OPINION: Councilwoman Alicia Hughes: Personal life does not inform public service


For near three years, I’ve been railed against on blogs and in the press. I write today, admitting substantial imperfection, but out of respect for supporters and fellow citizens who deserve to hear from me.

The great irony of all accounts written is despite the largesse of my imperfections, I’ve been more sinned against than sinning. Though I constantly strive to do and be better, I’ve never claimed sainthood in my private life. I fall more in line with the least among us, even being law-educated, and notably am the poorest member of council. Yes. I know from personal experience what it’s like to lose a home, to get a speeding ticket, to be unemployed and underemployed, to receive eviction notices and be sued, too.

Yes, I’d rather be sued and settle a debt before giving a usurious payment inconsistent with an agreement entered for representation. So yes, thanks to a suit by Alexandria Democratic Committee Counsel Gerry Hebert civilly and requesting a criminal probe because I was elected in 2009 over a Democrat, I was handed a legal bill for $25,000 when I’d agreed to representation not to exceed $6,000. I settled the debt for what I’d agreed to plus what it would have cost to defend myself — not $25,000.

I have done the same with a landlord tenant dispute that dates back to May 2009 and been sued countless times because I refused to bend to numbers I knew were wrong and have waited through the change in three property managers to get the numbers right. I encouraged the most recent suit because I wanted a judgment in my favor to put the matter to bed for once and for all. All is clear now and settled on terms favorable to me. Despite media reports, there is no judgment against me giving rise to an eviction and I remain a resident of the same place.

I’ve gotten used to being sued. What I don’t appreciate and do well is lose them. And I have won every Democratic attack launched against me.

There was a time when I was embarrassed by the realities that are part of my private life; a time where I was embarrassed to be a public servant because of my own humanness, circumstances and imperfections. I am not anymore. I am glad that I’ve refused to be bullied in private because I am a public figure. I am, however, embarrassed for all of Alexandria because of the vitriolic personal attacks by people throwing stones from glass houses with skeletons that make my circumstances look like a pony ride. They continue, in the name of partisan politicking and sometimes even, under the guise of responsible journalism. This is not the Alexandria way and I hope that responsible Alexandrians will repudiate the same.

God forbid we should let a debate on issues affecting our everyday lives and having an economic impact on about 142,000 people get in the way of mud slinging against Alicia Hughes. I stand on my record of service and the public deserves, in the absence of mud slinging, to allow others to do the same.

What folks won’t tell you is I was not a member of the city council that brought you BRAC, that voted to raise real taxes during one of the greatest recessions in modern history in May 2009, to knock down hundreds of units of public housing, replacing them with expensive townhomes around the Charles Houston Recreation Center while purportedly advocating for real affordable housing. I’m not the one who voted to change municipal elections despite strong public opposition. Five people to which this can all be attributed are running for positions on the Democratic ticket in November 2012. And three of these five most recently voted to approve the Waterfront plan and accompanying text amendment in the face of great public opposition. Let them stand on their records rather than sit quietly on the sidelines while partisan hacks railroad another public servant to gain partisan advantage.

Attempt to paint me bad for personal misfortune and choice, but paint prudent as a steward of public resources and worthy of public trust, because that’s what I’ve proven when: I voted against approval of a budget in May 2010 that unnecessarily raised taxes; supported a budget that once backing out a 2.2 cents commercial add-on tax, effectively reduced the tax rate in May 2011; voted to protect the integrity of our neighborhoods while supporting strategic development to balance our commercial-residential tax base; voted against a Waterfront Small Area plan and the accompanying text amendment that I believe is not self-sustaining, creates more density at once that I am comfortable with and permits the use of eminent domain as a mechanism for capturing the foot of King Street; stood with residents against development in Arlandria due to concerns over affordable housing proffers and my belief that we had not effectively heard the voices of the least among us; and questioned budget line items that exceed $30 million dollars and contained hidden consultant costs that have come to aid in more transparent government; at the state level, recommended the elimination or reduction of local aid to the state practices that have collectively cost local governments $60 million annually but been cut back by $15 million this year and $20 million next year through work done on the Virginia Task Force on Local Government Mandates Review while being credited with work that eliminates more than 30 state mandates on local government in one legislative session as compared with the repeal of less than 5 in the last 20 years, saving government millions annually; and being credited, as part of the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring with bringing forward recommendations that resulted in the passage of 20 bills that improve government efficiency in 2011 and on track to do the same again in 2012 .

This is the record that I stand on in the past 2 ½ years as an elected and appointed public servant. No, I’ve not been busy updating the city’s website and LinkedIn to tell you of my appointments or about my professional life. Rather than chasing my tail and inflaming irrational behavior that has persisted in the past and proven harassing to those whom I know and have worked, I’m instead busy doing that which I was elected to do, serve.

Whether I am a lawyer, a former Miss Black USA, an Aspen Institute Rodel Fellow, A University of Virginia Sorensen Institute Fellow or anything else for that matter has nothing to do with why I was elected. I reserve rallies of that kind of minutia for children who sit on the sidelines and personally enjoy neither victory nor defeat while throwing stones, because I’ve got a job to do.

My name is Alicia Hughes. I am an elected member of the Alexandria City Council and I approved this message.