My View with Mark Shiffer: Why I’m running for council

My View with Mark Shiffer: Why I’m running for council
Mark Shiffer with children, Andrei and Kira, and wife, Nadya. (Courtesy photo)

Hi, my name is Mark Leo Shiffer. I’m running for council because I’d like to put my knowledge and experience to work for you.

As a tech executive, I know how to build and manage teams to solve difficult and challenging problems. Any such team should have diverse backgrounds, experiences, viewpoints and skillsets.

I’m not just talking about city staff – I’m talking about you, the citizens of Alexandria. I want to hear what you have to say and what you have to contribute and help ensure that your input is synthesized into the best solutions we can implement for the challenges facing Alexandria.

What are some of those challenges?

• Flooding and infrastructure – both stormwater and schools – are table stakes. Let’s make infrastructure sexy again.

• Inequality: Let’s fund universal pre-k and approach affordable housing by helping renters become owners.

• Ethics: Let’s implement an ethics panel with teeth. The fact that we didn’t in 2016 probably tells you something.

• Transportation: We need all modes to work, whether you’re a pedestrian, biker, bus rider, Metro rider, mini-van driver. However you get there, you have to be able to get there safely, reliably and on time.

• Environment: Let’s preserve our open spaces and what little natural spaces we have. That’s not done with bulldozers. I’ll bet you knew that.

So why Mark Leo Shiffer? What does he have to offer? A lifetime of experience that can help Alexandria be the city it wants to be. Born in Louisiana to a blue-collar family, I lived the second half of my childhood in New Jersey. Then I went to school in New York, California and Massachusetts before settling with my wife and children here in Alexandria. I have degrees in math, computer science and neuroscience; data is in my genes.

My wife is an immigrant, a naturalized citizen, not through marriage but as an outstanding climate scientist. I’ve lived at some point with all of my six parents, though not at the same time. One of them is African American. I have racist relatives who disowned my mother because of that.

I’ve been poor enough to be hungry and have housing insecurity, for a thankfully short time when my single mother lost her job. My grandmother is a lesbian who grew up in a time and place where that wasn’t accepted.

The point is that I have firsthand experience of a multitude of viewpoints – good, bad and ugly – that have shaped who I am. I have empathy for those in difficult situations and I know, through first-hand experience, that the vast majority of us want the same outcomes even if we disagree on how to get there. In my mind, that’s a good problem to have.

My theory of local government is naively simple. It should be representative, responsive, transparent and non-controversial. So often that’s not the case in Alexandria. If we truly used data to drive our decisions and not just pay lip service, if we looked for solutions that satisfied as many as possible instead of narrow special interests, I think we could make the city better.

Instead of this or that, let’s look for the solutions that give us this and that. It’s harder, no doubt. Roll up your sleeves; it’s more work too. But the engineer in me likes hard problems. The more complicated, the better.

My vision is an Alexandria that can be a home with the best opportunities for all our diverse residents. A home where all their voices are not only heard, but become a part of the solutions the city implements.

My vision is an Alexandria that belongs to you.

The writer is a candidate for City Council in the June 8 Democratic primary.