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Votes

Guiding the City Comes to an End

David Speck leaves Council with proud accomplishments.

For more than two decades, David Speck has served as an elected official, first as a member of the Virginia General Assembly and then as a member of Alexandria’s City Council. On July 1, that part of his life ended, but another part has begun.

For starters, he’s off to Martha’s Vineyard, where he and his wife, Marsha, have a home. “We bought a kayak and started taking golf lessons last year,” Speck said. “I love to fish and one of my greatest passions, after Marsha, is reading. I intend to read….a lot.”

Speck’s career began as a Republican when he was elected to serve in the Virginia General Assembly. He then ran for City Council and was elected, again as a Republican, in 1988. In 1994, running as a Democrat, he was again elected to serve on City Council and has been reelected twice. He announced during the last election that this would be his last term in office.

Speck is famous for the 20-year idiot rule. “You don’t want to make a decision that someone is going to look at 20 years from now and ask, 'What idiot voted for that?'”

Did Speck comply with that rule?

“I don’t think it’s possible to completely escape the 20-year idiot rule,” Speck said. “There are a couple of housing projects that I think you can look back on and say that maybe we should have done differently or not at all. I’m not going to tell you which ones because, although I might look back on those and say that all things being equal, I’m not sure I would have voted for that, people live there and maybe it’s not as bad as I think it is. If I talk about how I think that’s a mistake, I think that I am both diminishing the value of the property and also the quality of the living situations of those who decided to live there.”

ONE OF THE votes for which he takes great pride is the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). “I think it’s going to bring enormous benefit to the city economically and will bring a wealth of amenities to that portion of the city,” Speck said. “I think that it’s unfortunate that a controversy arose that was manipulated by people that had vested interests in not having PTO come here. The argument that it would have been better somewhere else was some what specious because that was not our choice. There were three different sites in Alexandria that were possibilities and we did not make the selection…the government did.

“On Potomac Yard? There are people who disparage the shopping area and I’m certainly not somebody who sets the standard for what looks good but I certainly see that as being, for what it is, attractively designed and I see lots of jobs and lots of sales tax revenue,” he added.

What are the three things he is proudest of? “The resident police officer program, The Versace Memorial and open space,” he said. “There are other little things but those are the main ones. We opened City Hall on Saturday and we are the only city government that does that and that was something that I really pushed hard for because that is one of the minor little amenities that can make a significant difference in the lives of our citizens. Everybody makes jokes about the trash cans and the news racks but those are the kinds of things that affect people’s lives on a daily basis.”

Speck could not fail to mention the King Street underpass, for which he fought with CSX on repairs until victory was declared just last month.

“There is a very fine line between tenacity and persistence and being a pain in the ass,” he said. “Some of the things that got done probably got done because of my personality because I am willing to grab hold of something and not let go until it got done,” he said. “That’s what makes local government what it is—you can see the results of things.”

HE DID NOT mention the Capital Development Foundation as a major accomplishment, although he fought hard to make it a reality and will serve on its Board of Trustees.

“That is important and I think, in the not too distant future, people will look back on the controversy and ask what the fuss was all about,” he said. “For as long as I have been on Council, and now, we must create ways to find revenue to fund our needs that go beyond reliance on real estate taxes. I expect that the citizens will see some result of the Capital Development Foundation within five years, maybe sooner, that it is a real benefit and that it is not in any way going to compete with private nonprofit organizations."

Speck’s largest regret was his inability to convince his colleagues to change the way that City Council is elected.

“I had hoped to convince my colleagues to go to staggered terms and to nonpartisan elections,” he said. “Alexandria is one of only three cities in Virginia that does not elect City Council in staggered terms and only one of six that does not have nonpartisan elections. I think we would be much better served if we went to this type of election,” he said.

He is also concerned with “the process.” “I think we have allowed the process of decision-making to interfere with the decision,” he said. “Clearly we are in an environment where issues are being influenced by relatively small groups of people who know how to either create the impression of being larger than they are or who know how to push the right buttons.

"E-mail has fundamentally changed the communication which takes place in public office. The fact is that people who are willing to take the day on Saturday and spend it at City Hall are going to have more influence than those who are generally satisfied. The city has not been as effective at giving people a way to communicate their opinions as have small special interest groups in the city.”

He quoted Winston Churchill: “The Malice of the wicked is reinforced by the silence of the virtuous.”

SPECK DOES NOT intend to run for public office again but will remain involved in the issues and the city that he loves. “I am not going to move,” he said. “I just want to make that clear. I am going to stay involved in Stop Child Abuse Now, in Carpenter’s Shelter and in the Rixse Foundation. I also have a job that I am going to continue to do and I will get involved in other things as I am able.”