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Votes

Impromptu Election

Candidates emerge and jockey for position as the July 17 special election nears.

Less than 24 hours after former Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald announced his resignation from the City Council, one candidate to replace him had already amassed support from the mayor and all City Council members. His list of endorsements also included Democratic heavyweights such as Congressman Jim Moran (D-8), former Mayor Kerry Donley and former Councilman David Speck.

"The next council member will have to hit the ground running," said Justin Wilson, a leader in the Democratic Committee, who announced his endorsements in a May 9 press release. "I’m honored by the confidence these leaders have in my ability to build consensus around creative solutions on the complex issues that confront our city."

For other contenders hoping to wrest the Democratic nomination in June 9 caucus, the impressive list and the speed with which it was dispatched was a crushing blow.

"It was a real morale breaker," admitted Matthew Natale, president of the Parkfairfax Condominium Unit Owners Association, who is considering challenging Wilson in the caucus. "The Democratic establishment clearly wants Justin Wilson on the City Council."

Yet the Democratic establishment is not the only force at work in city politics. Macdonald often played the role of maverick on the City Council, challenging his Democratic colleagues on all issues ranging from increasing the pay of council members to extending the hours of a West End asphalt plant. One of the former vice mayor’s signature issues was opposing development that he considered too dense and out of step with existing neighborhoods — the reason he gave for his vote against Payne Street Condominiums near the Braddock Road Metro. With the Braddock Road Metro Area Plan in the midst of being completed, several of the candidates said that development in the Parker Gray neighborhood will become one of the major issues in the campaign.

"I think there’s too much density proposed near the Braddock Road Metro," said Boyd Walker, who was Macdonald’s campaign manager last year. "The plan is not ready for prime time."

WALKER HAS HIS own list of supporters, who form a sort of counterbalance to Wilson’s catalogue of endorsements. The list includes Macdonald, School Board member Eileen Rivera, School Board member Blanche Maness, former Councilwoman Ellen Pickering and former City Councilman Michael Jackson. The distinction between Wilson’s list of endorsements and Walker’s slate of supporters illustrates longstanding divisions within the Democratic Party — one that was enunciated by Macdonald shortly after he was notified that he received more votes than any other candidate in last year’s election.

"There’s an old school in this city, and I’ve challenged the old school," said Macdonald during the Democratic victory party last year. "When I was first elected three years ago, Kerry Donley and David Speck were running the city. There’s a concern now about things that they didn’t spend much time on."

With Donley and Speck on Wilson’s team, the distinction between the two is a matter of which endorsements resonate more with voters. Yet a third Democratic contender has been able to secure the coveted endorsements of former City Manager Vola Lawson and Commonwealth’s Attorney S. Randolph Sengel. Attorney Jim Lay hopes to cast himself as a formidable challenge to Wilson and Walker by offering himself as a "thoughtful contrarian."

"Increasing density is an important part of finding affordably housing, but it’s got to be done carefully," said Lay, who won two precincts as a candidate in the Democratic primary to succeed retiring Del. Marian Van Landingham in 2005. "I’m not an anti-establishment candidate, but I think we need a council that doesn’t act in lockstep with each other."

As chairman of the board of directors for the Alexandria Transit Company, Wilson said that he is a "strong supporter" of transit-oriented development. "Increasing density around Metro stations makes sense," said Wilson. "We have a lot of existing transportation infrastructure that is underutilized."

Other potential Democratic contenders in the race include Mark Feldheim, a former president of the Old Town Civic Association and John Irvine, president of Tugboat Public Relations. According to Alexandria Registrar Tom Parkins, only three candidates have filed official statements of candidacy: Lay, Feldheim and Wilson.

ON THE REPUBLICAN side, the entrance of former Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland could dramatically change the dynamics of the special election. The Grand Old Party currently holds no elective office in Alexandria, and recent years have seen the party’s influence dwindle considerably at the polls. Yet because Cleveland has an existing base of support in the city, he could pose a greater challenge to the Democratic candidates than a candidate who has no record of electoral success. Cleveland said that his potential return to City Council could resurrect issues he fought for before his unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2003.

"As a member of the City Council, I did not vote to widen Braddock Road because I though it would cost too much money and because I thought it would bring too many trucks through the neighborhood," said Cleveland. "I wanted to keep development consistent with the existing neighborhood."

When they found out that Cleveland was interested in returning to City Hall, potential Republican candidates Allison Cryor DiNardo and Bernie Schultz dropped out of the race and pledged their support to Cleveland, according to Alexandria City Republican Committee Chairman Chris Marston. The chairman also said that two Republican candidates who were unsuccessful in last year’s city election — Townsend Van Fleet and Pat Troy — may launch bids to win the May 29 Republican canvas.

For Dana Lawhorne, who opposed Cleveland in a 2005 race for sheriff, the potential of a Cleveland candidacy is one that he said Democrats should watch carefully. Yet he said that he was confident that the Democrat would prevail in July.

"Nobody questions Cleveland’s commitment to the city or his desire to serve," said Lawhorne. "But how many times can you ask people to move to Cleveland?"