Our View: Looking back at 2017

Our View: Looking back at 2017
Flowers at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park after the June 14 shooting (Photo Credit: Louise Krafft)

In this, our year-in-review issue, we pause to take stock of what has transpired during the 12 months of the expiring calendar year.

Some events acquire clarity with the passage of a few months, more recent happenings are sometimes still coming into focus, while others leave emotional scars that the passage of time does not fully heal.

Falling into the latter category is the shootout that took place at Eugene Simpson Park Field on June 14. James T. Hodgkinson opened fire on Republican congressmen and aides while they were practicing for the annual congressional baseball game.

What is most miraculous about that day is that Hodgkinson himself was the only person killed, though the House Majority Whip, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), was critically wounded and is still recovering from injuries he suffered.

Several factors prevented further loss of life, which deserve repeating and celebrating. First, Simpson Field groundskeeper Marvin Paz had locked the gate on the third base side of the park, which prevented Hodgkinson from entering the field. The courageous actions of capitol police officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey, and of Alexandria Police Department officers Alexander Jensen, Kevin Jobe and Nicole Battaglia, coupled with the quick arrival of Alexandria EMT personnel on the scene, helped save Scalise and others.

It was a horrible day, but it could have been so much worse. And in the aftermath of the atrocious event, Alexandrians from across the city, but particularly the Del Ray neighborhood, rallied and reaffirmed their commitment to our community.

Despite this, something changed in Alexandria on June 14. Until a tragedy hits close to home, there’s a sense of “otherness” to terrible events. Mass shootings only happen in other places – until one happens in your hometown.

We always knew the unthinkable could happen here, but we didn’t have to confront that possibility. Now we do, and it’s unsettling.

In fact, if there was a theme to 2017, it was various types of change.

A shift in the political winds following the surprise election of Donald Trump as president last November brought different types of political activism to the forefront in Alexandria.
Heretofore unseen political elements, such as Alt-right.com, set up shop in Alexandria. This led to sporadic protests outside their Old Town office. All of these events led many in Alexandria to post signs emphasizing kindness and inclusion.

Dramatic change also came to Alexandria’s waterfront in 2017. Hotel Indigo opened, a new boat club has been erected and the Robinson Terminal South site has been excavated and is about to be rebuilt into Robinson Landing townhomes.

Significant change also occurred within Alexandria City Public Schools. In 12 months, the city has had one superintendent resign, an interim superintendent fill in capably and a new superintendent be named. There was a change at the helm of Alexandria’s lone public high school, with Peter Balas taking the reins. And long-time, beloved elementary school principal Lucretia Jackson retired after more than 30 years at ACPS.

Our city schools were also involved in the year’s most acrimonious issue, as Crawley’s request for funds within the city’s 10-year CIP plan increased by almost 100 percent over a few-month span. Schools advocates reacted angrily when others in the community, including city council, balked at approving such a large increase coupled with a significant hike in the ACPS operating budget.

Lastly, significant change occurred within the Alexandria Times itself this year, as Alexa Epitropoulos joined the paper in April as managing editor and reporter. Her work revamping our digital offerings – including daily news updates – as well as her work covering the local business community has taken the Times in exciting, new directions. New graphic designer Aleksandra Kochurova has tweaked our fonts and presentation, giving the paper a fresh, modern look. And new reporter Missy Schrott has quickly made her mark with compelling feature stories.

This new team has enabled the Times to tackle our most ambitious reporting endeavor to date: the seven-part series on opioids in Alexandria that culminated in last week’s front page story in which Epitropoulos told the stories of two recovering addicts who reside in the city. More exciting projects are in the works, some of which we will be announcing in early 2018.

Finally, we would like to thank our readers and advertisers. We thank Alexandria residents not only for reading, writing in to us and voicing your views on important issues within the city, but also for your willingness to reach out to us with tips on potential stories and for offering to talk with us and tell us your stories.

And the Times would simply not exist without our advertisers, who see the value that showcasing their businesses and services in our paper brings to them, and who also see the value that a community newspaper brings to the entire city.

Happy holidays and best wishes for 2018.