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Votes

The Day After — Sniping By Both Parties

Negative advertising, tactics seen as hurting Republican efforts.

The weather cleared just in time to make voter turn-out a bit higher than it was three years ago.

"In the morning, it looked like turn-out was going to be pretty low but when we surveyed officials at about 3:30 p.m. things were looking better,” said Tom Parkins, Alexandria’s Registrar of Voters.

At 27 percent, this election had three percent more voters participating than did the last mayoral and City Council election in 2000. Just over 20,000 of the 75,000 registered voters came out to vote in Tuesday’s election.

“That is still low when you look at the fact that we had a hotly contested mayoral race and at how much money was raised and spent,” Parkins said. “Usually, when you have those circumstances, you expect to see 30 percent voter participation or greater.”

And what about the Democratic sweep?

“I think that the voters were clearly saying that they support the way we have governed,” said outgoing mayor Kerry J. Donley. “I also think that people don’t like negative campaigns and resented the involvement of the National Republican Party.”

State Sen. Patricia S. “Patsy” Ticer (D-30) agreed. “When you have the national parties spending lots of money on a local race it can tend to backfire,” she said. “They don’t really know anything about the local candidates and they don’t care about them or the issues for that matter. All they care about is the numbers and I think many voters resent that.”

IN THE WEEK just prior to the election, voters received countless pieces of mail and more phone calls from, and for candidates than anyone wanted. “One constituent wrote me a letter asking if we couldn’t pass a law forebidding recorded messages from candidates,” Ticer said. “I think people had just had enough.”

And the literature became more negative as the election drew nearer. Voters received several pieces of literature from Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland’s campaign talking about Councilman Bill Euille. One flier intimated that if voters didn’t want their dogs to have to “mess” in their homes, they would vote for Cleveland. The Democrats responded to Republican literature by sending out “truth in advertising” pieces, stating that Cleveland had lied about votes that both he and Euille had made while on Council.

“There were also incidents of sign burnings. “We really think that these incidents were pranks rather than anything else,” said Lt. John Crawford, a spokesperson for the Alexandria Police Department. “Not that it’s not a serious matter; it is. We took an arson report and are pursuing it as such.”

THERE WERE ALSO unauthorized signs, fliers and buttons. Virginia law says that any material that is reproduced and distributed with the intent of impacting an election must have an “authorized by” or “paid for by” line on it. There were white sample ballots, which are illegal, and signs and buttons that read “Anyone but Claire” referring to incumbent Councilwoman Claire Eberwein.

“Usually when I get reports about things like this, a candidate has just forgotten to put the authorization line on one of his own signs,” said Commonwealth Attorney S. Randolph Sengel. “However, if it is intentional, that’s a different matter and something that we would look into.”

“Party committees can only control what our own candidates do with regard to campaigning,” said Susan Kellom, the chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. “We have certainly responded to what we considered to be factual errors that were being put out by the Republicans.”

The negative campaigning helped defeat Eberwein, according to some. One person who was delivering Cleveland yard signs was wearing an “Anyone But Claire” button. National Republican leaders such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani recorded messages urging Alexandrians to “vote for Bill Cleveland” without mentioning the other Republicans on the ticket.

“In my opinion, the Republican Party in the city is dead and they did it to themselves,” said Rod Kuckro, host of a television show of Comcast. “They had a great opportunity to make in-roads into politics in the city and they didn’t do it. They had a viable mayoral candidate and an incumbent member of City Council who could have remained there as long as she wanted to stay if the Party had supported her. Instead, they either actively campaigned against her or didn’t stop their own volunteers from doing so.

“Now, because of their tactics, we are back to one party rule and that is a disservice to the body politic. They have no one to blame but themselves,” he said.

Republican Council candidate Keith Burner was saddened by his defeat and expressed the same concern as Kuckro about one party rule. “I think it’s a sad day for the city,” Burner said. “Any time that you only have a government that includes representatives of one party, everyone loses.” Burner would not comment on Republican Party strategies.

Lonnie Rich, a former Councilman was circumspect. “I don’t believe that this campaign was any more negative than others,” he said. “Especially not more negative than my last campaign in 1997. That was the worst. When you have hotly contested races, you can expect some back and forth. That’s politics.”