Did the Arlington government cross a line and, instead of merely informing the public about the impacts of the July 23 visit of President Biden, go further and actively support Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe?
That’s the contention of the Arlington County Republican Committee, accusing the county government of “misusing taxpayer resources and county bandwidth to actively promote a partisan campaign rally.”
“One-party rule in Arlington continues to produce a lack of accountability,” GOP chairman Andrew Loposser said in a statement released in advance of the evening visit of the president to Lubber Run Park, where Democrats rallied in support of McAuliffe.
At issue: A county-government advisory, posted on its Website, that included traffic closings planned in advance of the rally. So far, so good, but the county government then went a step beyond and provided an online hyperlink to a group promoting the event – and could, conceivably, use the contact information of those who clicked on the link to harvest information on voters.
In response to media inquiries, County Board Chairman Matt de Ferranti said the intent was not to give the McAuliffe campaign a taxpayer-funded boost.
“Our decision to include the link was based solely on the fact that county staff had already received numerous calls about the event from the public,” he told the Sun Gazette.
The county government was “simply providing a way for interested residents to receive more information, as we have done in the past – and would do for any large-scale event,” de Ferranti said.
Loposser wasn’t buying that explanation. He called the incident a “desperate, coordinated attempt between county leaders and Arlington Democrats to drive up Democratic votes in Arlington” in what could end up being a close statewide race between McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin.
(If the county government felt any pangs of conscience over the link and the brushback it drew, you wouldn’t know it – the press release, and the hyperlink, remained active on the government’s Website even after the McAuliffe event had ended.)
Another who wasn’t quite buying the official explanation was Audrey Clement, making a bid for County Board as an independent.
The action was par for the course, Clement said.
“Yes, Arlington County has engaged in deceptive advertising to promote the McAuliffe campaign,” she said in response to a Sun Gazette query. “This is nothing new.”
The rally for the Democratic ticket of McAuliffe, Hala Ayala and Mark Herring turned out a large crowd. It also brought out smaller crowds of critics from both the left and the right.
The Republican Party of Virginia sniffed that the rally was more a sign of Democratic weakness than of strength.
“It’s a pretty scary proposition when you need Joe Biden to build excitement among the Democratic base in July,” the party said in a statement. “But that’s the reality in Virginia when the only person excited about 40-year political boss Terry McAuliffe running for governor a third time is Terry McAuliffe.”
On the other side of the political divide, environmental groups opposing construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline attended the event, aiming to remind Biden that McAuliffe, as governor, approved the pipeline.
“Our hope is that President Biden will lift his aviators, look McAuliffe directly in the eye and state assertively that the Mountain Valley Pipeline is a loser,” said Jolene Mafnas, Virginia organizer for Food & Water Watch.