Editorial: November elections boost turnout, partisanship

Editorial: November elections boost turnout, partisanship

After a noisy year of electioneering in Alexandria, the ballots have been cast and counted: The move to November elections for city council and mayor led to a huge increase in voter participation and a return to one-party rule. The former is a good thing, but the latter is not.

The decision to reschedule local elections from May to November was made in June 2009 by a lame-duck and Democratic-controlled council, two of which, Tim Lovain and Justin Wilson, had just lost their seats to Republican Frank Fannon and then-Independent Alicia Hughes. That decision, made in the name of increasing voter turnout, smelled of sour grapes — and a lingering odor remains. Lovain and Wilson, who voted for it, reclaimed their former seats from Fannon and Hughes on Tuesday.

Alexandria is left with a council of all Democrats, plus a Democratic mayor, after Bill Euille handily defeated Independent Andrew Macdonald. While party affiliation matters much less at the local than national level — the Times has long advocated for nonpartisan local elections — Hughes and Fannon were reliable votes for spending and taxing restraint. Their voices will be missed.

The next council consists of only two incumbents: Del Pepper and Paul Smedberg. They will be joined by Lovain and Wilson as well as newcomers John Chapman and Allison Silberberg — who garnered the most votes of any council candidate and will take over from Kerry Donley as vice mayor.

Macdonald’s battle with Euille was Alexandria’s most spirited campaign for mayor in many years. They provided very different visions for the city. We hope the mayor was listening to the many city residents who are concerned about a perceived lack of inclusion in development decisions, particularly the early stages.

We also hope Macdonald recognizes the significant role his passion for Alexandria plays in our city and quickly re-engages as an advocate for environmental preservation and development skepticism.

The defeat of Helen Morris for school board in District A also proved notable. Morris was one of only three incumbents seeking re-election, leaving just Marc Williams and Ronnie Campbell as a link between the old and new bodies. Williams and Campbell finished third in Districts B and C, claiming the final seats in each.

It’s not difficult to infer that residents seemed to be signaling their outrage at Alexandria City Public Schools’ recent performance with these votes.

In the end, voter turnout, boosted by the tight battles for senate and president in Virginia, was Tuesday’s big story. Where only 10,922 people voted for mayor in 2009, when Euille ran unopposed in the May election, almost six times that many ballots were cast in this year’s race. More than four-and-a-half times as many votes were cast for city council candidates as compared to three years ago.

For better or worse, fall local elections are what we now have. Because local elections are held every three years, but presidential ones every four, this confluence of local elections with presidental and senate races will not happen again until 2024. Thank goodness!