Streetcar, spending top issues in Arlington special election

Independent candidate John Vihstadt greets a voter as she heads to the polls Tuesday in Arlington. The special election will determine who will serve the remaining months left of Chris Zimmerman\'s term. He resigned to take a new job. (WTOP/Max Smith)

ARLINGTON, Va. – Turnout has been low across Arlington Tuesday as voters headed to the polls to fill the seat left vacant by board member Chris Zimmerman’s resignation.

The special election has focused on large county projects like the Columbia Pike Streetcar line and the Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center.

Democrat Alan Howze and John Vihstadt, who is a Republican running as an independent with the support of the Green Party, are the two leading candidates. Janet Murphy and Stephen Holbrook are also on the ballot.

Outside a polling place in Crystal City around lunchtime, several voters said the streetcar project and spending were their main concerns – for some driving them to vote for Howze, and others for Vihstadt.

“I support investments in education and transportation that have created the Arlington we know today,” Howze said between chats with voters outside Walter Reed Elementary in Westover.

The last time a non-Democrat won a seat on the Arlington County Board was 15 years ago, and Vihstadt believes he can be next.

“People are yearning for a little balance and a fresh perspective on the county board after a decade of one-party rule,” Vihstadt says. “Certainly the streetcar is part of it, but I’ve also campaigned on some of the other wasteful projects in the county.”

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Alan Howze, right, talks to a voter outside a polling place in Arlington Tuesday. Voters will decide who will serve the remainder of Chris Zimmerman’s term on the county board. (WTOP/Max Smith)

Despite the focus on the Columbia Pike project, Howze believes many voters consider school overcrowding and other education issues more important, he says. The winner will serve the remaining months left of Zimmerman’s term. He resigned from the board to become a vice president of Smart Growth America.

Whoever wins the seat will likely have a leg up in the general election this fall.

Elections officials expect less than 20 percent of registered voters before the day is done. Polls close at 7 p.m.

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