Critic Of Missing Middle Process Scores Big Win In County Board Race

ARLINGTON, VA — One candidate for Arlington County Board who expressed concerns about the Missing Middle housing process throughout her campaign was the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s election, while another opponent of Missing Middle finished far behind the two winners after all the votes were tallied.

The two Democratic candidates for Arlington County Board — Susan Cunningham and Maureen Coffey — easily won election on Tuesday to the two seats opening on the county board.

Cunningham, who entered the race for County Board earlier this year with opposition to the Missing Middle process as one of her top campaign issues, received the most votes in Tuesday’s election, winning 43,634 votes, or 38.60 percent of the total vote count.

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Cunningham’s fellow Democratic candidate, Maureen Coffey, who expressed support for Missing Middle throughout her campaign, won the other seat on the county board, receiving 39,860 votes, or 35.26 percent of the vote count. The two will get sworn into office at the start of 2024.

Supporters of Missing Middle, also known as Expanded Housing Options (EHO), have pointed out how independent candidate Audrey Clement, a staunch opponent of Missing Middle in her run for county board, received only 14,179 votes, or 13 percent of the votes in Tuesday’s election. Republican candidate Juan Carlos Fierro, another opponent of Missing Middle, received 13,326 votes, or 11.79 percent of the vote count.

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When she ran against incumbent Arlington County Board member Matt de Ferranti (D) in 2022 when Missing Middle was also a hot election issue, Clement performed better, receiving 23,521 votes, or 28.29 percent of the vote count in the three-way race, compared to 50,341 votes (60.55 percent) for de Ferranti and 8,198 votes (9.86 percent) for independent Adam Theo.

READ ALSO: Cunningham, Coffey Win: Arlington County Board Election Results

During this year’s campaign for the county board, Clement pledged that if elected, she would work to scrap EHO, describing it as a “revenue generating cash cow that will not redress the effects of exclusionary zoning and will not provide starter homes for moderate income residents.”

As for whether she plans to run again for county board in 2024 when Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey is up for re-election, Clement told Patch, “Health and finances permitting, I plan to take on the Democratic Party machine in the People’s Republic of Arlington next year.”

Fierro said that as a first-time candidate, he felt it was an honor to speak to fellow Arlingtonians on the campaign trail about issues important to them.

“On Missing Middle housing, crime and education, many voters are frustrated with the status quo,” Fierro said in a statement emailed to Patch. “The results on Tuesday night show there is a growing frustration among Arlingtonians, and I hope my efforts and the continued efforts of other candidates, civic organizations, and the Arlington GOP draw on those frustrations and highlight them in our public discourse.”

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After Tuesday’s big win, Cunningham said her knowledge of many issues important to Arlington residents and her executive skills may have proven persuasive to voters.

“Our community values leaders we can trust to understand the issues, communicate the tradeoffs, and make good policy decisions. Given frustrations about the Missing Middle process (and other issues), it is no surprise that common sense, problem-solving, and transparency all resonated with voters,” Cunningham said in an email to Patch.

“Throughout my campaign — whether at their home, grocery-aisle, laundromat or park — neighbors across Arlington shared concern about not being heard and not understanding the policy decisions,” Cunningham said. “They were encouraged by my track record of common-sense leadership in Arlington civic engagement and my experience as an engineer, executive and mom.”

Battle Over Missing Middle Continues

With Cunningham’s commanding victory, supporters of Missing Middle are already lobbying her to pledge support to EHO when she takes office in January.

After the results were tabulated Tuesday night, showing that she had won one of the two seats, Cunningham posted a statement to X, formerly known as Twitter, saying, “I am honored to serve all of Arlington as Board Member-elect.”

“I look forward to working together to get planning and housing right, support our young people and ensure responsive and efficient government,” Cunningham wrote.

In response to the post, one Arlington resident wrote: “Susan — you can help young Arlington homeowners like myself by supporting — not undermining — missing middle housing. I hope you will consider listening to the voices of the NAACP, the local Sierra Club Chapter, and the faith community in Arlington; all of whom support EHO.”

Natalie Roy, a local Realtor who ran in the Democratic primary for county board earlier this year, said her takeaway from Tuesday’s election “is that the Missing Middle Housing issue, which the County rebranded as Expanded Housing Options because it had nothing to do with affordability or diversity, is still very much top of mind for many in Arlington.”

“This general election saw more than 63 percent of the votes cast going to County Board candidates who publicly were not in lockstep with the County’s pro-density everywhere approach,” Roy said.

The EHO issue is not insignificant because it ties into the county’s “obsession with density which will affect our schools, green space, emergency services, tree coverage, infrastructure, and more,” she added.

One reason the issue might not be on some people’s radar is the fact that none of these projects have been built yet, according to Roy.

“We have no idea about the costs of these units, since that is controlled exclusively by the private sector,” Roy said. “We are also in the dark as to the impacts since no pre-planning studies were done. Once EHO units are built and occupied, the issue will get more attention countywide.”

Roy also highlighted how the Arlington County Board decided to use ranked choice voting in the Democratic primary in June but not in the general election.

“We cannot ignore that the arbitrary application of RCV in the primary and general elections, that likely affected the final outcome,” she said.

Following her election victory, Coffey issued a statement Wednesday morning in which she expressed gratitude “to everyone in Arlington who put their faith in me.”

“Visiting 13 polling locations across the county to talk to voters showed me again and again how wonderful our community is. I’m excited to get to work together to help create the community we want, together,” Coffey said.

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