As we reflect back on 2016 in this, our annual end-of-year issue, several things stand out. The first is, there were simply too many deaths this year in Alexandria. Our community lost a number of civic and community leaders, including businessman and philanthropist Roger Machanic, planning commission mainstay Stewart Dunn and preschool pioneer Barbara Mason.
But we also lost too many people whose deaths were preventable. In 2016, there were seven homicides in Alexandria: Melaku Abraha, Shakeel Baldon, Pierre Clark, Saquan Hall, Rolf Marshall, Hunter Alexander and Colby McClennon. Our police department has done an excellent job of solving these crimes, as only the Clark and McClennon murders remain unsolved.
There were also a spate of pedestrians who were tragically killed after being struck by motorists, including Gertrude Klackner, Peter Palm, Rosemarie Cruz and Jermais Herrera Rodriguez. We are glad city council is changing the local code to allow stronger penalties for motorists who don’t yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and encourage police to crack down on the scofflaws.
In the political realm, for the first time in 12 years a new mayor took the gavel on the city council dais when Allison Silberberg was sworn into office on January 4. She quickly moved to fulfill a campaign pledge by creating a commission tasked with producing an ethics pledge of conduct that was later approved by council.
But speaking of conduct, one negative of 2016 was the way in which our local political discourse at times mirrored that of this year’s nasty presidential election. Use of social media helped fuel explosive responses to several issues, particularly the redevelopment of Ramsey Homes.
One of the miracles of this year is that, after all of the rancor, we think the final design for the new Ramsey Homes is significantly superior to the initial design presented by ARHA. It also appears that this episode resulted in ARHA and city staff working more closely together in general.
But we hope in 2017, Alexandrians — residents and officials alike — will think before they post. It can feel good to vent frustration on social media, but the acrimony such posts produce often far outlives the issue at hand. In that vein, in 2016 our Alexandria Times website stopped accepting anonymous posts. A result of this policy is we have fewer comments on the site, but those who comment are not hidden.
This year also saw a number of new businesses open in the city, including new eateries like Junction Bakery and Bistro, Live Oak and Vola’s. It also saw one longtime business — The Motley Fool — decide to stay put. And a shout out is due to Bill Reagan, who writes a monthly business column for the Times and whose Alexandria Small Business Development Center turned 20 this year.
This year saw Alexandria City Public Schools make incremental gains on the state Standards of Learning tests, following large improvements last year. The city also took steps to address school overcrowding as work on redistricting continued, and a rebuild and expansion of the Patrick Henry Elementary School and Recreation Center was approved. The school board also asked for the staggering amount of more than $600 million in capital spending on schools over the next 10 years to address aging buildings and a capacity crunch.
Finally, in 2016 Alexandrians showed yet again how generous we can be. City residents donated more than $1.3 million in a 24-hour period to Spring2ACTion. Hundreds of Alexandrians donated time to Volunteer Alexandria’s Community Service Day.
And residents gave generously to fundraisers, both in person and online, for the families of the fallen, from stricken pedestrians Cruz and Rodriguez, to longtime Del Ray bartender James Morrison as he battled cancer. They gave to the family of Hall to help with funeral expenses, and they helped the new owners of Al’s Steakhouse after fire ravaged their eatery. Our giving community is a blessing to us all.
We wish you all a happy New Year and a fulfilling 2017.