By Matt Feely
In 1978, Northern Virginia was brand new territory for me. I had just turned 18, was in what I thought was the “Deep South” for the first time and was a few months away from joining the Navy. Friends insisted on celebrating my 18th birthday by introducing me to Alexandria – specifically the Fish Market Restaurant and its oversized beers, “schooners.” The size of that beer impressed.
So also did the city, in a more substantive way. I got over the beer, but not the place. I was fascinated to learn about Alexandria’s history and to think about its future. I liked its neighborhoods, buildings, shops and the people I met. I fell in love with the city.
A year prior to the visit, I took a course in my hometown high school where one of the best teachers I’ve ever had introduced us to “social contract theory,” the ways that organized society emerges and sustains itself through varying degrees of voluntary cooperation and imposed regulation.
We studied the giants of the Enlightenment – Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, whose ideas largely define society’s understanding of social contract. We learned that each philosopher had a different interpretation of human nature and that human nature determined whether voluntary self-governance was possible or whether formalized, assertive government was needed. Fascinating stuff; I was hooked.
I remained hooked for the next 35 years, while I served the nation as a Naval officer – a profession that required me to be apolitical. The apolitical requirement never quelled my fascination with governance.
Experiences in the Navy sealed my commitment to delve into governance someday – to be political. Serving in Beirut, Lebanon and Tbilisi, Georgia and in Iraq and Afghanistan helped me to understand the dangers of insular and corrupt government where citizens did not participate enough to ensure good governance.
Years aboard submarines and surface ships showed me how people respond differently to various approaches of governance. Time in classrooms as a student or professor learning about or teaching political economy, economics, risk management and leadership decision-making helped me to formulate frameworks for governance.
I have spent the time and effort to try to understand: how assertive government ought to be; whether property rights ought to be considered sacrosanct; how important collective interests are and when they ought to prevail over individual rights; how transparent and inclusive government deliberation ought to be.
As I look at the candidates running for city council, I am struck by the similarity of our stated wants. We want safety and security for every Alexandrian. We want a healthy economy and ecology. We want our young to receive an excellent education and to develop moral compasses so that they become productive, contributing adults. We want to improve our city where improvement is needed, and we want to preserve that which is already good. We want affordable housing and access to healthcare for all, and we want our elders to reside with dignity in the community they love.
I’m running for city council – like other candidates – to fight for those goals. But I am also running because I fell in love with this town, chose to be a part of it and believe that serving as a member of city council would allow me to be a most integral part of it.
And finally, I am running for city council because I have accumulated a depth of experience and knowledge, and have developed a high degree of analytical capacity that I would be privileged to apply on behalf of every inhabitant of this place I’ve fallen for.