Melissa Bondi was working in her garden one day in 1999, not long after first moving to Arlington, when a neighbor stopped by to invite her to what she thought was strictly a social event.
It turned out to be a Lyon Park Civic Association meeting – and, for Bondi, the beginning of 12 years of volunteer service. She would spend time representing her neighborhood on the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Commission and, later, two years as the president of the Lyon Park association.
Bondi, now 40 and living in Clarendon proper, is one of five Democrats seeking their party’s nomination this week in a special election of the Arlington County Board. Over the years, she’s stood before the board and asked for many things – sometimes winning, sometimes getting turned down.
“It’s really critical our elected officials have a combination of genuine understanding and experience across a broad range of county issues and community issues,” Bondi said. “It’s not just policy. It’s also understanding the public process, the way the public engages and helps make decisions. And I think I’m very well qualified for this.”
Bondi lists her top three issues as affordable housing and preserving community diversity, economic sustainability and broadening the level of community engagement, and the environment. She talks often in terms of the “big picture” and asks what Arlington will be known for 30 years from now?
The idea to underground Metro was borne from community discussions – and disagreements – in the 1960s, for example. That has shaped Arlington’s public policy, particularly regarding growth, for decades – concentrating development around Metro corridors.
“Today we see the results of it, which is spectacular. I like that we can have 50 neighborhoods and they all don’t have to be a part of an urban corridor,” Bondi said.
“What’s the next generation of new ideas that is going to keep Arlington thinking forward and being progressive in the way that we build our community, not just in terms of development, but in how we set our priorities?”
Bondi points out that, if elected, she would be the first Arlington County Board member born after 1970. (Two other candidates, Kim Klingler and Terron Sims, also fall into this category.)
The board needs a younger perspective, she said – someone who is familiar with social media, online news sites and blogs. Public input can come from anywhere, she says, and it’s important to gather that input, whether it’s left on Facebook or delivered in front of the board.
“We need to acknowledge that the way we communicate, the way we process information, the way we share information, the way we plug in, is different,” Bondi said. “It’s not one at the expense of another.”
Bondi started collecting endorsements in November, winning the support of Arlington County Board members Chris Zimmerman and Walter Tejada, School Board member James Lander, Del. Alfonso Lopez and Clerk of Court Paul Ferguson.
“Melissa has a proven ability to bring her own, innovative ideas to help resolve local problems that affect people’s lives: notably the key role she played in the 2005 development of Arlington’s historic affordable housing ordinance and statute, and in the landmark efforts to preserve the Buckingham community,” Zimmerman, who was chairman at the time, stated in his endorsement.
“Perhaps most importantly, those who have worked with Melissa are impressed not simply by how much she knows, but by how well she works with people of all kinds and all opinions. She is able to establish constructive relationships among people who may disagree very strongly with one another, and treats everyone with respect and integrity.”
Bondi is the project coordinator for the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington and a member of the Arlington Economic Development Commission.
Perhaps more than any other candidate, she has been the subject of a signiciant amount of scrutiny -- in part because of a federal tax lien claiming she owes the IRS more than $19,000; .
Bondi is single and doesn’t have children. She’s proud of her Sicilian heritage and loves cooking. She sings and can play guitar and keyboard. And she’s an avid sports and movie fan.