YOUR VIEWS | Misplaced Angst


To the editor:

The lingering hullabaloo over the elections moving the time theyre held and electing a stranger to City Council is misplaced angst. They are just symptoms of the larger problem needlessly besetting Alexandria, which is the lack of democracy, plain and simple.

Admittedly, the previous City Council did not distinguish itself by its duplicity; that is, publicly proclaiming they would punt the question whether to vote in the fall or in the spring to the incoming Council. Sadly, their real intention was to take action all along.

Also stunning is electing a civic-minded, well-educated lady who is such a total stranger to the city and its issues that she hasnt had the time to formally change her permanent residence from Baltimore to Alexandria.

It does seem unfair that this particular new Council member has so little experience in the city on whose Council she will serve. Of course, she will be a fast study and will probably bring solid problem solving skills to her Council tasks. But lets face it: shes an unknown.

The solution to ensuring we dont put on our Council more nice people with no city tenure is to elect our Council members by ward or by district. Its not a difficult concept to grasp; it was used in Alexandria until the mid-1950s and has enormous merits, not the least of which is the prospect of neighbors electing neighbors.

Less expensive too. Candidates dont need to seek votes from every corner of the city; they need only to persuade enough of their neighbors that they will be more effective representing their communitys interests on City Council than their opponent.

Another worthy benefit: improved civic associations. Every ward or district has several civic associations. These venues, long the realm of close friends who enlist other close friends to join them, will become more vital. Ambitious prospective candidates will use civic associations to demonstrate their civic mindedness as a precursor to running for Council.

An additional significant benefit is an informed voter. Voters need to focus only on the Council candidate seeking to represent just their ward or district. No longer will it be necessary to assess all 15 or 20 candidates running city-wide.

Also, a valuable feature of any local election is the personal touch, literally. The best candidates will try to meet each voter, a task no longer insurmountable. This is because implementing a ward or district system will dramatically shrink the boundaries within which candidates will seek votes to roughly 15 percent of what they are now.

If members of the School Board can be effortlessly elected by ward, then so can our Council members. Doing so will restore representational democracy in Alexandria, produce informed voters, be less expensive and serve to ensure only those with records of service to their communities are elected to City Council. Anything wrong with these outcomes?

Jim Roberts