Last November, Alexandrians were part of the nationwide movement for change, as our fair city voted overwhelmingly to shift course at the national level. Fast forwarding six months and the need for change is no less, as the stock market is still a risky venture and many major financial institutions are not assured of survival. The board thinks that fresh ideas and new approaches particularly ideas on how best to weather the economic downturn — are needed no less at the local level than at the national. This is particularly true in Alexandria, where the local governing body, the City Council, is a generally homogenous group that has had no diversity of political affiliation for the past six years.
Make no mistake: the board views each of the six members of the outgoing Council as decent, well-meaning and hard working people. But sometimes thats not enough especially when economic times are hard and difficult choices loom. As Mayor Bill Euille said on Monday night, Alexandria continues to face its most serious fiscal decline in more than 30 years. This decline is straining the citys ability to fund core services like police and fire protection and schools, meet the increased demand for social safety net services and continue with planned infrastructure projects.
This is certainly a challenging time. As the board has said before in this space, with each challenge comes opportunity. This economic downturn is an opportunity for the local government to prune back positions, departments and services that do nothing but grow in good economic times.
To be sure, some of that has been done, and this Council has made some difficult decisions, such as the decision at Mondays meeting to cut 117 jobs from the workforce. However, in our view budget cuts were not as deep or strategic as they might have been. Why not review and simplify procedures to open a new small business in Alexandria with an eye to combining departments and eliminating additional positions? There seem to be many areas where two worthy goals could be accomplished at once. Instead, the decision was made to rely too much on an increase (a 5.8 cent hike) in the real estate tax rate. Funds the city received from other sources, such as the stimulus package and the state and federal government for school enrollment increases, also led Council to cut less deeply than it might have.
We think that the incoming Council needs two key things: first, people with a strong commitment to spending restraint, but also a willingness to identify and protect the most vital services; second, greater diversity — of viewpoints, of party affiliation, of gender, of race, and of neighborhood. We believe it would be a mistake to again wind up with a one-party Council, and the ensuing group-think that is sometimes its result. It is for those reasons that the Alexandria Times endorses Frank Fannon Alicia Hughes, Rob Krupicka, Del Pepper, Paul Smedberg, and Justin Wilson.
These endorsements are the product of the Times four-person editorial board, which deliberated extensively, and sometimes heatedly, about Council candidates. Rest assured that these recommendations were not taken lightly. The abilities and qualifications of all 10 candidates for Council are impressive, and each of the 10 candidates had at least one champion on the editorial board.
What follows is a more extensive explanation of our endorsement of each candidate:
Frank Fannon impressed us with his fresh ideas about a variety of issues, particularly on ways to save taxpayers money by making Alexandrias government more efficient. Fannons business sense and fiscal conservatism would be tremendous assets in this economic climate. The only native Alexandrian running for Council, Fannon — whose family has a long history of service to our community also serves on the board of directors of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.
Alicia Hughes would bring a multi-faceted background and a fierce advocacy for children to City Council. Hughes is also outspoken in her desire for spending restraint, which we view as a big plus.One of only two lawyers running for Council, Hughes experience as a land-use and development lawyer would be a valuable asset as the city seeks greater commercial development and ways to lessen the residential real estate tax burden.
Rob Krupicka impresses us as the most centrist and reasonable voice on the current Council. Krupicka takes a can-do, problem-solving approach to issues that come before Council; hes a person who gets things done. Krupickas day job as a business development consultant is also an asset. Krupicka, a six-year Council veteran, has developed an expertise on a variety of issues, particularly transportation and education.
Del Pepper is simply an Alexandria institution. She is tireless in her efforts to reach out to all sectors of the community and ably represents the Council at innumerable civic and charitable functions. The only West End resident on Council, Pepper is also a voice for a part of the city that is often under represented. While we seek change on the Council, we also value Peppers 24 years of service and the long view that tenure affords.
Paul Smedberg is bright, approachable and focused on the important issues of fiscal streamlining and business development. A six-year Council veteran, Smedberg is the only member of the current Council who resides in Old Town. We view Smedbergs thoughtful approach as a tremendous asset to Council deliberations.
Justin Wilson is the youngest and shortest-tenured Council incumbent, having won a special election in 2007. Wilson has impressed us with his hard work and quick mastery of a variety of issues particularly those related to transportation. We believe he brings valuable energy and a youthful perspective to Council.
Though he is running unopposed, we would be remiss if we neglected to mention Alexandrias able and well-regarded mayor, Bill Euille. Mayor Euille has given 25 years of service to Alexandria, starting with a 10-year stint on the school board.
School BoardNot Enough Choices
Compared to the strong, competitive races for City Council, the lack of competition for school board seats is discouraging. Most of the city might well prefer the status quo after the turmoil of the Rebecca Perry years and the almost complete turnover of the school board in the 2006 election but well never know that preference since residents of Districts B and C were given no choice in this election. Those districts have three candidates for which to vote in their three-seat districts.
Conversely, District A has fielded five impressive candidates two of them incumbents for its three seats. Choosing from among those five presents a challenging task for District A residents.
As in the Council races, each of the five District A candidates has support on the Times editorial board. In the end, as with Council, we believe that some new blood every three years is an asset.
We were most impressed with the ideas, the energy, and the legions of supporters for both Mimi Carter and Helen Morris. We endorse both Carter and Morris for school board from District A, along with incumbent Scott Newsham.
Mimi Carter impressed us with her emphasis on accountability for the school system, which is a vital element for a $200 million organization. Her knowledge of early childhood issues is a plus, considering the schools recent, pointed forays into that field. We also like her focus on closing the achievement gap that persists between certain demographics of the school population, including English-speaking students and English- language learners.
Helen Morris, like Carter, is the mother of a young child just entering the ACPS system. We believe that Morris 20 years of experience as an education pol
icy professional and her insistence that the school system look at students as individuals and not as groups would be of great value to the school board.
Scott Newsham, a retired U.S. Coast Guard Commander, is an able and congenial incumbent from District A who is almost always on point and displays a keen eye for detail. Newsham readily recognizes the need to reconcile the systems aging infrastructure with its burgeoning student population. Along with his impressive resume of diverse community involvement, he has been instrumental in the push for environmental stewardship within the school system.
We realize that many of our readers will agree and probably an equal number will disagree — with the picks for City Council and for School Board we have endorsed above. Ultimately, of course, what matters most is not what we think, but what you, the voters of Alexandria, think. We urge each of you to peruse our voter guide that is included with this issue, learn as much as you can about each candidate and go to the polls to express your opinion next Tuesday, May 5th.