Election 2007 – Candidates square off in TV showdown

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The special City Council election is only a couple of weeks away and candidates Bill Cleveland (R) and Justin Wilson (D) will participate in a number of forums before voters go to the polls. The vacancy on council occurred when Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald resigned.

On Monday, the two were together in a television studio to tape Alexandria Forum, a show produced by Comcast. For an hour, Cleveland and Wilson responded to questions from the shows co-hosts, Rod Kuckro and Anne Stone: Kuckro, a Democrat and Stone, a Republican. The show will air on Comcast, every day until the election on July 17, at 9 a.m. It will also air on Thursday nights at 8:30, Fridays at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday nights at 9.

What theyre saying
I want to serve you, the people of Alexandria, Cleveland said. I was a member of City Council for 15 years so I have the experience that is needed on Council. I have not been endorsed by the people who are on Council and I will be an independent voice.

Wilson, too, emphasized his own experience. I am the chairman of the DASH Board of Directors, a member of the State Commission on Juvenile Justice, appointed by Governor Tim Kaine and a member of the Citys Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee. I understand the issues that are important to Alexandrians, he said.

Issues
Wilson on the budget 
As a member of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee, I have been very supportive of budget targets, Wilson said. I believe that Council got that part of the process right this year and that we need to work harder to meet those targets next year. For the first time, we have performance metrics for every department. Every year, we need to look at every program and determine whether every program is continuing to meet the needs of the people of Alexandria. If it is not, it should be eliminated. We should not continue to fund programs, year after year, just because they have been funded before.

Cleveland on the budget
There are places where the budget can be cut. First of all, I would decrease the budget by $700,000 that this Council is planning to spend to transport people back and forth across the river to Maryland, he said, referring to the proposed water taxi between Alexandria and National Harbor in Prince Georges County. Then, I would delete $4.5 million that is in the budget to build an All City Sports Facility. We just dont need that. I would use that money to pay for things that we need much more.

Cleveland on development
I support looking at more density in certain places around Alexandria but we cant just look at one part of the city. When we passed the master plan, we agreed to look at it every five years. Thats why Arlington has been so successful. They dont just plan for a small piece of the County but they look at the entire county. Before we start changing small area plans, we need to look at the entire master plan. I believe that there is a plan for the Braddock Road area that sets out just what can be done there. Before we start changing that, we need to look at the entire master plan.

Wilson on development
He supports transit-oriented development. We need to look at increasing density around our Metro stations, particularly Braddock Road, Eisenhower and Van Dorn. There really isnt much we can do about density around King Street but we can at the other three Metro stations, he said. I think the small area plans are a good way for communities to look at their own neighborhoods and develop plans that are appropriate for them.

Education
Both candidates support high quality public education. In the early 1990s, Cleveland helped lead the fight for elected school boards. I still support elected school boards even though I think they made the wrong decision about not renewing the superintendents contract, Cleveland said. I support the superintendent because I think shes done a good job. She opened her doors and supported the Parent Training Leadership Institute, which is teaching parents to be advocates for their children. She has appointed an African-American Parent Advisory Committee and a Hispanic Parent Advisory Committee and is working to narrow the achievement gap.

However, being a leader means making decisions. They have made their decision and now its time to move on, he said.

Wilson agreed that its time to move on. We need to bring the discussion back to student achievement and not focus on the superintendents performance and a School Board that continues to make decisions on 5-4 votes. We need to focus on improving student achievement for every student because thats whats really important, he said.

Cleveland has spent the past year as a substitute teacher in Alexandrias public schools. Im glad to hear parents of young children planning to put their children in our elementary schools, he said. However, we need to focus on our middle schools so that parents will want their children to attend them as well. These children need mentors and, win or lose, I plan to continue to be there as a substitute teacher and a mentor for those students in our middle schools.

Other key issues
The candidates agreed on at least one of the two issues currently on the minds of most Alexandrians. While I support the idea of a smoking ban, I am not interested in passing legislation that will get us embroiled in a legal battle that we cannot win, Wilson said. I hope the General Assembly does the right thing and passes a statewide smoking ban.

Cleveland disagreed. What theyre planning to do is unconstitutional. This is a Dillon Rule state and I dont remember the General Assembly telling us that we can pass a smoking ban. That means that such an ordinance violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, he said.

On closing Mirants Potomac River Generating Station, they agree. We need to close that plant, Cleveland said.

This is a legal fight Wilson said is worth continuing. We havent won many of our court battles regarding the Mirant plant but this is a legal fight worth having and we need to continue trying to get the plant closed, he said.

Meet Bill Cleveland
Bill Cleveland is a Vietnam veteran who spent 30 years as a Capitol Police officer, retiring in 2005. From 1988 until 2003, he was a member of the Alexandria City Council, twice, serving as vice mayor. He is the founder of a program called The Untouchables, which provides mentors to young African-American males. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium and was involved in the design of the program for the Parent Training Leadership Institute. Cleveland and his wife, Ruth, live at Carlyle Towers.

Meet Justin Wilson
Justin Wilson is a member of the Citys Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee; an appointee to the Commonwealths Juvenile Justice Commission and the chairman of the Board of Directors for DASH. He served two terms as the president of the Del Ray Citizens Association and has held a variety of positions with the Alexandria Democratic Committee. He and his wife, Alex, live in Del Ray with their three-year-old son. They are expecting their second child in October. He is employed by Amtrak senior information technology systems engineer.

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