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October 28, 2015 Published in Editorials

Citizens: Make Your Voices Heard – VOTE!

alexandrianews.org Editorial

Alexandria will be electing a mayor, members of City Council, and State officials on Tuesday, Nov. 3. This election has provided Alexandria with more than its usual share of political theater so let’s just cut to the chase.

Alexandria Mayor

After a tight and divisive primary campaign and no Republican or Independent candidates emerging, the local Democratic Party is in a fight with itself. We would have wished for a debate between Democratic candidate Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg and long-time Democrat Mayor Bill Euille, running as a write-in candidate, but that was nixed by the vice mayor. Voters were deprived of a useful airing of their differences, unfiltered by the simplicity of campaign materials.  Still, there are voting records and televised Council meetings that provide what we believe to be more than enough information on which to base an endorsement decision.

Alexandria has a City Manager-based governing system and we have been blessed with a long line of excellent City managers, chosen by the City Council. That is no different today and the City is, on the whole, in good fiscal shape. That said, we face many challenges: capital projects such as schools and City infrastructure; continuing questions about the amount and availability of green space and playing fields for our adults and our youth; quality-of-life issues such as the unending streams of traffic which now permeate every part of our day, not just during rush hour; and a tax burden that is increasingly being borne by residential rather than commercial owners. We look to Council to make decisions about how to address these issues and to set policies that guide the City Manager in the day-to-day operations of the government. And we look to the mayor to be able to lead that Council. Every decision requires preparation, mastery of the facts, compromise, the ability to work with colleagues and the ability to instill respect among members. In that regard, we believe Mr. Euille comes out ahead of Ms. Silberberg and that is why we are endorsing him for mayor.

Ms. Silberberg has run a strong campaign and has many passionate supporters. But her performance as a member of City Council has illustrated a decided lack of leadership skills. That can sometimes be overlooked in a Council member. It cannot be overlooked in a mayor. Ms. Silberberg has shown a tendency to bring issues to the table without consulting her colleagues beforehand. This does nothing to endear her to her fellow Democratic team members and it demonstrates a desire for showmanship rather than governing. When running a meeting, she has shown an inability to follow the agenda and has been on the losing end of many 6-1 votes. That does not lead to confidence that she can put the practicalities of governance ahead of political platitudes. Ms. Silberberg has campaigned tirelessly on the principles of transparency on City Council and there is certainly strong support from this newspaper for that. Yet Ms. Silberberg failed to divulge before the recent vote on Robinson Terminal North that one of her campaign contributions came from an attorney who is a member of the firm representing the developer. Ms. Silberberg has voted against every waterfront development project that has come before Council – except for Robinson Terminal North, which passed unanimously. Ms. Silberberg claims that she was unaware of where the attorney worked. This appears disingenuous – most candidates are very aware of where their contributions come from – if not, they should be so that they can declare potential conflicts of interest.

Mr. Euille has proved to be an effective if not innovative mayor for many years. He has been an advocate for the City’s youth and for more green space and recreation centers. He has the respect of his colleagues. Mr. Euille cares about the City’s fiscal future and he understands the role that business plays in that. He realizes that balance is the key in an increasingly urbanized environment and that no moat will be built around this City in the foreseeable future. For these reasons, he has earned another term.

Moving to November elections has all but assured a Democratic Council and mayor for Alexandria. For many, that is the desirable outcome. But the political process works best when there is choice, and not the kind that comes from intra-party fratricide. We hope that this election galvanizes Republicans and Independents to compete at the mayoral level again and we hope it produces some soul searching among Democrats such that they seek new leadership potential for the future.

Alexandria City Council

For City Council, we endorse the following incumbents: Paul Smedberg, Justin Wilson, Tim Lovain, Del Pepper and John Chapman. Each has taken strong, principled stands on various issues and has demonstrated the fiscal experience necessary to lead this City. In particular, we single out Mr. Smedberg and Mr. Wilson for doing their homework and for the hard-edged intelligence they bring to Council discussions. Mr. Lovain’s preparation is also evident – he brings a practical, common sense approach to the issues of the day.

