EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth 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 and Judy McVay; Democrats Ludwig Gaines, Rob Krupicka, Andrew Macdonald and Redella Pepper.
MATTHEW NATALE, REPUBLICAN
Three years ago, Republican candidate Matthew Natale ran unsuccessfully for City Council. He hopes that three years of experience in civic affairs will help propel him to victory in this year’s election.
"Over the past three years, my understanding of the city has grown immensely,” Natale said. “The last campaign was such a blessing because it gave me an opportunity to recognize the things that I don’t do well, improve those and work to become worthy of leadership. I’ve traveled all over the city as a civic activist and as a community leader and as president of Alexandria Crime Solvers. I have gone to every neighborhood and have listened to citizens and have a better understanding of what is important to a wide variety of people.”
Natale grew up in Newton, Mass., and graduated from The New School University with a degree in liberal arts. One of his first jobs was as a pastry chef and manager of a bakery.
"Some jobs just teach you basic values,” he said. “I got up every day at 2:30 a.m., walked three miles to work, prepared all of the pastry dough for baking, worked eight hours and walked three miles home. I did that for two years, regardless of how deep the snow was or what other type of weather there might have been. It was amazing how much I learned managing a bakery.”
For the past 11 years, he has worked with nonprofit groups as a writer and a strategist, focusing on issues related to military retirees. He has lived in Alexandria for 11 years, first at Presidential Greens and now at Parkfairfax. He has served as president of the Parkfairfax Condominium Association for the past three years and as president of Alexandria Crime Solvers.
“The top priority for the next Council and for Alexandria’s next generation of leaders is protecting quality of life in our neighborhoods,” Natale said. “Over the past 10 years, there has been an emphasis on building our tax base and increasing revenues, in large part because, before that, there was a real crisis of confidence because no one knew where we were going. Now, however, we must change that emphasis and look at developing planning and other public policies that will really protect our neighborhoods. We must look at the city’s master plan in terms of human outcomes because if we continue to emphasize only economic development, we will grow our tax base at the cost of what makes Alexandria unique — our neighborhoods. That seems to me to be a very bad trade-off.
“I would like to create a quality-of-life master plan that would not be totally unlike the small area plans but would bring all of the stakeholders in a neighborhood together to try and define what they want for their particular part of Alexandria,” he said.
BUILDING T.C. WILLIAMS HIGH SCHOOL and a new police station are also going to be major priorities for the upcoming Council. “Libraries, schools, museums and art galleries are ways that communities express their values,” Natale said. “At T.C. Williams, we have an opportunity to start from scratch and build a high school that is not only a place for kids to learn but also a place where people can come from all over the country and say, “This is what I want my high school to be like.”
The police station is another matter. “The first part is pretty simple — let’s not build it on land that is sinking,” he said. “We need something that is functional and that will allow our police officers to do their jobs in a facility that has adequate space and the technology they need to be successful.”
Natale would also like to change the tone of government. “I am really tired of seeing the fighting back and forth between citizens and members of Council,” he said. “We need to do better. I am not saying that members of Council should take everything that is thrown at them by citizens, but once you are elected, you are responsible for governing and rising above some of these things and being a leader. I believe that we can do better.”
NATALE WOULD LIKE potential voters to know more about his leadership at Parkfairfax. “I was president of the association during a 15-month crime wave that had many people in our community on edge,” he said. “I worked closely with homeowners and the police to protect residents and to solve the burglaries that threatened our neighborhood’s way of life.
“I also worked very closely with residents to conduct one of the largest environmental cleanups ever in Alexandria. People were very concerned about how removal of tanks was going to affect them, but we got it done and done well,” he said.
Seeing a neighborhood through these types of crises is one of the reasons that Natale thinks he is qualified to be a member of City Council. “I have problem-solving skills that I do not believe other candidates have,” he said. “Working with various groups of people to get through these types of crises is the essence of leadership, and I have done that.”
PAUL SMEDBERG, DEMOCRAT
Paul Smedberg is hopeful that three years of continued civic involvement and the name recognition of having run once for City Council will boost him to victory on May 6.
"The biggest difference for me in this campaign for City Council as opposed to three years ago is my experience on the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee,” Smedberg said. “That experience has given me a much broader understanding of issues; it’s given me a much greater appreciation of their complexities, and of course, it has given me a much deeper understanding of the budget.
“I have also remained active in my neighborhood association as we have looked at the redevelopment issues that are affecting us and the surrounding areas,” he said.
Smedberg grew up in Rocky Hill, Conn., a suburb of Hartford. He graduated from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania with a degree in history and economics and then moved to the D.C. metropolitan area. He is employed as the director of policy and public affairs at the American Society of Nephrology and has spent much of his career in similar positions with nonprofit associations located in Washington, D.C. He also worked for FreddieMac for six years and at a bank. For a number of years, he has been a member of the Board of Directors of Community Partners for Children, previously Ho Ho Ho; is active in the Northeast Civic Association and the Alexandria Democratic Committee; and is a member of City Council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee. He has lived in Alexandria for 14 years.
“One of the most important things that the next Council is going to have to confront is responsible redevelopment,” Smedberg said. “A lot of people are focusing on development, but the major issues are going to be surrounding redevelopment. Even in Eisenhower Valley, redevelopment is really the issue. There’s a lot of development already there. It is also an issue on the Route 1 corridor and on Duke Street.”
SMEDBERG ALSO SEES education as a clear priority. “We must continue to focus on quality education for all of our children,” he said. “Whether we have children or not, we must support our public school system and see that it is adequately funded so that teachers have the resources that they need and so that children are in settings that are safe and conducive to learning.”
Smedberg said he is also concerned about maintaining safe and healthy neighborhoods. “Not just safe and healthy residential neighborhoods, but safe and healthy commercial neighborhoods as well,” he said. “Everybody talks a lot about smart growth or sensible growth, but I look at it as striking a balance and finding what is right for Alexandria. We need to look at a mix of residential, commercial, small business and the arts, and that will make Alexandria a great place not only for its residents but for visitors.”
HE WOULD LIKE potential voters to know about his work with nonprofit organizations and the Northeast Civic Association in addition to learning about his positions on issues. “Alexandria has such a strong nonprofit community,, and there are so many good examples of partnerships between those nonprofits and the city that I think it is important for members of Council to have a good understanding of how the nonprofit community works,” he said.
Civic Associations, too, are an integral part of the city. “The Northeast Civic Association has worked closely with the city on a variety of projects,” he said. “Because of our work with the Planning staff, we have influenced projects before they were presented to the Planning Commission and have helped to make them better. That has been a win/win for our neighborhood , the city and developers.
On fiscal responsibility, Smedberg said, “I will work hard to protect Alexandria’s enviable financial position in a way that is fair to all residents.”