By Carlyle C. “Connie” Ring, Jr., Former school board member and city councilor
To the editor:
When I moved to Alexandria in 1957, the Byrd organization controlled everything from villages, city council and county boards all the way to Richmond. It ruled with an iron fist. When I went to register to vote at City Hall in 1957, I was given a blank piece of paper, asked to explain a provision of the Virginia Constitution and pay a poll tax.
“Massive Resistance” was the state policy: close any public school to which a black child might be assigned. In 1969, Linwood Holton was elected the first Republican governor of Virginia since Reconstruction on a platform to keep our schools open. On the day of his inauguration in January 1970, his first executive order was to end discrimination in state employment and, holding the hand of his daughter, enrolled her at the school in the neighborhood of the Governor’s Mansion, with a predominantly black enrollment.
In May 1967, the first Republican was elected to the Alexandria City Council. In the ensuing elections, the “dream” council of three Democrats, three Republicans and one Independent was elected. The process of governing opened up; new ideas were vigorously debated, and diversity of experience and perspective enriched local discussion and action.
Then, in June 2009, the lame duck city council, with two councilors who were defeated the previous month, voted to change the council election from May to November, with the first such election to take place in 2012 during the presidential election. Of course, the presidential race dominated the media. Local issues and concerns drew little attention. Voters came to vote for president and many without knowledge or forethought simply voted the sample ballot. The city council returned to one-party rule.
In November 2015, we have only local elections. We have the opportunity to return to electing city councilors on their merits. The candidates will have the full attention of the electorate. Open and energetic debate, with diversity of ideas reflective of the interest and wishes of the citizens of our city can return. It takes at least four votes on council to make a change in direction.