By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]
A nonpartisan political action committee is seeking to change the city’s political discourse ahead of the June 12 Democratic primary and the November general election.
The group, called Alexandrians for Better City Government, launched officially on March 29. The group was co-founded by former Republican council candidate Bob Wood, Democratic city resident Kathy Burns and Independent city resident Hal Hardaway.
Wood said the group was formed six weeks ago after a number of conversations between the three about shared grievances with city hall. Wood, Burns and Hardaway said one of their key concerns is a lack of opportunity for public input at city meetings. They said, even when public input is heard, it’s rarely reflected in the ultimate votes or decisions.
“The 6-1 voting seems almost routine. It reflects a council that has the belief input isn’t important,” Wood said. “ … There’s a certain amount of worry about the lack of dialogue. A lot of citizens give good ideas. They’re listened to and dismissed.”
“During the very few times they’ll act, they’ll ask staff and get the person that created the problem,” Hardaway said. “It’s a circular wind tunnel.”
The group also disagrees with the city’s at-large council format, which, they said, doesn’t hold council members accountable to their neighborhoods.
“At-large representation in city council shield[s] council members from direct responsibility for city actions,” Wood said. “When all of council owns the problem, no one bears the responsibility to solve the problem.”
The group aims to elect new representation into office by endorsing three council candidates and one mayoral candidate ahead of the Democratic primary.
Wood said the process would involve sending out questionnaires to all announced candidates and carefully following the debates, as well as each candidate’s public statements and presentations. He said, if deemed necessary, the group might also conduct further clarifying interviews with candidates before finalizing endorsements.
Burns said the point of the PAC isn’t to decide what solutions a candidate pursues to
address chronic city problems, but to empower them to decide.
“We are not vigilantes acting out a vendetta or the three musketeers. We have no animus about anyone currently on council,” Burns said. “ … We’re issue-based, but we’re not preaching solutions.”
The three planks of the group’s mission are affordability in Alexandria, community safety and accountability within local government. The group says they considered calling the PAC a bipartisan effort, but decided, ultimately, that calling it bipartisan would leave out those in the middle.
“Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, if you can’t park in Old Town, it doesn’t matter what party you are,” Burns said.
The overall point of the PAC, the three said, was to support candidates who can fix what they view as chronic city problems and who can remedy discord in city hall.
“Our grievances are fairly common. We are equally interested and equally aggrieved,” Wood said.
“We want to have some reciprocity,” Burns said. “The reason we have come together is just complaining, at a certain point, doesn’t do anything.”
Members of the group said the first stage in its vetting process – questionnaires – would likely go out to candidates this week.