You may have noticed that it’s election season in Alexandria. Even by our own illustrious standards this cycle has been… challenging. A contentious mayoral race has been paired with a city council primary that can field nearly two full baseball teams worth of candidates. So it has just been a lot. A lot of mail. A lot of door knocks. A lot of op-eds. A lot of sound and fury and surprisingly little substance (we’ll return to this shortly).
In the mayoral race, a cottage industry has sprung up of local media outlets writing profile pieces of the contrasting candidates. She’s warm and fuzzy, he’s data-driven! She likes trees, he’s like a website! She’s meandering, he’s direct! She’s Oscar, he’s Felix! She’s Riggs, he’s Murtaugh! And so on, and so forth.
These profiles though a lot of fun (especially the Beaujon piece) come dangerously close to missing the point. It is wrong to cast this race as a choice between two equal but opposing styles. If the current mayor was quirky but competent, sure, give me 3,000 words on her musings about the relative health value of Mexican food. But that’s not what’s happening here.
One candidate (the current mayor) is profoundly lacking the core competencies demanded by this role. She takes credit for building schools she didn’t vote to fund, for affordable housing she didn’t vote to approve, and for smart growth she didn’t vote to develop. She cannot run a meeting, she cannot grasp nuanced public policy, and she cannot make decisions unless they leave everyone involved pleased. The other candidate (the current vice mayor) is a mildly abrasive know-it-all who is superhumanly responsive to constituent service requests and extremely good at conducting the necessary business of running a council responsible for 150,000 residents. There is no choice here. This is not a homeowners association where you can sit around and dicker about what color people should be allowed to paint their house and when the Christmas lights must come down. This is a serious endeavor impacting the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people and we have to start treating it as such.
This election matters. Our city is dealing with once in a generation infrastructure projects like the combined sewer outfall remediation in Old Town and the construction of (some of the) Potomac Yard metro station. We face a schools capacity crisis that has seen our system add 1,000 additional students these past three years. City services have been continuously reduced in the face of budget shortfalls stemming from revenue that relies far too much on property taxes, yet a citizenry that howls every time someone picks up a shovel or keeps a business open past sundown.
Yet, we are barely talking about these issues. In the Council race, the major candidate forums so far have been: Socialism, How Does It Work; The Residents Of Old Town Invite You To Stay The Hell Off Their Lawn; and then a PTA forum that was actually quite good. Over the course of these three forums there have been no questions about the Potomac Yard metro station or the Dominion power line project. No questions about the meals tax. No questions about congestion or cut through traffic or an Eisenhower connector. No questions about Landmark Mall or the Amazon headquarters pursuit.
All of these, and more, are hugely important issues that are going undiscussed and unremarked upon and I am left wondering what if anything many of these Council candidates know about the weighty things they will have to immediately set about resolving.
There are some obvious candidates of substance in this race. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Dak Hardwick, John Chapman, and Paul Smedberg seem like serious people who have offered ideas and solutions in line with our city’s needs. Del Pepper is (checks notes) a person that is still on council. The remaining candidates in the field can be grouped into the following categories: 1) nice but much too inexperienced for the urgency of the moment; 2) vanity candidate running to protect their property value; 3) obvious sock-puppet for local gadflies; and 4) still more or less anonymous.
With the Alexandria Democratic Committee on the sidelines trying to blend in with the drapes for some unknowable reason, there has been no coordinated attempt to focus this race and to elevate the dialogue. Into this void has stepped the hilariously biased Alexandria Times, and a fly-by-night political action committee with utterly inscrutable political cartoons. (Seriously, what the hell is the deal with those cartoons. Are the talking mice… part of it?) The point being, there has not been a sufficient accounting of the race and ordinary citizens have been left to sort this mess out for themselves, with our future in the balance.
Even as you read this June 12th slouches ever closer, its hour soon come. It holds the promise of three years of opportunity and growth and rising to the challenges of this moment. Or it holds the crippling stagnation of the rest of the region leaving us behind with our open-mics and our tree canopy.
I plan to vote to move this city forward. I plan to vote for a council that will let me write about achievement and success.
I plan to vote for our future.
– P.C. Publius
May 29, 2018