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November 7, 2012 Published in Choice 2013, Editorials

Candidates Victorious

After the last local election three and a half years ago, City Council voted hastily to move elections to the fall. There were predictions that the crush of candidates would cause long delays at the polls. There were predictions that the heavier turnout in a largely Democratic City would swamp Republican and Independent candidates.

Yesterday Alexandria’s the first local election was held in conjunction with the election for President of the United States and a US Senator and Congressman. Turnout was indeed massive with over 73,500 Alexandria voters or 80% of the active registered voters in the City taking part.

The results had the Democratic Mayor and all 6 Democratic candidates for Council elected. We congratulate them on their campaigns and electoral success. They are good people and are capable of doing a fine job.

For the most part, the election ran very smoothly in Alexandria. There were some delays in a few precincts but these were due to a larger number of individual voter issues that often arise in a presidential election year. 

About 56,000 people voted on Tuesday and nearly 18,000 voted absentee prior to that. Long delays and turmoil at the polls was just not a factor. The City’s Voter Registration and elections staff performed brilliantly.

The second concern, the outpouring of Democrats swamping Republicans, certainly did happen. Voters in the west end of Alexandria poured out and voted largely the straight Democratic ticket.  About 66,000 votes were cast in the Mayor’s race and with about 73,500 votes in total it appears that over 80% of the voters voted in the local elections. 66,000 voters in local elections is 2 to 3 times what we would see in the May elections of the past.

The City will have to see whether a Council composed of 7 Democrats can govern competently. The last experience with such a Council ended with 2 Democratic incumbents being defeated. That council was thought to have dealt inadequately with major issues like BRAC and the Ethanol Transloading Facility in the west end of the City.

Allison Silberberg, who as the top vote getter among the Council candidates will become the Vice Mayor, will have a special role to play. She built a very strong campaign organization that gave her the Democratic nomination and propelled her to election. That organization, if kept together, may help insulate her from the pressure to “go along” with the Democratic majority or face consequences in the next primary. It is imperative that citizens see questioning of matters before Council in a transparent and open process.

Some members of Council will have to step forward and provide leadership that is beyond being part of the group. Such leadership must be based on careful and thoughtful examination of the issues and not simply putting forward one pet scheme after another.

Members of Council must also bear in mind that they will be up for re-election in 3 years at a time when the only other fall elections will be for members of the Virginia House of Delegates. There will be no massive outpouring of party line voters then as there was this year.

The City also elected 9 members of the School Board, 3 in each election district. 6 of the incumbents chose to retire. Of the 3 incumbents who ran, one in each district, Helen Morris was defeated in the east and Marc Williams and Ronnie Campbell while re-elected came in 3rd in votes received in their central and west districts respectively. Voters seemed to send a strong message that they wanted a different kind of School Board that played a more active role and appeared as much less a rubber stamp for the Superintendent.

We congratulate the new and returning members on their election. They have a tough job to do to fulfill voter expectations while keeping the schools moving forward.

That School Board, with 7 brand new members (although Pat Hennig in the west served on the first elected Board from 1994-1997) and weakened incumbents, must organize quickly. Hopefully these new Board Members will realize that they are not a PTA or a cheering squad for the School District but the overall managers of the district and will apply their skills to bringing balance back to governing the Alexandria City Public Schools.

These new members also must understand that there is a body of school law in the Code of Virginia that ACPS including the Superintendent must follow and that School policies are not meant to be violated. We look forward to meaningful dialog at School Board meetings.

Above all we insist that the goal not be petty personal bickering or the politics of each elementary school but the advancement of student achievement for each and every student in our public schools. We hope that the incumbents will see it as their job to help the new comers do “the real work of School Boards” and not to try to continue a system that has been repudiated by the voters.

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