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ArlingtonPoliticsClement's non-stop campaigning draws derision ... and some fans

Clement’s non-stop campaigning draws derision … and some fans

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She has been running nearly continuously for local office for the past decade. And Audrey Clement already seems to have her eyes set on her next target.

“I regret that I have but one opportunity a year to challenge the all-Democrat County Board,” Clement said in a post-election missive to supporters, after she rolled up a second-place finish in the four-candidate field.

Clement garnered 18.3 percent of the vote compared to 13.9 percent for Mike Cantwell and 5.7 percent for Adam Theo. Along with roughly 2 percent of voters casting write-in votes, the threesome constituted the opposition to Democratic incumbent Takis Karantonis in a race that was, owing to the political allegiances of Arlington voters, effectively over before it began.

But that reality did not stop Clement from making her case, either during the campaign or after.

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“It’s a shame that so many voters see the Democratic Party’s blue sample ballot as a ticket to freedom rather an invitation to poor government and outright political corruption,” she said. “With no alternative candidate elected to local office, Arlingtonians are faced with another year of machine rule and the prospect of accelerated infill development, runoff, congestion and overcrowded schools that goes with it.”

Far from being irked that she had to share the spotlight with a number of first-time aspirants taking on Karantonis, Clement said she was “delighted that other candidates have come forward.”

Karantonis, who took just over 60 percent of the vote in the Nov. 2 election (the first time he had faced Clement), came away somewhat unimpressed with the interaction.

“I was surprised how decisively negative” she was, Karantonis told the Arlington Senior Democrats organization during a Nov. 9 campaign post-mortem.

The result of the 2021 County Board election was never in doubt, and Karantonis’s vote percentage could have been divined with reasonable certainty early in the race, when it became clear neither Clement nor Theo or Cantwell were going to be awash in the cash that would be needed to mount a serious challenge in a community best described as a political oligarchy.

Without the cash to get their messages out, the independents were easy pickings for the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s well-oiled get-out-the-vote effort.

As a result, Karantonis (who last year won a special election to fill the seat of the late Erik Gutshall) merely had to play political rope-a-dope, absorbing body blows from opponents during the few debates of a largely “virtual” campaign season and waiting for the Democratic machine to get him easily across the finish line. He avoided mistakes, sidestepped controversies and walked the tightrope between progressive partisan and public servant.

Clement long has complained that the local news media give short shrift to independent candidates, but her inability or unwillingness over the past decade to develop a broad campaign infrastructure and raise the money needed to get her message out leads even those in sympathy with her to wonder whether victory is actually her ultimate objective. (One civic leader who admires her moxie and indefatigable efforts acknowledges, privately, that Clement at times “can be her own worst enemy,” politically-speaking.)

Clement’s efforts won praise from a perhaps unexpected source. The candidate “plays such an important role in our public-policy discourse,” said Matthew Hurtt, communications director of the Arlington County Republican Committee, in a Nov. 10 election post-mortem conducted by the Arlington Committee of 100.

Early in her political career, Clement was allied with the Arlington Green Party, but the two parted ways; since then, she has run as a pure independent.

Next year’s County Board election will feature the seat of Matt de Ferranti, who currently is serving as chair and is expected to seek a second four-year term.

De Ferranti’s road to the general election may be impeded by a primary challenger (most likely coming at him from the left), but most County Board incumbents tend to brush those challenges aside with little effort. Karantonis this year easily defeated an intra-party challenge from Chanda Choun.

Most years, Clement has run for County Board. The two exceptions have been 2014 and 2014 when she ran for School Board – perhaps to clear the County Board field for independent John Vihstadt, who won in 2018 but was felled by Democrats four years later. Clement’s two School Board forays provided a change of scenery but gained her little traction; in each, she lost to Democratic endorsee Barbara Kanninen by roughly two-to-one margins.

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