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ARLINGTON, VA — Democrat Takis Karantonis is a 56-year-old senior technical advisor for microlending at the Ethiopian Community Development Council. He's also running to fill the vacant seat on the Arlington County Board.
In the June 8 primary, voters will have a chance to decide whether Karantonis or Chanda Choun will be the Democratic candidate on the Nov. 2 ballot to represent Arlington on the county board. Early voting is already underway.
Patch asked each of the candidates running in the Democratic primary to fill out the following profile:
Age (as of Election Day)
Position sought (mayor, city council, school board, etc.)
Member, Arlington County Board
Spouse: Lida Anestidou; 2 cats
SPOUSE: LIDA ANESTIDOU; 2 cats: Max and Koubaki
Economist; Master's degree in urban and regional economics with an emphasis on inequality in urban development from Freie Universitaet, Berlin, Germany
- Senior Technical Advisor for Microlending @ the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC).
- Economist and Planner, Environmentalist, Urbanist, Manager with 25+ years of experience across three continents (Europe, North and South America)
Previous or Current Elected or Appointed Office
Member, Arlington County Board
Why are you seeking elective office?
As I said last June during the Special Election, my politics and voice are rooted in civic engagement and day-to-day involvement in our community. Being able to LISTEN in 8 languages means that Arlington residents who hail from many other countries can share their concerns directly with me, allowing me to bring their ideas and challenges directly to the Board's discussion.
The past 9 months have reaffirmed my core belief that good government can lift everyone up and leave no one behind. These past months have also challenged me to ensure that our policies and actions serve ALL Arlingtonians in the midst of pandemic and racial justice crises.
I am ready to continue serving—building on my relationships with Board colleagues and county staff—to help ensure that Arlington brings an equity lens to all it does. For our community to thrive we will need to ensure that we continue to be a place that prioritizes safe walkable neighborhoods, excellent schools and community facilities, ethnic and cultural diversity, robust civic engagement, and accountable government.
The single most pressing issue facing Arlington is finding our community footing in the midst of a changing world, and this is what I intend to do about it.
For me, that means we must attend to our greatest strength—our people and our businesses.
First, the pandemic and the country's racial justice reckoning have laid bare the structural ways that government policies have disadvantaged people of color and those who earn less. Even as out economy begins to reopen, I am committed to ensuring that
- Our safety net—food security, health services, housing supports, employment and education is firmly in place and well-funded; and
- Strategies to jumpstart our economy — small business access to capital and relaxation of potentially burdensome regulations that impede business operations — are flexible and focused.
Second, ensuring a strong safety net AND a revitalized economy MUST be done using the equity lens. I championed the adoption of County's Restorative Justice Initiative in 2020. Now, our collective challenge is moving forward to implement real changes. I am committed to using an equity lens to evaluate all County Board decisions, seeking to document who is helped, who is hurt, and who we are leaving behind in our programs and policies.
Finally, I commit to continuing to prioritize our limited resources in ways that serve Arlington's strategic needs.
- I am proud that the County Board was able to fully fund the School Board's request for both on-going and one-time funds in FY22.
- I am strongly committed to directly addressing our affordable housing needs AND our stormwater management challenges.
- I advocated and provided funding in 2020 to ensure that all students had broadband access to support learning and that we increased the number of hot spots to provide internet access throughout the community.
- I worked hard to develop a small business micro-loan program that will be piloted in 2021.
- I steadfastly argued to reopen libraries and community centers as the pandemic lingered.
- Maintaining key services like public schools and transportation, continuing to plan for development that will bolster our housing stock and provide appropriate spaces for employment, will continue to be among my top priorities.
What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?
It has been my privilege to serve Arlingtonians for the past 10 months as a County Board member. I have an MS in urban and regional economics and I have worked in municipal procurement, public sanitation contracting, airport development, and the energy sector in many parts of the world. I served as the Executive Director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) for nearly 7 years, on several County commissions and advisory groups and I am active in my civic association (Columbia Heights); I am a former chair of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment (ACE, now EcoAction); and former vice-chair of the Alliance for Housing Solutions (AHS). As a micro-lending technical advisor for 2 years with an Arlington non-profit organization (Ethiopian Community Development Council), I experienced on a daily basis the pressures on our small businesses. I know what it takes to build resilience from the bottom up, to do more with less, and keep people employed.
Fundamentally, successful County Board members must have strong, trusting relationships with a diverse field of stakeholders. Prior to joining the Board in 2020, I was frequently asked to advise our leaders in public office and in civic associations on the challenges facing a particular neighborhood, street, or business. After 15 years in Arlington, I am proud to say that my relationships — current Board members, local elected officials, planning committees, county staff, local businesses, civic associations, and an economically and ethnically diverse resident population — are one of my strongest assets.
