EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the sixth of a continuing series of profiles of candidates seeking seats on City Council. Elections will be May 6. The Gazette is profiling one candidate from each party in alphabetical order each week. Mayoral candidates will follow Council, and School Board candidates will then be profiled. Already profiled: Republicans Keith Burner, Allison Cryor, Claire Eberwein, Judy McVay and Matthew Natale; Democrats Ludwig Gaines, Rob Krupicka, Andrew Macdonald, Redella Pepper and Paul Smedberg.
JOHN REARDON, REPUBLICAN
Republican John Reardon is a newcomer to Alexandria and to the political arena, but he hopes that his fresh approach will appeal to voters and lead to a seat on the next City Council.
"I am enjoying the campaign very much because it has given me an opportunity to go across the city and meet many of my neighbors and talk to people who, like myself, are concerned about the high cost of living in our city, largely as the result of this astronomical 25-percent average tax assessment increase,” he said. “Everywhere I go, I meet people who have families and who are working hard, but their tax assessment has gone up 40 and 50 percent in the past two years, and it’s really a burden on folks. It’s not like we can go and get a 40- or 50-percent increase in pay from our employers. We have to take that from someplace else,” he said.
Reardon said he is running to give something back. "I have reached a modicum of success in my career and in my family, and I believe that it is time to give something back. I feel that I have some skills that would be valuable to the city. For example, I graduated from Columbia Law School, so I have some legal training. I’m also the president of a multimillion-dollar company, so I feel that I know how to manage resources and money in a responsible and effective way and not always just raise taxes as an answer but also trim spending, just like a business needs to bring in revenue and control its spending,” he said.
REARDON HAS lived in Alexandria for two years, and in Fairlington, six years before that. He grew up in Pittsburgh, attended public high school there, and then Boston University and Columbia Law School. He is currently the president of a multimillion-dollar wireless communications business that is located in Alexandria and that serves the telecommunications needs of a mobile work force. He devotes his time to his two children, 3 and 6, and to his church. His school-age child attends private school.
Reardon reiterated that his main concern was the affordability of living in Alexandria. “The tax burden is onerous,” he said. “The city does not need to increase our taxes by 25 percent just because the value of our land increases every year,” he said. “My main goal is to reduce the tax rate for citizens so that our taxes don’t go up 25 percent like they did this year, or 15 percent like they did last year. It’s not like we are receiving 25-percent and 15-percent more services than we did last year.”
HIS SECOND FOCUS is on trimming spending. “We spend roughly half of our budget on education, and that is as it should be,” he said. “The other half of the budget is spent on some frivolous items. For example, when you go down to City Hall, you see an awful lot of Ford Expeditions, when we could be spending money on vehicles which are half the cost and still nice cars, like Dodge Durangos. Another example is that our city government has ballooned by hiring 700 additional employees over the past eight years. I’m not saying cut every employee in city government, but we need to look at trimming expenditures which are perhaps unnecessary.”
Finally, Reardon said he wants to look at development. “We need to be sensible about the development that is happening in the city,” he said. “The Patent and Trademark Office is a good example of decisions by the current Democratic elite that really are going to hurt all of our citizens. The Patent and Trademark Office will bring in an additional 7,000 people to our city each day and 4,000 cars. We don’t have a walkway built between the PTO and the King Street Metro. The developers were supposed to build one, but the city government backed off. We don’t have a pedestrian tunnel; we don’t have a good plan for shuttle-bus service; all of the public transportation infrastructure needs to be put in place before these mega structures are constructed. This is the responsibility of the government, and I believe that controlling development is our No. 3 priority.”
WHY SHOULD PEOPLE of the city vote for him? He said, “My business acumen and legal training, I believe, give me a unique insight into the needs of Alexandria today. We overspend, we overtax, and we need some people on the City Council who have common sense leadership and who have been in business and who have been successful.” Also, I want people to know that education is very important to me. It is the great equalizer in our society, and I would stress education when we look at where we spend our resources. In particular, I favor spending less money on bricks and mortar and more money on books and teachers,” he said.
Reardon is proposing a “Smoking Diplomas” program. “I would like to take the $1.1 million that the city has raised by increasing the cigarette tax and allocate it specifically and exclusively to those students who graduate from our high schools with a B average or better,” he said. “Those students would get that money for their postsecondary education, whether it is vocational education or college. The reason that this is important to me is because in-state tuition in Virginia has gone up over 15 percent this year. Families are straining to pay the high taxes that the city is imposing on our homes in property tax, and it is important that our children have an incentive to stay in school and know that when they graduate with good grades, there will be money and resources made available to them. This is one way our community can say that we care about you, not just until you are 17, but we care about you when you are a young adult as well. That Smoking Diplomas program is something that I hope businesses will become involved in so that it is not just $1.1 million every year but so that it can grow through a public/private partnership into much more money, and we could do a lot of good with that money.”
JOYCE WOODSON, DEMOCRAT
Councilwoman Joyce Woodson is one of only three incumbents running in this year’s City Council elections, and she hopes that her record will propel her to election once again in May.
Woodson has served one term on Council and finds this campaign very different from the campaign three years ago.
“It’s far more difficult to run as a Council member, not because your record gets in the way but because, as a sitting Council member, there’s far more work that you are doing at the same time as running,” she said. “We’ve got budget that falls in the same time as running, and that takes up a lot of time, along with all of the things that go along with the campaign, such as the forums and other campaign events. The biggest difference for me is the time. Budget hearings and work sessions, for example, run throughout the month of April, and that is the busiest time for a campaign. I think that people don’t really appreciate the amount of time that is devoted to City Council activities that are required Council activities.”