We give our nod for the sixth seat to Phil Cefaratti, Independent candidate for Council. Mr. Cefarrati’s business background stands to add to the expertise of the Council. He exhibits an in-depth knowledge of City issues, has focused on listening to all citizens and promotes a strong school system stating that the youth of this City are his top priority. During the debates, his answers were focused on achieving real results in areas such as the reduction of traffic congestion and increasing the amount of proffers received for open space and affordable housing from developers seeking increased density and parking reductions. We believe he will bring a needed new perspective to Council debates.

Fernando Torrez is a local small businessman and a first-time candidate. He displayed a depth of knowledge regarding the issues faced by small businesses in Alexandria and his performance during the debates was impressive for a first-time candidate. His passion to serve and represent new voices in the City bodes well for the future and we’ll be looking to see him again during the next round of elections.

Willie Bailey shares this passion to serve and better his City but during the debates, his answers reflected more of his working experiences in Fairfax County than an in-depth knowledge of what is going on in Alexandria.

Townsend Van Fleet has lived in Alexandria for many years, but his focus has always been and remains Old Town. All Alexandrians are very proud of our beautiful historic center but many cannot afford to live there and many who can, would not choose to. Alexandrians from all walks of life are rightly proud of their own neighborhoods, parks and schools. The Council is not elected by ward and members need to be able to understand the City in its entirety. Speaking out loudly against large developments such as BRAC does not substitute for a working knowledge of the problems faced by other neighborhoods in this City.

Bob Wood is a dignified presence in the field of candidates. During the debates, he spoke about the importance of increasing police foot patrols to control crime and was the only candidate who noted the impact of concrete and asphalt paving on the pollution levels in the Potomac River and the ability of the flood plain to absorb water. Our hope would be that Mr. Wood will expand his knowledge of issues to encompass a stronger City-wide perspective.

Monique Miles rounds out the list of City Council candidates and has a bright political future. However, her tenure in the City has been brief and that is reflected in her knowledge of the facts with regard to issues facing Alexandria. Spending more time in the trenches would be our advice.

Alexandria School Board

The axiom that the future of our schools is the future of our nation can be observed throughout society where our education system has failed our youth. Whether or not you have children in the local school system, the quality of that system impacts all Alexandria residents and it is important that citizens vote for the leaders of that system, your local School Board.  That School Board manages a budget that is one third of the City’s over-all expenditures.

District A has three candidates for three seats. They are Incumbents Bill Campbell and Karen Graf and newcomer Hal Cardwell.

District B has five candidates vying for three seats. Our nod goes to the sole incumbent running, Kelly Carmichael Booz, and to Veronica Nolan and Margaret Lorber. A bit of continuity is always good in a governing body but Ms. Carmichael Booz is also a committed and innovative member of the Board. She has emphasized the importance of communication between the community and the Board. Ms. Carmichael Booz gave clear, reasoned answers during the public forum and is clearly comfortable in a leadership role. We look to see more from her this term.

Veronica Nolan has an extensive and diverse background in education including as a teacher. Most importantly for the Alexandria school system, that experience includes working in schools with diverse urban populations. Her professional experiences in management bode well for a Board that has been less than proficient in leadership regarding its budget presentations to City Council.  Ms. Nolan focuses on preparing students for post-graduation success via corporate internships and as former CEO of the non-profit Urban Alliance, she successfully introduced this program to T. C. Williams High School. Ms. Nolan gave a seasoned performance during the public forum and would be a clear asset if added to the School Board.

Margaret Lorber is a long-term advocate for the needs of English Language Learner students. A 34-year resident of Alexandria with children who attended and graduated from our public school system, she has worked in programs that focus on instilling the skills and confidence that ELL students need for success. That experience will serve the School Board well.

District C also has five candidates for three seats. Three are incumbents and two are newcomers and making a choice among them was difficult. We endorse Incumbent Pat Hennig and two new voices – Ramee Gentry and Daria Dillard. Ms. Hennig has been a thoughtful voice on the School Board and she has been a consistent advocate for fiscal restraint regarding school budgets. That does not mean cutting funding to the schools, but rather a focus on getting the best for every taxpayer dollar. She said that priorities need to be established and she discussed the need for children to be reading on grade level – social promotion damages the student most of all. She advocates for restoring reading specialists to the classroom.

