The chair where Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald used to sit was empty during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, and the plaque that once bore his name had already been removed. Earlier in the day, Macdonald unexpectedly announced his immediate resignation "for personal reasons" — opening up the need for a special election for a new City Council member, which will probably be on July 17. Reached by telephone to comment on the resignation, Macdonald refused to elaborate on his reasons for the abrupt departure.
"I’m leaving the City Council for personal reasons, and I’m going to leave it at that," said Macdonald. "Some things are unexplainable."
The former vice mayor frequently played the role of maverick on the City Council, and his record is one of a councilman who was frequently out of step with his colleagues. He waged an unsuccessful campaign to prevent the demolition of a 92-year-old townhouse on King Street; supported an unpopular plan to raise the salary of the city’s elected leaders; opposed allowing a West End paving plant to expand its hours of operation; and suggested a plan a raise utility fees to fund anti-global-warming efforts.
"I think he challenged the perception that every vote should be unanimous," said Boyd Walker, who ran Macdonald’s campaigns in 2003 and 2006. "There’s a value to voting against something even if you know you’re going to lose."
Over his years on the City Council, he was harshly critical of development like the Payne Street Condominiums. On Feb. 24, he voted against the project and described the project as too dense, out of step with the existing neighborhood and poorly designed. When the meeting was over, a member of the audience asked Macdonald why he wasn’t "a team player."
"I am a team player," Macdonald responded. "I’m on Team Alexandria."
A NATIVE OF Alexandria, Macdonald received a bachelor’s degree in geology from St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., and a doctorate in geology from the University of Western Ontario. Before launching his political career, he was a staff scientist for the Ocean Drilling Program at Texas A&M University and an analyst for the U.S. Congress’ Office of Technology Assessments Ocean and Environmental Program. His first foray into city politics was a quixotic campaign as an independent in 2000.
"We saw him as a knight in shining armor for citizens who have lived here a long time and didn’t like all the overdevelopment," said Teresa Miller, who managed his 2000 unsuccessful campaign. "He never took money from developers, and that really set him apart from everybody else."
After 2000, Macdonald joined the Alexandria Democratic Committee and ran a successful campaign in 2003. In 2006, he received more votes than any other City Council candidate — which landed him in the vice mayor’s chair.
"He was the apostate vote, and his challenge to the City Council seemed to help him at the polls," said Matthew Natale. "His election as vice mayor demonstrated that citizens are hungry for independence and diversity."
Tuesday’s unforeseen announcement took City Hall by surprise, initiating a special-election process and a flurry of political activity as potential candidates emerge as possible successors. Macdonald’s former colleagues on the City Council said his presence will be missed.
"I tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was made up" said Mayor Bill Euille. "Shows you how much authority I have."
DESPITE HIS success at the polls, even his supporters admit that Macdonald never seemed comfortable on the public stage. He made infrequent public appearances, and his personal life changed dramatically during his time on City Council. Court records show that his marriage dissolved during his first term on council, and a divorce was finalized on the same day he was installed as vice mayor. Yet Macdonald’s ex-wife and her daughter — whom Macdonald helped raise since their marriage in 1998 — were in attendance for his last appearance as an elected official on Monday night.
"They were beaming, and I’ve never seen him happier," said Pat Troy, a longtime personal friend. "Right now he’s thinking of his personal life first, not this damn job. The council members never really accepted him anyway."