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Winners in Arlington Races Pivot to Elected-Official-in-Waiting Status Print

BY: Scott McCaffrey, Editor SUN GAZETTE

Created: November 8, 2017

With the election behind them, Arlington's next County Board and School Board members have a learning curve as they gear up to take office at the start of the new year.

"It's really just to observe, soak up as much as I can, learn as much as I can," said Erik Gutshall, who will succeed the retiring Jay Fisette on the County Board, of his plans not just for the next seven weeks before he is sworn in, but for his first months in elected office.

Gutshall, who currently serves as chairman of the Arlington Planning Commission, won the Democratic endorsement in a four-way primary held in May. On Nov. 7, he held back independents Audrey Clement and Charles McCullough. It was only the second time the seat has turned over since 1974.

There will be plenty of issues for Gutshall to bone up on as he transitions to the five-member County Board, from developing strategies to encourage construction of housing for the middle class and finding land for schools and other county facilities, to the redevelopment of Lee Highway and deciding how much should be spent in resuscitating the Metro system.

One of his main goals, Gutshall said, was to find ways to bring a broader spectrum of the public into local decision-making. It was a theme he repeated frequently on the hustings.

"Not everybody has had the same positive experience I have had. There are a lot of folks who feel really disenfranchised," Gutshall said. "The county has to figure out how to reach more people in a more meaningful way. There's not a lot of easy solutions."

Also on the docket: County Board members in February will receive County Manager Mark Schwartz's proposed fiscal 2019 budget; the springtime also will include revisions to the county's six-year capital plan.

Gutshall, who last year unsuccessfully challenged incumbent County Board member Libby Garvey and will now join her on the dais, said he was eager to "figure out what goes on behind the curtain" of governance.

"I've been on the outside looking in for a long time," he said.

Also coming into elected office in January will be Monique O'Grady, who bested Alison Dough and Mike Webb for School Board on Nov. 7 after defeating incumbent School Board member James Lander in a spring Democratic caucus.

O'Grady – a veteran schools' activist – said she, too, would be listening in coming months. "I'll be continuing doing what I'm doing now, so I'm in the best position to serve the citizens of Arlington," O'Grady told the Sun Gazette as Election Day approached.

O'Grady said making all students a priority was her key goal. She promised to focus on "how we can best ensure our kids of all different abilities feel like they're included" in school.

Among the issues on the School Board's plate: Juggling the need to get moving on construction projects without leaving community input by the side of the road. O'Grady said she was supportive of the school staff's recent plan to slow down some of the fast-paced planning processes.

Among O'Grady's other hot topics: Finding ways to improve communication between teachers and the APS leadership; addressing drugs in schools; focusing on the "school-to-prison pipeline"; and gearing up for boundary changes and an update to the strategic plan.

She also will get tossed into the middle of what could be the most contentious issue of 2018: potential changes to schools whose names are deemed offensive by some.

On that issue, O'Grady has steadfastly straddled the middle ground, offering no strong leanings on how the matter should play out.

"It's a good opportunity to take a look at where we are as a community," she said. "Let's have that dialogue."

Gutshall and O'Grady enjoyed the support of the Arlington County Democratic Committee's get-out-the-vote apparatus to triumph in what had been largely low-key contests.

In addition, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th) cruised to victory against Republican Adam Roosevelt, while Democratic Dels. Patrick Hope (47th), Rip Sullivan (48th) and Mark Levine (45th) were unopposed.

With the 2017 election now in the rear-view mirror, the focus eventually will turn to 2018. On the ballot will be seats currently held by County Board member John Vihstadt, an independent, and School Board chairman Barbara Kanninen, a Democrat. Each is expected to seek re-election.