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Week in Alexandria

Times They Are A-Changin’

After almost two decades as the chief prosecutor in Alexandria, Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Sengel says he won’t run again in 2013.

Sengel was appointed commonwealth’s attorney in February 1997, when John Kloch became a Circuit Court judge. Sengel ran for office later that year and won, eventually serving four four-year terms at the city courthouse. Now, Sengel says, he’s ready to retire.

“The cases that have taken the most time and effort and commitment have been the child homicide cases,” said Sengel, adding that he probably prosecuted about a dozen in his time in office. “Those are the ones that stick with you.”

Sengel’s personal style has been described as “understated,” a quiet man who often shows up to crime scenes in a trademark trenchcoat. Sengel may be the only prosecutor that keeps copies of Rolling Stone in the reception area of his office. He’s a huge Bob Dylan fan, and he keeps a picture of John Lennon in his office. When asked about the photo of Lennon, Sengel reminds visitors that he was a victim of homicide.

“It sort of reminds you that anything can happen anywhere at any time,” said Sengel, who plans to enjoy international travel and fly fishing in retirement.

Porter Dynasty

On his way out of the prosecutor’s office, Sengel is ready to make the case for a successor — Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter. The son of longtime T.C. Williams High School Principal John Porter, Bryan Porter has been working in Sengel’s office since 2001. He’s in charge of prosecuting homicide and vice crimes. In an interview this week, Porter says he’s officially throwing his hat in the ring, and he’ll be making a formal announcement at the next meeting of the Alexandria Democratic Committee.

“When police call you in the middle of the night in a shooting case, and they want to discuss the appropriate investigative techniques and whether a warrant is necessary,” said Porter. “You’ve got to have the experience and understanding of the law to give them the correct guidance to tell them what they should be doing to make sure the investigation is conducted properly.”

A native of Alexandria, Porter is a 1989 graduate of T.C. Williams. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University. After graduating, he became a police officer and began attending law school at George Mason University. In 2001, Sengel hired him to be part of his team. Now, Sengel says, Porter is the best candidate to succeed him in office.

“He really has distinguished himself here,” said Sengel. “He’s been in law enforcement 18 years, and he’s an excellent trial attorney.”

What’s Next?

A request of Colonial Heights Homeowners Association to allow backyard decks has some neighbors asking “What’s next?”

That’s the name of a city initiative to increase collaboration and open government, known as What’s Next Alexandria. Some neighborhood residents on adjoining streets said they weren’t consulted by city officials and didn’t find out about it until it was already on the Planning Commission docket.

“What’s happened here is exactly what that process was designed to avoid,” said Frank Putzu. “We feel sandbagged.”

Planning Commissioner Mary Lyman agreed, suggesting that the item be deferred so that neighbors could feel like they have been part of the process. Commissioner Donna Fossum suggested that the Seminary Hill Association should not coordinate the process because its bylaws restrict membership to owners of single-family detached homes.

“What we have here is an issue of fairness,” said Tom Collelo, president of the Colonial Heights Homeowners Association. “We shouldn’t have single-family homeowners telling townhomes what they can and cannot do.”