Finally, I am an immigrant like so many other Arlingtonians. I am fluent in 8 languages, giving me the unique opportunity to directly LISTEN to Arlingtonians for whom English is not their mother language. I have in-depth, cross-cultural competence that enriches my approach to public office. I believe my presence on the Board these past 10 months has been a very important invitation for immigrants and residents of diverse backgrounds to participate in our governmental process, especially in the midst of challenges by COVID and racial injustice.
How do you think local officials performed in responding to the coronavirus? What if anything would you have done differently?
The COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing. Virginia and Arlington are still in a state of emergency. Our community, as well as our government, continue to respond to the pandemic and all hands are on deck.
It is still very early to make a comprehensive and informed assessment of Arlington's overall multi-faceted response. An overview on Arlington's COVID-19 ongoing response is available here: https://www.arlingtonva.us/covid-19/.
During the pandemic and continuing forward, my focus is on ensuring that our response is and remains equitable: that we provide effective help and support to those who are most impacted and most vulnerable without leaving anyone behind.
Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform.
To ensure ALL in our community will thrive requires the use of an equity lens to guide actions and policies in four key, interconnected areas:
- Principled, inclusive long-term planning
- Housing affordability
- Fiscal and environmental sustainability and resilience
- Equitable government.
Principled, inclusive long-term planning, whether creating the new vision/plan for Lee Highway or guiding the remaking of National Landing, is essential for our future. I am committed to seeking new avenues that allow meaningful input from ALL those who live in affected communities and/or operate businesses in these areas.
Housing affordability is among the greatest of Arlington's challenges. I have worked in this arena for many years and know that government must be an able, nimble-willing partner to the private sector in this critical area. I am dedicated to ensuring that all Arlingtonians who work at lower-wage, community-essential jobs can afford to live here if they wish to.
We have weathered the first phases of combined crises of the pandemic and racial injustice. Over the next few years, our local economy will be shifting as Amazon ramps up its presence. As a County Board member, I will be laser-focused on the impact on small and mid-size businesses and will be actively looking for new ways to ensure a balanced commercial ecosystem — one that has the capacity to withstand the next crisis. Similarly, I will work to ensure that our capital investments — stormwater, schools, facilities — take climate change, our Community Energy Plan goals, and other physical challenges into account.
Last but not least, the work of the Board and our many Commissions and committees needs to be available and open to residents. County Staff need to learn the virtual participation lessons of the pandemic and incorporate the best practices into how we do business. This is a perfect time, I believe, to refresh the "Arlington Way" with 21st century tools and practices.
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
- Having led economic recovery efforts in the past, I am currently serving as a microlending technical advisor to the Ethiopian Community Development Council, a key component of financial support to the small- and medium-sized businesses of Arlington during COVID-19 and in the future.
- For more than 6 years (2009-2016) I was the Executive Director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO), an urban partnership whose mission is to revitalize Columbia Pike, our economically most challenged corridor. During my tenure and leadership, CPRO (individually or as a partner organization) was the recipient of the following awards:
- 2015 American Institute of Architects, Northern Virginia Chapter Award for outstanding contributions to redevelopment and revitalization efforts on Columbia Pike;
- 2014 Congress for the New Urbanism: Best Corridor Plan for the successful Columbia Pike revitalization effort since 1990 (main recipient: Arlington County);
- 2012 American Planning Association, National Capital Chapter: Benjamin Banneker Award for outstanding social commitment and community awarded for the 2012 Columbia Pike
Neighborhoods Plan, received by the members of the working group that prepared the plan.
For four years (2016-2020) I was the Director for Public Outreach and Institutional Relations of Resilient Virginia, a non-profit organization aiming to advance a Community Resiliency Initiative in the Commonwealth that would provide residents, businesses and governments with tools to adapt and thrive despite changing environmental, social, and economic conditions.
In addition to North America, I have lived and worked in Europe and South America, I am multilingual and very comfortable in multi-cultural environments. I bring more than 25 years of professional experience in public sector and industrial project management, with expertise in:
- Public investment projects in environmental protection and amelioration; environmental impact analysis; economic viability analysis and risk assessment.
- Planning, analysis and operative development of multi — stakeholder projects, including negotiations, contract supervision and financial management.
The best advice ever shared with me was:
Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond (attributed to Henri Nouwen, but conveyed to me by Kai Degner, a friend and former mayor of Harrisonburg, VA.
What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?
To learn more about me and my campaign, please visit the campaign website: takisforarlington.com, follow me on twitter (@TakisKarantonis), and on FB @TakisforArlington.
Candidate Profile: Chanda Choun For Arlington County Board
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