Alexandria On Sept. 12, five West End Civic Associations hosted a candidate forum focused on West End issues, which was attended by all of the candidates running for City Council. These same civic associations invited the mayoral candidates to participate in a similar forum but Mayor Euille’s campaign staff explained, he is way too busy to spend an evening with the voters of the West End. A review of comments during the forum, especially from the four council members who voted for BRAC namely Lovain, Pepper, Smedberg and Wilson, plus Mayor Euille, indicates why current elected officials would hide from West End voters. The West End forum revealed that no council member at the time had or has any idea what happened or what to do:
Tim Lovain said that he advocated for the Victory Center [the other site in Alexandria under consideration] and should not have taken staff’s advice;
Del Pepper repeated what she has said publicly before that no one wanted the BRAC at Mark Center;
Paul Smedberg remarked that the decision should not have been made in closed sessions;
Justin Wilson said they decided the issue based on the wrong data.
The responses candidates gave on how BRAC came to be were disturbing and do not augur well for the future. Since 2008, elected officials have repeatedly assured citizens that BRAC was no big deal. City Hall enthusiastically supported the site in writing. Once it became obvious that BRAC was a very big deal and a planning disaster, council tried to distance itself from the decision saying that they really opposed it all along. While the mayor gave gushing endorsements of BRAC when it was selected, he now asks us to assign his support to the dustbin of history. The mayor’s reluctance to debate appears to be savvy political maneuvering on his part to avoid accountability.
The 2011 Department of Defense Inspector General reports and other documents from the time tell a very different story from that told by City Hall. It tells a story of city officials working with the developer and the Army to get the building at Mark Center. It tells a story of city officials arguing with VDOT when VDOT raised many valid and serious concerns about picking the Mark Center site. It tells a story of city officials informing the IG in its 2011 report that they stand by their original enthusiastic endorsement of the site, despite public proclamations to the contrary. It tells a story of finding no one in Alexandria raising any questions about this selection despite rhetoric from officials that they really opposed it all along. It tells a story of Fairfax County explaining why the Mark Center site was insane, and Alexandria officials’ silence. It tells a story of one of the fastest awarded billion dollar contracts in federal government history once the city rallied behind selecting the site, during which the selection criteria was changed and ground broken before others who were bidding could figure out what had happened. It tells a story of the Army refusing to do further analysis because city officials were reassuring it that BRAC would bring no significant impact to local roads with minor improvements.
The stories told at the candidates’ forum last week were just as disturbing. City staff is to blame; the Army is to blame; VDOT is to blame; Fairfax is to blame; council members are weak and helpless. When the decision was made, they were asleep at the switch and at the mercy of malevolent forces. As for the future, their position is that there is nothing we could have or can do to influence the policy outcomes. Why this recommends them for another term is never explained. Councilman Fannon, Bob Wood and Allison Silberberg correctly observed that decisions were made in a backroom, and electing the same crowd and expecting different results makes no sense.
The time has come for the city officials to stop treating the West End as a cash cow. The mayor and two current council members who survived the last election — Del Pepper and Paul Smedberg — have also enthusiastically supported the City’s Beauregard Corridor Plan that will triple the density around Mark Center. They rushed to pass this unfinished plan over the objections of local residents without any explanation for the haste or appreciation of what it will cost to the taxpayers. Then again, the city might be considering returning the West End to Fairfax County, and by doing so, the complaints about the painting of Alexandria (which excludes the West End) that hangs in Council Chambers in City Hall would cease.
Joe Fischer, Joseph Gerard, Mac Olsen, and Frank Putzu