When the Arlington County Democratic Committee in early February debated whether to retain the organization’s nominating caucus for School Board seats, Mary Kadera was among those enthusiastically supporting its retention.
Kadera acknowledged the process had its faults and needed reforms. But she also said it was a vital backstop to ensure that liberal Democrats are able to determine who sits on the School Board.
But Kadera had a change of heart, and though she didn’t publicize the fact immediately, ended up voted against continuing the caucus.
“At the meeting, I listened carefully and I grew increasingly uncomfortable because of what I was hearing,” she said in a missive to supporters on Feb. 28. “If I had been called to speak closer to the end of the meeting, I’m not sure if I would have stood up and said what I did.”
What led to her evolving view? “Other people, including many people of color, sharing how the caucus is divisive and doing harm to our community at a time when we really need to be pulling together,” Kadera wrote on Feb. 28.
Last year, Kadera won the Democratic caucus and moved on to win the general election. She succeeded Monique O’Grady, who called it quits after a single four-year term on the School Board.
(O’Grady at the Feb. 2 meeting came out in favor of retaining the caucus process, as did, among others, current School Board Chairman Barbara Kanninen.)
Even had she come out against the proposal to eliminate the caucus at the Feb. 2 meeting, it’s unlikely Kadera would have had any appreciable impact. The Democratic power-brokers who had the authority to vote on the matter opted to keep the caucus in place by a 4-to-1 margin.
But at least Kadera is on the record with her amended viewpoint.
“To those who feel like my change of heart is ‘too little, too late’ – I can only agree that yes, it took me a while to land in this spot,” she said. “But that hasn’t been for lack of interest or careful study: I care deeply about our community, its public education system and its governance.”
Arlington has had an elected School Board since the 1990s. Under Virginia law, elections are formally nonpartisan, but political parties are able to “endorse” candidates if not formally nominate them.
Virtually all Arlington School Board members of the last two decades won the Democratic endorsement prior to general-election victory; the lone outlier was Dave Foster, who ran as a Republican-backed independent and won four-year terms in 1999 and 2003.
The 2021 Democratic caucus between Kadera and Miranda Turner, which effectively determined the outcome of the subsequent general election, drew about 6,200 participants. That was about 6 percent of the number who turned out for the ensuing election, where their School Board choices were Kadera or independent Major Mike Webb. Kadera won 77 percent of the general-election vote.