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Votes

Trolling While Polling

Mirant seeks answers to “Its” questions.

A local e-mail alert warned Alexandrians, “Be aware that Mirant is polling Alexandrians in an attempt to sway voters to Mirant’s PR campaign of how important this plant is.” Well, yes and no.

Mirant has been conducting a telephone poll throughout the city for the past several weeks, according to Darlene Snow, senior vice president, Ogilvy Public Relations, Washington, D.C., retained by Mirant.

“Frederick Polls is conducting an internal survey for planning purposes to determine how to improve the plant’s community relations. There will be no public report. The results are to be used to determine how Mirant can increase its community involvement,” Snow said.

Frederick Polls is the company name of a research organization headed by Keith Frederick. It is based in Arlington, according to Snow.

“On July 28, I began receiving calls from Alexandrians near the plant who were irate that they had been tricked into responding to a ‘brief public opinion poll’ by phone which began innocuously and then turned into a highly loaded series of questions about Mirant exclusively,” said Elizabeth Chimento, an initial leader of efforts to close Mirant’s Potomac River Generating Station in North Old Town Alexandria.

When one of those polled, Debbie Johnson, inquired about the pollster’s affiliation she was told it was Frederick Polls based in Austin, Texas, according to Chimento. However, when Johnson inquired who they were working for the pollster would not answer, Chimento said.

Supplementing the polling efforts, Mirant has also been sending postcards to residents living in proximity to the plant, such as Marina Towers. It invites them to view the plant’s new Web site and “take a survey of how they [Mirant] are doing.” That Web site is http://potomac.mirant.com.

In a separate e-mail to Chimento from Mary C. Harris, she stated, “We’ve all gotten the ‘postcards’ here at Marina Towers. They are mailed from Mirant and invite us to view their Web site for the Potomac River plant. There’s a photo of Hula Edmunds, plant manager, on the front.”

PATRICIA DALTON, a Powhatan Street resident, related the following to Chimento concerning her experience with the poll. “The caller asked me to participate in an opinion poll and I agreed to do so,” she said.

“It began routinely enough, with questions about Alexandria residency, party affiliation, and level of satisfaction with the Alexandria council. The questions then migrated to the Mirant plant, and soon went from general questions to statements of fact which I was asked to assess as favorable, unfavorable or neutral,” Dalton told Chimento.

“These statements were, in reality, a series of editorial comments all favorable to Mirant and unfavorable to city efforts to curb their activities. I honestly don’t know if this was a poll intended to create skewed results for upcoming litigation, or to actually sway public opinion,” she said.

“Either way, I believe it is important for the city to obtain the contents of this survey, and identify factually inaccurate information imbedded in the survey, and provide the public with a balanced picture of the situation,” Dalton said.

Some of the questions asked, according to Dalton, were as follows:

* Are you a Democrat or Republican?

* Are you aware of things in Alexandria?

* Are you happy with the way Alexandria is heading?

* Are you happy with the way the current council is handling city issues?

* Have you heard any rumors about the plant?

* Are you aware that the plant was here first but since then the neighborhood has changed?

A sampling of questions asked of Christa Watters, North Pitt Street, were relayed to Chimento as follows:

* Do I consider myself very informed, neutral, or not very informed about issues in the City of Alexandria?

* Generally, is the city well run?

* Do I think positively, neutrallya, or negatively about whether the mayor and city council do their jobs?

* Am I aware that the city has sued Mirant regarding its emissions?

* Am I aware the city has spent $1 million on legal costs?

* Would I support the city spending another: (a) $500,000; (b) Up to $1 million; (c) $1 to $2 million more; (d) $3 to $5 million more; or (e) What ever it takes?

* Do I believe that the city should, in view of the plant’s efforts to be a good neighbor, drop its opposition, or should the city continue to do all in its powers to close the plant down?

In each case reported to Chimento, when those being polled asked for whom the pollster was working, they were told that individual pollsters were not told so as “not to influence their judgment.”

According to Snow, “The survey is now complete. The results will be analyzed internally.”