To the editor:
On Nov. 2 Alexandrians will elect six citizens to City Council. We will be told to “vote for six.” In all other elections we “vote for one” – for president, senator, congress, governor, delegate. “Vote for six” makes Alexandria unique, and not in a good way. Our city at-large election system ensures that council members can ignore your neighborhood – which they do often – and are never held accountable. No matter your party or where you live here, you know this is true.
We are the only American city of our size that holds at-large partisan elections for City Council. Other cities our size have council wards. Alexandria’s council wards were eliminated in 1950, when we had 60,000 residents. Today we have 170,000 residents.
We are larger than Syracuse, Charleston and Savannah – all of which have council wards, as do Richmond and Washington, D.C. They have it right, we have it dangerously wrong. The idea of holding our elected representatives accountable is at the core of American democracy – especially by the neighborhoods where we live.
Alexandria had council wards from 1804 to 1950 – even though we were a much smaller city. Today our city hall governing elites oppose returning to neighborhood wards. So when your street floods, who do you call? Our council members can sleep in, knowing that you won’t call them, that you are unlikely to call all six.
Our mayor and council do as they please and know the lack of neighborhood wards ensures they will never be held accountable for their performance and poor decisions. Seminary Road, scooters parked at your front door, hyper-densification and eternal flooding are examples. “Vote for six” by its very nature ensures one party will always rule here – and yet never have to own any problem on your street. Who is answerable to you and your neighbors? No one.
Of the six Democrats on the November city ballot, five live within three miles of each other. All 13 Democrats who sought the council nomination in June live in just two of Alexandria’s eight zip codes. Of the total of nine candidates running for council today, only one – Darryl Nirenberg – lives outside of those two zip codes. Talk about silencing most of our neighborhoods.
Even the Virginia General Assembly recognizes the problem. The Virginia Voting Rights Act bill enacted this year says that at-large local elections are banned if they “disadvantage any protected group.” It’s time to demand that your neighborhood be seen as a “protected group” before they narrow another road or your home floats away.
Two council candidates – Nirenberg and Florence King – support returning to neighborhood wards. If you want a council that works for you, that you can hold accountable, on Nov. 2 “vote for only two” – Nirenberg and King. That is what I intend to do. Alexandria has grown up. It’s time our mayor and council also do so.
-Michael C. Maibach, Alexandria