Woodson has a long history of community involvement in Alexandria. She grew up in Indiana and attended Columbia University’s Barnard College. She moved to Alexandria in 1975 and has lived in the city since then. She is a marketing consultant, providing services to small businesses throughout the metropolitan area. She has developed a specialization in the area of affordable and public housing, serving on the Affordable Housing Task Force, the Fair Housing Task Force and the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority. She has also served on the Board of Project Discovery and has volunteered her time in the city’s classrooms for more than 15 years. She served in a variety of capacities on the PTA at Mount Vernon Elementary School and remained active in PTA throughout her three children’s tenure in Alexandria’s public school system.
SHE IS PROUD OF many of the things that this Council has accomplished. “I am proud that we have embraced the affordable housing issue proactively, accepting that the Council is not in the business of building houses — that’s not what we do,” she said. “We have embraced the need to do something over and above what we had been doing, though. We did have the Affordable Housing Task Force, almost right away, and we did make some significant changes in the housing policy, raising our commitment to providing affordable housing opportunities. I think that’s important because the city will stop being the city that we know and embraced when we moved here if, in fact, people are not able to stay here.
"My kids, for instance, when they are ready to buy a house, will be very frustrated because the cost of buying a house is so high. There are people who are my age who, for whatever reason, put off buying a house, and are gainfully employed, who are unable to buy a house here. If you are not making a good salary, a six-figure salary, you’re going to have a hard time buying a house in Alexandria."
Woodson said she is also proud of the fact that the city has made some changes in raising the ceiling for tax exemptions for seniors, in regard to real-estate taxes. “We raised the ceiling last year on exemptions for senior citizens and those with disabilities, and I am convinced that we are going to raise it again this year,” Woodson said. “I am very proud that we have done that.”
She is also proud of the investment in public education. “I am proud that we have continued to invest in our public schools,” she said. “Our schools certainly need to be renovated and upgraded. We have great expectations of our students and our teachers, and we need to provide the kind of facilities that will create educational environments that produce excellence both in the teaching staff and in student performance. I am also glad that we are beginning to show more respect for teachers. Keeping pace with the communities around Alexandria in salary structure is a challenge. This Council has demonstrated a willingness to support our teachers.”
AND ON THE OTHER SIDE of that coin, Woodson wishes that the discussion over the Eisenhower to Duke Connector had been framed differently. “I wish that the task force had been composed of those persons who represented the areas that were going to be discussed as potential sites for a connector from the beginning,” she said. “I certainly am not questioning the integrity of anyone on the original task force, but I think that if they were going to discuss areas that were not represented, they were leaving themselves open to criticism and second-guessing. This could have been avoided by including all persons from the affected areas on the original task force.
“Also, the traffic studies could have been more thorough,” she said. “Sometimes the staff states things in ways that are perceived to be conclusions, when all Council asked for were facts. Sometimes we ask for conclusions and recommendations, but it is important to distinguish.”
She also has concerns about the way in which Windmill Hill Park was handled. “I fully understand the role of a task force,” she said. “It is to look at data and to make recommendations. I do not believe that Council is required to accept all or any of the recommendations from a task force, nor do I believe that Council is required to hold subsequent public hearings if that Council decides to change plans that a task force considered or recommended. However, I think that the expectations and directions need to be stated clearly from the beginning so that there are no misunderstandings.
"I think that the climate of distrust that is historical could have been mitigated if not avoided if this had been done upfront. You are never going to be able to please everyone all of the time and I understand that. And there has been a lot of unpleasantness on both sides of this issue. I think it could have been done differently on all sides,” she said.
AS FAR AS FUTURE priorities are concerned, revenue diversification is at the top of Woodson’s list. “I’m not sure what the solution is here because of the limitations that we have on us from Richmond,” she said. “Identifying and developing new revenue streams is going to be a big issue. Dealing with the escalating property assessments is going to right itself in a few years, but it’s going to go up again next year. Inasmuch as those assessments are going to level off because market valuations are going to level off, we still need to get a handle on this. We need to understand what kind of long-range needs our departments are going to have so that we can look at what kind of resources we are going to need long-term. This way we can really assess what kind of tax rate we have now vs. what we are going to need in the future. Long-range planning is a step in the right direction, although there are no easy answers here.”
Affordable housing continues to be an issue for Woodson. “I project that we have another two to three years that if we haven’t gotten our hands around generating some method for providing affordable housing, we will have lost the battle,” she said. “It’s a very frustrating [situation] to be in because it is a regional issue, and I feel kind of like Chicken Little. And finally now that everybody has really looked up and realized that the sky is in fact falling, we are going to be in the position of doing too little, too late. I don’t want to have specimen-type affordable housing in one part of the city while the rest of the city is extravagant.”
And, of course, there is traffic. “Clearly we function in a very odd situation,” she said. "We are tied to the rest of the region without having any control over what the other parts of the region do in their land-use planning. In the absence of that control, one jurisdiction may suffer terribly over something that advances another jurisdiction greatly. We clearly have to have some kind of regional cooperation to make this work.”
Why should people vote for her? “I have served on Council, and voters can look at my record,” she said. “They will learn that I am independent — and I don’t mean that I am of that political party — but I am independent of pressure from special-interest groups. I evaluate issues and make my own decisions based on those evaluations. Voters should expect that of all of their elected officials.”