YOUR VIEWS | Retribution or Realpolitik? Let The Voters Decide

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To the editor:

The proposal to change local elections from May to November may place partisan advantage over the best forum for dialogue on city issues and selection of the best people to serve on Council. It is in my view wrong to make any change now for the following reasons:

A decision by a lame duck Council on June 13 may be perceived as retribution for the electorate selecting three new members of Council on May 5 and as a blow to the benefits of diversity on Council.

The discussion of city concerns in November may well be overwhelmed by the attention given to national and state candidates, greatly diminishing the dialogue so important to maintaining a consensus and sense of community in Alexandria.

Voting in November may encourage factional voting (party line voting) for local offices rather than voting for each candidate on his or her individual merits.

Two Virginians warned against factions (relying upon parties) rather than selecting the best people to represent us. George Washington in is his Farewell Address wrote:

I have intimated to you the danger of parties… [T]he common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it…It serves to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, and foments occasionally…There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true….And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched demands uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into flame, lest, instead of warming it should consume.

James Madison in the Federalist Papers wrote:

Complaints are everywhere heard…that governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and the measures are too often decided not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

The counsel of Washington and Madison was not only relevant then but applies today. It is not wise for a lame duck Council composed all of one party to impose a rule upon a newly elected Council with diversity of viewpoints what may be an irreversible decision. The haste will be perceived as one for partisan advantage.

The public policy choice is whether the city is better served (i) by individuals elected when the full attention is upon local matters and the individual merits of the candidates, or (ii) in November for national or state elections when the local matters will be suppressed and factional voting may determine the outcome but larger participation may be achieved. It is a valid policy debate but one appropriate for the new Council and, if they consider it appropriate, a referendum which the electorate will decide.

Carlyle C Connie Ring
Former Councilman (1979-88)
Former School Board member (1969-78)

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