Four votes

Four votes
Photo/Cody Mello-Klein

As the number of Alexandrians who have declared their candidacies for City Council approaches a dozen, this year’s local Democratic primary on June 8 becomes more fascinating by the minute. It’s also extremely important.

Most Alexandrians realize this but perhaps don’t often think of it in these terms: It takes four votes on the dais who agree on an issue to advance a particular perspective. That’s it.

Short-term projects and long-term vision both emanate from four votes.

While Alexandria’s city manager and staff are tasked with implementing council’s decisions and city code, the seven-member legislative body makes the policy. Alexandria’s mayor wields the gavel at council meetings, but their vote is just one of the seven.

So, what matters most to you, as a voter? Is it the environment? Is it the health of small businesses? Is it school overcrowding and the lack of in-person instruction during the pandemic? Is it racial justice? Is it ethics and transparency in government? Is it affordable housing? Is it the increasing density of Alexandria? Is it historic preservation?

It’s not enough to say all of these issues are important. For if all issues are viewed equally, then nothing is prioritized. Voters need to decide what’s most important to them.

Council members must often make difficult choices. An example from just this week was the decision about the Heritage development, which required choosing between a massive jump in density or preserving a larger number of affordable housing units. What’s needed during this campaign is a discussion around the larger issue: Are huge increases in density the best way to retain affordable housing, or is the city better off setting aside funding in the budget?

The tradeoffs involving density were also part of council’s decision to approve redevelopment of the Landmark Mall site, as resident Bill Goff points out in his letter on pages 24 and 25.

While we think being on the hook for $130 million is a reasonable price to pay for keeping a first-class hospital within Alexandria’s city limits, we share Goff’s concerns about the unaddressed problems that adding 2,500 housing units at that site will cause. If just one in five units has one school-aged child – it will be more – then that development alone will require another entire school in Alexandria. Not to mention other quality of life issues, such as traffic, noise, pollution and the strain this enormous project will put on Alexandria’s already overwhelmed sewer system.

All city voters would be wise to spend some time deliberating on which issues they care most about and making sure they know where council candidates stand on those issues be-fore casting their votes on June 8.

Make no mistake, the Democratic primary in this one-party city is the local election, as it’s been 12 years since a Republican has been elected to City Council.

We will do our best to help inform Alexandria Times readers on the candidates in the coming months.

• We will be running a front-page profile on each council candidate who wishes to be interviewed, newcomers and incumbents alike.

• We will offer each candidate space on our editorial pages for one 600-word My View column entitled “Why I’m running for Council.”

• We will send out a questionnaire on issues to each candidate and will print their responses along with brief bio blurbs in our Voter’s Guide, which will appear in the May 20 Alexandria Times.

• We will cover council and mayoral debates.

• We will endorse candidates for council and mayor in our May 27 edition.

The local election officially gets underway at noon on March 8, when candidates for council and mayor must file in order to be part of the lottery drawing of ballot slots. Residents can still file through March 25 but will appear on the ballot after those in the lottery.

The direction of the city is in the hands of voters on June 8. It takes four votes.