After a disappointing seventh-place finish in the May City Council elections, Claire Eberwein is considering her options.
Eberwein served for one term on Council and before that, for two terms on the Alexandria School Board. She reflected on her accomplishments, her regrets and what the future might hold.
“Public service is immensely gratifying. I like researching the issues, working with citizens, and analyzing the potential solutions,” Eberwein said about her time on Council.
“I like to help and enjoy participating in decisions that can better people’s lives. In three years, with regard to development and growth issues, the city has come a long, long way from the very divisive and confrontational mode of old. I love urban planning — it is the one real way to truly make “quality of life” more than a slogan.”
She enumerated some of the things she is proudest of during the past three years while on Council:
* “My role in the new way that the city handles planning for land use projects.
* "My work with the Planning Department to implement new visions for the city and to include additional monies for planning in the budget will have lasting and positive effects on the future of the city.
* “The increased funding for capital improvements to school infrastructure. I started the work when I was on School Board and the city maintained a $3 million yearly cap on the capital budget for 16 schools and I continued that work on Council.
"It was a successful effort to convince the City Council that the schools needed additional capital funding to replace worn out and dated facilities and equipment as well as to increase building capacity to handle increasing enrollment. The improvements for each individual school, including a new school, are something for the city to take pride in,” she said.
Eberwein said she was also proud of her work on parks and recreation issues.
"Parks and open space are so important in a city as dense as ours. I always made decisions that kept in mind that our parks should be accessible to, and serve the needs of all of our residents with a particular emphasis on children and the elderly. Sometimes, parks are seen as an extension of someone’s private yard. They need to be carefully guarded as the precious public resource that they are. It is up to the City Council to protect Alexandria’s parks for all residents,” she said.
EBERWEIN WAS ONE of the only members of City Council who was openly critical of the handling of the Katelynn Frazier case. The three-year-old died just three months after being returned to her biological mother while the family was under weekly, if not daily, supervision by the city’s Department of Human Services.
“There has been a sea change in the handling of foster care in this city. With the continued dedication of city staff and citizens in the implementation of new procedures, I am hopeful that we will continue to make improvements to the services we provide this vulnerable population,” she said. “Katelynn Frazier’s life stood for something. She reminded the city that departmental case numbers involve real children who have few advocates protecting them. We must never become complacent with regard to the protections we offer our citizens, particularly children.
"There are always ways for government to improve and public officials should be willing to admit mistakes and move on to taking the necessary corrective actions. Only then are they doing their job.”
AS TO REGRETS, she preferred to philosophize about public discourse.
“Too often there are spectacular fireworks without substance, real facts or basic common sense,” she said. “A very few speak on almost every issue. It is a fact of modern life that people lead extremely busy lives and many folks simply do not have the time to follow all of the decisions and debates of Council. It is in this vacuum that poor decisions are sometimes made and the city pays a price for that in the long term. I deeply appreciated the comments I heard from folks who quietly invest in the city, work for its betterment and contact Council with thoughtful positions. Their perspectives are so refreshing. They are the basis for good government.”
Eberwein spoke about her disappointment over not looking at the way in which the School Board is elected.
“One great disappointment is that we were unable to change the city charter and open a forum for citizen input with regard to how we elect the School Board,” Eberwein said. “The current method clearly does not work. Depending on the district, there is little to no candidate competition and that has been the reality for a while. During my tenure on the School Board, I ran in the Central District, which at that time was very competitive. Even that has changed. I am 100 percent behind elected school boards but elections have to be meaningful in terms of policy debate and candidate choices for the voters. Our kids deserve no less.”
Eberwein sees not much difference in the challenges that are facing the new Council to the challenges she faced as an incoming Council member three years ago.
“One thing that came out of the connector study was the reality that doing nothing will still see a huge increase in the traffic load on our streets because of the growth of the metropolitan region,” she said. “With the economic prosperity of this area, which immunizes us somewhat from declines in the national economy, there also come some negatives and traffic is certainly one of those. There is no way to plan for Alexandria as an island. My concern is that true multi-jurisdictional regional planning and, most importantly, the implementation of that planning has not occurred to the degree that is absolutely necessary to solve the problems in a meaningful way.”
EBERWEIN SAID she remains concerned about diversification of the tax-base.
“Real estate taxes are a real burden for our citizens,” Eberwein said. “It is important to keep in mind the core government services such as public safety, education and public works infrastructure that government does well. Government should be in the business of encouraging, not competing, with private enterprise.”
Eberwein is also concerned about the difference between good policy and politics.
“I think one of the things facing Council is leadership with regard to the direction the city will take,” she said. “There is a difference between agendas and planning with vision for the future of Alexandria as a city. The best decision from a long-term public interest perspective is sometimes not the best decision from a political perspective. The new Council will have many tough decisions to make.”
With a resume that includes nine years as an elected official, a law degree from Georgetown and degrees in natural resources and architecture from the University of Michigan, Eberwein has many choices for future careers.
“I’m personally keeping all doors open,” she said. “I will remain an active volunteer and participant in the city and one of my options includes potentially seeking public office and service in the future. “I will be able to spend a lot more time with my children and my husband, Greg. When I ran for School Board, my daughter Amara, was two and I carried Caleb, my son, in a backpack as he was six months old.
"My children and husband will have to get used to the fact that I will be home some evenings during the week. It will be both relaxing and fun, although when it comes to homework review and chores, my children may not see it that way,” Eberwein said.
THERE HAS BEEN no secret about the fact that both former Mayor Kerry Donley and former Councilmen David Speck tried to recruit Eberwein for the Democratic Party. Her recent attendance at the Alexandria Democratic Committee’s dinner saluting Donley and Speck fueled speculation that, now, she may make the move. Her reception by the hundreds who attended the event indicated that she would be welcome among the city’s Democrats.
“I was disappointed with some of the things that occurred prior to Election Day. Politics is not always about fairness; it is a rough and tumble game,” she said. “In a competitive election, not everyone makes it into the end zone. I close no doors. I have some time to think and I will always be indebted to the citizens of this city for the opportunities they gave me. I deeply believe that public service is a noble profession and I would like to think that I served the citizens of this city honorably.”