “goes beyond the platitudes and buzzwords” to promote an aggressively left-leaning agenda.
One example: Choun said he wanted the county to establish a “truth and reconciliation commission” to focus on equity issues.
But at the same time, there are more traditional elements to his policy positions. Choun has called for greater efforts to reduce the tax burden on homeowners – usually the province of candidates running against Arlington Democrats – and if you squint hard and read between the lines of his late-March kickoff press release, you find he might have some sympathy with those who think the county government and school system have not done enough to get students back in class expeditiously.
Karantonis and Choun have been to this dance before; they were two of four contenders in an Arlington County Democratic Committee caucus to select a party nominee leading up to the July 2020 special election to fill the seat of County Board Vice Chairman Erik Gutshall, who had died earlier that year.
Choun finished third; Karantonis, who initially ran second behind School Board member Barbara Kanninen in the “instant-runoff” format, catapulted ahead of Kanninen to win the nomination and, two months later, the special election. He is serving out the 18 months that remained of Gutshall’s term.
In his April 7 remarks, Choun castigated the Democratic nominating process in that race, as it was limited to top-ranking Democratic leaders and excluded most members of the public.
“People deserve a fair, open election – they didn’t get one last year,” he said.
(Maybe, maybe not, but Choun initially had been taking on County Board member Libby Garvey in the June 2020 state-run primary, before abandoning that bid when the special election was ordered by a state judge to fill the Gutshall vacancy. All registered voters would have been eligible to vote in the primary, which was scrapped when Choun pulled out to seek the Gutshall seat.)
Born in Cambodia and a resident of Arlington since 2015, Choun burst on the political scene with a 2018 County Board race that pitted him against the Democrats’ anointed candidate, Matt de Ferranti. De Ferranti won the Democratic primary and, fulfilling Democrats’ efforts to regain their oligarchy in local office, went on to unseat independent County Board member John Vihstadt in the November 2018 general election.
For this year’s race, Choun submitted paperwork not long before the filing deadline in late March. He is touting a “Freedom and Justice Plan” that includes economic-development efforts and reform of the century-old county-governance structure.
A U.S. Army veteran and tech entrepreneur, he lives in Buckingham.
The Karantonis-Choun showdown will be part of the June 8 Democratic primary, and the result could depend on which candidate can convince voters casting ballots for governor that they should support his bid for local office.
State primaries are open to all voters, as Virginia does not register voters by political party. Early voting begins April 23.
Waiting in the wings for the winner of the primary is independent Audrey Clement, who has filed to run in the Nov. 2 general election. County Republicans also are trying to recruit a candidate, and other independents might join the fray.
Knocking off a sitting Democrat in Arlington local governance is rare, but not unheard of. In 2017, Monique O’Grady defeated two-term School Board member James Lander in the Democratic caucus, and two years later, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti defeated two-term Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos in the Democratic primary. Both O’Grady and Dehghani-Tafti went on to win general-election victories.
The Arlington County Democratic Committee is in the process of setting up one or more debates between the contenders, and other groups might host forums, as well.