It is odd to be addressing you for the last time as a member of the Arlington County Board.
What an incredible ride it has been. For two decades, I have had the good fortune to serve as an elected official in a community that appreciates the positive role of government; where a politician can make decisions based on our values and good public policy rather than politics.
I have had the honor and the privilege of working with a staff of incredibly talented, dedicated individuals, led by some very capable County Managers who have always put the interests of our community first.
At some risk, I want to single out 3 staff with whom I have worked most closely – the County Board Office Clerk Hope Halleck, and my two long-time Aides, Bonnie Parker and Liza Gookin Hodskins.
And I have had the satisfaction of working with Board Members who – whatever our differences – largely shared a vision of Arlington built on our progressive values. They have been more than my colleagues; they have mentored me, and inspired me.
Most of all, I have been awed by the talent, commitment and engagement of our community. Arlington is blessed with residents, businesses and organizations that care passionately about this County and are ready to participate in finding solutions to problems.
You have been my greatest asset – and sometimes, my greatest challenge. You set the bar high for us – demanding accountability, transparency, efficiency and engagement.
As I said on my first day as Board Chair last January, “the only constant in life is change.” Change is hard. Guiding that change – listening and leading – has been my job, and the job of this Board.
That’s two decades of change for me. During that time, we have become an amenity-rich, thriving urban place while retaining our small-town connectedness. We’ve become a magnet for millennials, for young families, and for seniors seeking a safe, walkable, and accessible community.
We’ve adopted a Community Energy Plan that frames our award-winning efforts to ensure Arlington’s sustainability. We’ve invested heavily in preserving affordable housing. We’ve embraced diversity in the face of anti-immigrant sentiment. And even in the depths of the worst recession since the Great Depression, we kept our social safety net intact and made cost effective infrastructure investments.
We’ve shown that it is possible to be both fiscally prudent and compassionate. Nobody does the basics better than Arlington. We supply the water, educate our children, provide a complete transportation system, and deliver first-class police and fire protection better than anyone. Arlington works.
But this community has never been – and I hope never will be – satisfied with just the basics. I hope we never let the discontent of the few outweigh the greater good.
Our ability to aspire is what makes Arlington, Arlington. Everyone says this differently. Former Manager Ron Carlee used to say – “We don’t do easy in Arlington.” The bottom line is that we don’t want to be just good, we want to be smart and bold and stretch toward the stars. No problem is too big for us.
This Board sets the tone by championing practical yet aspirational policies and goals such as: The 10-year plan to end homelessness and drug diversion program, our visionary smart growth and transportation plans, a public art master plan, a zero waste and energy reduction plan, and maybe in the future, a Vision Zero goal for bike and pedestrian fatalities and an enhanced consumer protection program.
We are always looking for opportunities to improve. That’s what keeps us vibrant – that striving to be better and a concern with the large issues. As I firmly believe, the moral issue of our time is climate change, and the most immediate moral challenge Arlington faces is housing affordability.
And we must always cherish the civility that marks our public discourse as we debate issues. We have all learned in this past year that civility, and the willingness to listen to others, must never be taken for granted.
It is that basic decency and compassion of Arlingtonians that has seen us through hard times. Even when we suffered the trauma of the attack on the Pentagon; the loss of jobs brought on by the BRAC process that hit us harder than any other community in this nation or a derecho before we knew what a derecho was, we have pulled together as a community. We are resilient.
And finally, we should never lose perspective. Whatever the setbacks we face, we should sometimes remind one another of how fortunate we are compared to so many communities across the globe.
So I leave knowing that this County is in good hands.
Thank you so much for the most rewarding 20 years of my life.