alexandrianews.org Editorial

Next Tuesday is Election Day in Alexandria. We have national and local candidates up for election and two Virginia Constitutional Amendments for consideration. Any way you look at it, this is a very important time in our City's and Nation's history. We encourage you to become familiar with the candidates and their issues and to go to the polls if you have not already cast your vote on an absentee ballot. We have also published a Voter Guide and here are our candidate endorsements.

At the top of the ticket is the contest for the United States Senate, pitting incumbent Democrat Tim Kaine against his Republican challenger and President Trump supporter, Corey Stewart. Matt Waters, a Libertarian, is also challenging Kaine. Because of his history of service to Virginia as Lieutenant Governor and Governor, and his record in the United States Senate, we heartily endorse Senator Kaine.

The congressional race is between incumbent Congressman Don Beyer, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Thomas Oh. Mr. Oh, a combat veteran, has some strong points but he does not have the experience or balance that Mr. Beyer has displayed over his long history of public service. We endorse Congressman Beyer.

Justin Wilson defeated Mayor Allison Silberberg in the Democratic primary and is running unopposed for Mayor of Alexandria in the General Election.

Nine candidates for running for the six City Council seats: six Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent.

Alexandria's City Council has been dominated by Democrats since the end of Reconstruction. In the modern era, the Byrd Machine gave way to a moderate Republican resurgence in the 1970's, but the turn of the Republican Party towards conservatism under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980's consigned the party to minority status as Alexandria became ever more diverse. When an all Democrat City Council reversed its earlier vote on the timing of elections after two of its members failed to win re-election, voting for local offices was moved from stand-alone elections in May to the November General Elections. No independent or Republican candidate has come close to winning since.

We have editorialized many times on the serous issues caused by one-party rule. As such, we have looked over the non-democrat candidates particularly carefully. Republicans Kevin Dunne and Michael Clinkscale and Independent Mark Shiffer have many ideas for improving Alexandria, some of them quite unconventional. They are newcomers to Alexandria having been here for three, two, and one year respectively. 

The Democratic candidates include Canek Aquirre, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, John Taylor Chapman, Amy Jackson, Del Pepper, and Mo Seifeldein. All have been extremely active in Alexandria for years. Only two are incumbents, Del Pepper and John Chapman.

We recommend voting for the Democrats.

Alexandria's School Board election is of considerable importance this year. Serious issues are facing the City school system. Academic performance, except for Black students who were the focus of a special initiative, has declined over the past three years including a severe drop for Hispanic students who comprise the largest demographic group in the system. Scores have also declined among those with special needs and the on-time graduation rate at T.C. Williams has also declined.

The current School Board has paid insufficient attention to maintaining existing buildings and has transferred monies from critical maintenance to cover conversion of an office building into the new West End school and to cover the cost overruns at the Patrick Henry Project. Meanwhile roofs are leaking and mold is growing in a number of schools.

Under the current Board's leadership, the public has less information about actual student performance. There is a reluctance to putting out bad news that extends even to not publicizing losing scores of T.C.'s sports teams. This must change. Progress is made by facing problems openly and seeking solutions through community engagement.

School Board Members are elected by District and only those voters from the District may vote for their District's candidate. In Virginia, School Board elections are non-partisan.

District A is the eastern part of the City. There are six candidates running in this District. One of them, Bill Campbell, is a two-term incumbent. The others, including Jacinta Greene, Christopher Harris, Michelle Rief, Marc Solomon, and Christopher Suarez, are running for the first time.

We recommend Chris Suarez. He is Hispanic and the child of a single mother who attended and taught in the City of Chicago Public Schools. He earned a law degree from Yale and has first-hand experience with educational issues.

We also recommend Christopher Harris, a 1992 graduate of T.C. Williams. Harris is as an occupational safety engineer and has decades of experience in building construction and renovation. He would bring much needed expertise to the School Board which is having difficulty in this area. He has also been active in ACPS and served as a substitute teacher and football coach.

Finally, we endorse Jacinta Greene. She was born into a family of educators in Richmond and attended public schools there. She has lived in Alexandria since 2002 and been involved in a number of organizations in the City.

District B is the middle of the City. There are five candidates running in this District. Three of them are incumbents: Cindy Anderson, Margaret Lorber, and Veronica Nolan. Two others, Jewelyn Cosgrove and Abigail Downs Wacek, are running for the first time.

As noted earlier, the current Board has failed to deal with a number of problems. However, the new entries in this District have not put forth convincing arguments that they would do better. Therefore, we recommend returning the three incumbents in District B. We hope that they provide stronger leadership and better support to the new Superintendent.

District C is the west side of the City. There are five candidates running in this District. One of them, Ramee Gentry, is an incumbent who serves as School Board Chair. The others are Meagan Alderton, John Lennon, Dianara Saget, and Heather Thornton.

We endorse Meagan, John, and Ramee.

Meagan Alderton is a specialist in special education with a wealth of experience as well as deep roots in our community.

John Lennon has a background in management with Voice of America and an appreciation of and commitment to international populations through his work. He has taught ESL and worked extensively in and with our school system and his children attended and graduated from the system.

We hope current Board Chair Ramee Gentry will address the lack of transparency we have identified.

Heather Thornton impressed us with her knowledge of education and international relationships and she is clearly someone who can make a mark on our community in the future.

There are two Virginia Constitutional Questions on the ballot:

Question one deals with permitting local jurisdictions to give a property tax break to owners of property subject to flooding for making improvements to mitigate flood damage. The amount of tax break and the conditions associated with it are left up to the local jurisdiction.

This amendment, although well-intentioned, is so loose that it should not be approved. Nothing is specified about the type or amount of flood mitigation work required and no standards are defined. It is not clear if this applies to river flooding or if ocean-front property is included.

Under the current system, property that is subject to flooding is generally assessed lower than equivalent property not subject to flooding, since flooding reduces market value. Flood mitigation can lead to increased property values and higher tax assessments.

This amendment would appear to authorize a "double dip" for property owners.

We recommend a NO vote.

Question two deals with the property tax break that is granted to certain surviving spouses of veterans who suffer a 100% service related disability. The amendment would let the spouse sell the existing house and transfer the benefit to her/his new principal residence.

This amendment is well thought out and provides needed flexibility for surviving spouses. It is tightly regulated and seems a reasonable extension of the current system. We recommend a YES vote.

Please vote on November 6.

 

Editor's Note: alexandrianews.org Board members Lynn Hampton and Ericka Miller recused themselves from endorsement process because they are supporting candidates in the local elections.