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Acrimony escalates in state Senate race in Arlington

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The acrimonious tone of the Democratic primary in Northern Virginia's 31st State Senate District is sharpening as the Aug. 23 primary election approaches.

Arlington County Board member Barbara Favola and Jaime Areizaga-Soto have traded accusations of misconduct and ethical breaches in a race that has shocked political observers and voters for its level of animosity.

The latest flap is over Mr. Areizaga-Soto's work in the office of retiring Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple during the 2010 General Assembly session. Mr. Areizaga-Soto, an Obama appointee at the Agency for International Development who resigned in April and a lieutenant colonel in the Judge Advocate General Corps of the D.C. National Guard, has said he served as a policy adviser to the Arlington Democrat, whose seat he and Mrs. Favola are vying to fill.

But Mrs. Whipple, who has endorsed Mrs. Favola in the race, said in a recent mailer that Mr. Areizaga-Soto was an intern and that she gave him the title because he received just a small stipend.

"However, Jaime tells people he advised the entire Senate caucus on policy positions and negotiated the Senate budget," Mrs. Whipple wrote in the mailer. "I think we all know that sitting in the room during a few meetings and negotiating multibillion-dollar budgets are two very different things. Jaime's embellishments and exaggerations of his role during his time in Richmond have bothered me for some time, and I feel compelled to set the record straight."

Mr. Areizaga-Soto disagreed with Mrs. Whipple's assessment.

"I have never claimed that I helped negotiate the budget," he said. "I am highly disappointed that the senator [has] decided to mislead. You have a right to your opinion, but you don't have a right to your own facts."

Indeed, budget negotiations take place among a small group of delegates and senators as well as House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committee staff — often behind closed doors.

Delegate David L. Englin entered the fray on Monday after previously withholding an endorsement in the race because his wife, Shayna, is consulting for the Areizaga-Soto campaign. Mr. Englin, Alexandria Democrat, blasted "party bosses," saying they continue to attack and belittle Mr. Areizaga-Soto simply because he chose to run.

"My anger isn't directed toward [Mrs. Favola]," Mr. Englin told The Washington Times. "As Democrats we need to engage in democracy and not gang up on a highly qualified candidate who wasn't party elders' hand-picked choice."

Mr. Englin said he had been hesitant to comment because of his wife's role in the campaign, but that his simmering anger has "boiled over."

The Favola campaign wasn't entirely buying it.

"While we respect the Delegate's right to endorse whoever he sees fit, it's important to note that his wife has a financial interest in the campaign," Mrs. Favola's financial director, Mary Lawson, said in an e-mailed statement.

The development is the latest in a series of stinging back-and-forths between the campaigns. Mrs. Favola's camp has attacked Mr. Areizaga-Soto for "putting profits ahead of the environment" based on his work with corporate law firms, and Mr. Areizaga-Soto has hit Mrs. Favola for accepting campaign contributions from developers.

The notion that Mr. Areizaga-Soto was just an intern while sitting in on caucus meetings "is 100 percent laughable," said one Richmond insider who was familiar with state government operations but asked not to be named so as not to be dragged into the dispute.

"Anybody who was there in Richmond — to call Jaime Areizaga-Soto, an Obama appointee, an intern, is just ludicrous," they said.

Mrs. Whipple, though, said he merely sat in on the meetings, rarely saying anything, and she only let him do so to give him experience for the 8½ weeks he was in Richmond.

Mr. Areizaga-Soto pointed to an article in the 2010 Falls Church News Press in which Mrs. Whipple referred to him as a policy adviser — a move she says she regrets.

"It was a mistake on my part to let him be called a policy adviser," Mrs. Whipple said. "Most of the day, he would be in my office."

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