It all sounds so familiar.
A rogue member of local government wages war against plans to build a streetcar line, claiming surface rail is too expensive and will clog traffic. Although the plans have already been approved, and most members of the local council support the project, the renegade representative is not deterred, declaring that the majority of voters don't want tracks running down their streets.
The saga bears a strong resemblance to Mayor Rob Ford's long-running fight against LRT lines, but this is a different tale.
For one, the disputed streetcar route in this case would go the Pentagon, or at least Pentagon City, the district next to the U.S. defence headquarters, connecting it to the Skyline area of nearby Fairfax County, Virginia. And the outspoken surface rail opponent is not an outlying council member from Etobicoke, but a rookie Arlington County Board representative named Libby Garvey.
Garvey caught the attention of Toronto politics junkies this week when Virginia's Sun Gazette reported that she invoked Rob Ford during a meeting of the county board (the local equivalent of city council) last Tuesday, April 23.
Garvey quoted Ford during a presentation in which she slammed plans to build an eight-kilometre streetcar line on the Columbia Pike, one of the busiest commuter routes in the state.
"I think [Toronto has] a very colourful mayor," she said with a chuckle, reading from a February 28, 2013 Toronto Sun article about snow drifts blocking TTC streetcars. "The quote here's kind of funny. ‘I hate those damn streetcars - they're just a pain in the rear end.'
"Obviously the mayor is a colourful character," she continued. "He won his election quite handily, more than most candidates in recent history, so I assume he reflects quite a bit of opinion in Toronto on this and probably a number of other issues."
Chris Zimmerman, the main streetcar proponent on the five-member board, was less inclined to put stock in Ford's opinion, however, noting that the mayor was "somewhat alone" in his anti-streetcar position.
Zimmerman also alluded to the many controversies that have dogged Ford since his election in 2010.
"I think Ms. Garvey referred to the mayor there as colourful," he told the board. "I think that is an apt description. If you Google him you'll find all kinds of interesting things, or if you know anyone in Toronto, you can hear interesting stories."
After Garvey made her presentation, she spent the next half an hour arguing with other board members and city staff, clashing with Arlington's visibly irritated transportation chief, a Gary Webster-esque figure named Dennis Leach, who accused her of presenting "blatantly false data" about streetcars and disregarding staff advice.
Scott McCaffrey, an editor with the Sun Gazette, covered the meeting and the following week published a short article headlined "Streetcar Question of the Day: Who is Mayor Ford and How Did He Get Into the Discussion?"
He says that the Columbia Pike streetcar has been in the works for years but recently became a hot button issue because of its projected $250-million cost and the federal government's decision, announced in April, not to fund it. Just like Toronto's transit plans, the project has become fodder for countless news articles.
"If I got paid by the word on this one story I'd be retired by now," McCaffrey jokes on the phone from the paper's offices in Arlington.
McCaffrey says that since Garvey was elected to the board last year after 15 years as a school trustee, she has fought regularly with the four other board members over the streetcar plan, despite the fact that all five of them are Democrats.
"She's been waging a one-woman crusade against this," he says. "It seems like she and the other board members... they just go at it every opportunity they get."
McCaffrey says he only did cursory research on Ford for his short article, but I ask him if he happened to catch our mayor's recent appearance on U.S. TV: his profanity-inducing face-first encounter with a camera, which made it onto Jimmy Kimmel Live!
McCaffrey didn't see the show, but assures me he's reported on officials more gaffe-prone than Ford.
"He's smarter than some of the politicians I cover, don't worry about it," he says.
Garvey doesn't know much about Mayor Ford, either. Reached by phone Tuesday, she can't recall how she came across the quote, but says that she regularly scours the internet for articles on streetcars, and her supporters and local "transit experts" often send her clippings from other jurisdictions. (An anti-streetcar group named Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit uses this picture of Spadina Avenue to make its case).
Although decidedly more eloquent than Ford, in many ways Garvey has a nearly identical message when it comes to surface rail.
"It is going to be extremely expensive and it will not improve transit," she says.
"Whenever anything breaks down on the tracks, whenever somebody parks funny... the whole streetcar system stops," she continues.
"I may be on a lone crusade but I believe I represent the majority of public opinion, by a long shot actually," she concludes.
But - and here is where Garvey's platform really diverges from that of Toronto's mayor - while Ford famously desires "subways, subways, subways," Garvey believes more buses would do the job for Arlington. To the apparent exasperation of city transportation staff, she claims that buses could carry the same number of passengers as surface rail, but at much lower costs.
Unfortunately for her, the ship has likely sailed on the Columbia Pike streetcar, at least according to McCaffrey. In the past five years, both the Arlington County Board and the neighbouring Fairfax County Board of Supervisors have twice affirmed their commitment to it. Arlington officials signalled last week they will forge ahead, with or without federal funding.
McCaffrey says that Garvey is, "and I don't mean this in a negative way, reaching for anything she can find," but has so far been unable to stop the project. Meanwhile, local reporters are left covering a story with a foregone conclusion.
"We're trying very much to have fun with it because the reality is the end result is going to be a streetcar system. It's not a question. So we're just trying to have a little bit of levity to the whole thing."