Susan Cunningham is a small business owner and currently, interim director of Thrive. Trained as an engineer, she has served in a number of executive roles including the U.S. Treasury Department and interim CEO for affordability provider AHC. Arlington Connection sat down with Cunningham about her candidacy for the county board. Here’s the interview:
Q: If you can pick just one, what is the single thing that prompted you to run for County Board?
A: The Missing Middle process and dialogue around it. It is a complicated issue, and the community dialogue was not as deep or nuanced as it needed to be. It was really about leadership and how the community was engaged. I have spent my time putting people together. We need depth of experience.
Q: What is your position on lot coverage?
A: When the missing middle debate was taking place I went to the County Board about adjusting lot coverage at the same time they were making the rezoning decision. You don’t hang something new on something broken. Many don’t oppose new units; they just oppose additional coverage. The board said, “I hear you but not now.”
Q: What is one County Board decision you would not have voted for in the last few years?
A: Definitely missing middle in its current form. I would not have done a full upscale rezoning with 4 and 6 units allowed everywhere.
Q: How would you define the Arlington Way and do you think it remains a strong element in the county?
A: The ideal of the Arlington Way is stating the problem you are trying to solve, seeking every input before trying to solve it. The recent missing middle process didn’t really clearly state the problem so it was difficult to get a good solution.
Q: Rising crime in Arlington: what is the one thing you would do to assure residents Arlington remains a safe place to live and work?
A: I think sharing the data about what crimes are happening where and how it has changed. Facts speaker louder. Also for the police to be more visible in the community which is difficult because they are way understaffed. They are just delivering basic services. I rode along with a police officer on a Saturday night, and there was no downtime.
Q: Would you like to see the county be more willing to invest in rescue of historic homes than they have recently with the Fellows, Broyhill, and Rouse mansions?
A: Yes, it is environmentally better to reuse a structure than tear down and start over.
Q: How familiar are you with the stormwater management issues in the County?
A: I am very familiar. I am an engineer. Stormwater management ties everything together. Arlington is pretty far behind. Storms are more intense and development has happened very rapidly.
Q: What are some areas where Arlington can cut costs?
A: I think overall you can get more savings by moving quickly to correct a problem when you get something wrong. Engagement processes currently go a long time.
Q: What is the single best thing about Arlington that attracts people to live here?
A: Really it is the package—strong schools, businesses, proximity to the nation’s capital, urban and space parks. This is especially important with more people living in multi-units.
Q: No matter what the outcome, what will you take away from running for Board?
A: I love the opportunity to meet so many different people in all parts of the county and learn more deeply about issues I know about.
Q: What is the one question I didn’t ask that you wished I had?
A: I am the candidate who has the most experience running large organizations. I have led Arlington through challenging times when people were mad, things were not going well and they needed a reasonable voice. The board will be losing a lot of service and expertise, and it’s important to have grounding and balance.