Increasingly in Alexandria, it seems that promises are made to be broken. It’s particularly disturbing when this breach of trust comes from those we look to, or have elected, for leadership.
In 2015, our longtime mayor, Bill Euille, refused to accept the Democratic primary result after narrowly losing to current Mayor Allison Silberberg in a three-way race. Opposing the victor of a fair primary violated his party’s by-laws, and rendered moot a party unity pledge Euille had signed.
The city appears poised to jettison a verbal pledge made to neighbors in the early 1960s when T.C. Williams High School was being contemplated. That verbal promise – to never install lights on the school’s playing fields – was later written in a Development Special Use Permit in the 2000s when the school was rebuilt.
Then, of course, there’s the ongoing saga of the Potomac Yard Metro Station, where nearby residents were levied an extra tax and were repeatedly promised a convenient southern entrance to the yet-to-bebuilt station. FOIAed documents show that city staff, and members of city council, continued to repeat this falsehood long after they knew that entrance needed to be removed from the plans. And yet, taxes continued to be collected into city coffers, while townhouses and condos continued to be sold, benefitting developers.
In recent weeks, we have learned that the homeowner’s association at Chatham Square, located in north Old Town, has petitioned the city for on-street parking. This, despite it being codified in the development’s DSUP that Chatham Square residents, most of whom have twocar garages, would not be allowed to park on the street and take spaces from nearby residents, most of whom do not have off-street parking.
Here’s the problem: promises do matter. They matter individually and collectively.
In each of the individual cases mentioned above, the promises made verbally or in writing were trusted. When people vote for candidates, even in this cynical age, they at least hope the politicians will keep their word. When people buy property or don’t oppose developments based on promises – in these instances, pledges of no lights at T.C., easy Metro access and no on-street parking – it’s at least in part because they trust city officials.
There are people who will defend each of the broken promises listed above, and some of the arguments do have merit. But we think the promise is more important than the particulars:
• A defeated candidate should not wage a write-in campaign.
• A promise made, particularly to poor, previously mistreated residents, should be honored.
• The elimination of the Potomac Yard Metro south entrance should have been revealed much sooner.
• DSUPs, particularly ones as recent as the T.C. rebuild and Chatham Square, should be enforced, not altered.
Trust is a two-way street. That’s true in relationships of all kinds, including between citizens and their government. When one side controls the relationship by always forcing their will on the other, that bond is going to break.
Residents who pay their taxes and follow the laws in our city are upholding their end of the bargain. Our local leaders need to try harder to keep the trust they’ve been given, even if that means sometimes not getting their way on a particular project.
The collective result of serial promise-breaking is the erosion of trust. Once trust is gone, it’s pretty much gone for good.