Ramee Gentry has outlined clear positions for prioritizing school resources and the success of programs with data-driven analysis. We think her voice would succeed in helping the School Board trim unsuccessful initiatives despite their various constituencies and focus on programs with a history of student achievement. Ms. Gentry articulated her approach to education with clarity and vision at the public forum. She has spent several years working with young adults with intellectual disabilities and promises to make sure that all of our schools have the resources they need to succeed.

Our final endorsement is Daria Dillard. Ms. Dillard’s passion for strong public schools was evident at the public forum and is attested to by her background. With a master’s degree in Secondary Education and Mathematics from American University and a law degree, this third-generation educator is a needed new voice for District C. A math teacher at T. C. Williams, she underscores actively listening to parents and working effectively as a team with an eye toward consensus to evoke change.

There was much talk from many School Board candidates regarding updated and new school buildings, small class size and more resources for the system. This newspaper notes that research points again and again to the most significant factors in student achievement – the quality of the teacher at the front of the classroom and parental involvement.  It is not the shiny new building – safe and secure facilities to be sure – but excellent teachers, active parents and high expectations trump new construction every time. One need only look at the successes that some schools have achieved with the poorest of minority youth in urban core areas to know that truth. Parents should be proud but not awed by new schools – they should be ever vigilant that real learning is taking place in the classroom and that the recruitment of quality teachers and administrators is always the first priority of their school system.

Virginia House of Delegates   

In the 45th District, Democratic newcomer Mark Levine is running unopposed for the seat being vacated by retiring Delegate Rob Krupicka.

In the 46th District, Democratic incumbent Charniele Herring is being challenged by Republican Sean Lenehan and Libertarian candidate Andy Bakker. Since Ms. Herring began serving in 2010, she has risen rapidly through the ranks to become House Minority Whip in 2012, and Chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia that same year. Ms. Herring has taken strong progressive stances on women’s health care and reproductive rights issues and has won the Legislative Hero Award from the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. We give our nod to Ms. Herring but note that statewide positions leave little time for tending the district at home and that constituent services can suffer. Mr. Lenehan grew up in Alexandria and has thoughtful positions on how to help citizens living in the West End of the City and getting more dollars to flow here from Richmond. He devotes his spare time to volunteering at a local food bank, the Special Olympics and as a literacy tutor at Patrick Henry Elementary School.

Virginia Senate  

In the 30th District, incumbent Democrat Adam Ebbin is being challenged by Independent Green candidate J. Ron Fisher. Our endorsement goes to Mr. Ebbin, who has served three terms in the House of Delegates and is completing his first term in the Senate. Mr. Ebbin has clearly grown in the role. He has worked to successfully pass legislation to eliminate human trafficking and has been a consistent advocate for more transportation dollars to come to our area.

In the 35th District, Democratic incumbent Dick Saslaw is facing Independent Green candidate Terry Modglin. Mr. Saslaw has served the state of Virginia and the northern Virginia area for 39 years and is the highest ranking minority member in the Virginia Senate. He was instrumental in achieving a bi-partisan transportation bill that will benefit northern Virginia and has been a strong advocate for education funding. Mr. Saslaw’s skills in the legislative arena are well known and we support his efforts to win another term in office.

The 39th District seat is held by Democratic incumbent George Barker, who is facing Republican challenger Joe Murray. Mr. Murray has worked in legislative policy roles in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. He has remained active in civic activities since his 16-vote loss to Charniele Herring in 2009, and continues to stake out informed, reasonable positions on issues of concern to northern Virginia but our nod goes to Mr. Barker. Mr. Barker has been in office for seven years and has earned a reputation for being responsive to constituents and working across the aisle with Republicans to focus on transportation, education and health issues. He was one of four state legislators to win the Virginia Chamber of Commerce 2014 Economic Competiveness Award.

We strongly encourage citizens to make their voices heard by voting on Nov. 3.

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