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‘Iron’ Versus ‘Golden Age’

A Letter to the Editor

— To the Editor:

I sat through St James group’s presentation for their “public-private partnership” high-end athletic facility, but emerged skeptical as to its commercial viability. Why didn’t the company do “due diligence” which would have told them Hensley Park wasn’t feasible? Did city hall fail to docket the requisite public hearing on the utility tax contained in the city budget because staff and members were too distracted by this unsolicited proposal only two had the sense to dismiss from the outset?

Former city councilor David G Speck insists citizens too quickly condemned the St James Group’s “public-private partnership” proposal for a mega-sports center on city parkland. Certainly, citizen opposition was quick, but the alacrity with which that opposition emerged, coalesced, mobilized, and shut the project down was of necessity.

Former city councilor Speck served on city council during a long “golden age” which saw such titans of statespersonship and civic leadership as James Moran, Charles Beatley, and Patsy Ticer. Councilor Speck, whose appointment to city council for the last few months of Rob Krupicka’s term may well make him the first person to serve on Alexandria’s city council under two different political parties since the Whigs, was one of those titans. But it would be a mistake to apply a “golden age” modus operandi to today’s “iron age” of city governance, where citizen petitions are dismissed with legal legerdemain; public property and prerogatives are treated like poker chips at the casino to be bet on “public-private partnerships,” new metro stations, and new fire stations in exchange for development concessions which run out affordable housing; lame ducks shift election date for partisan advantage; and city committees’ informed and well-considered recommendations are insouciantly ignored.

The entre act of this “iron age” was city council’s lame-duck decision to shift the election to November. Not in living memory have the Democrats not enjoyed a majority on Alexandria’s city council, so partisan advantage was more a foil than the real motivation, marginalizing the highly informed voters who dominated the springtime election and diluting their influence on city governance, even though they had always given Democrats a majority. City hall may have hoped these voters would evaporate into the ether, but instead, precisely because they are well-informed, they have evolved their tactics to, as successfully as they can, address the new reality.

Today’s city council is not capable of undertaking the sort of sophisticated conversation Councilor Speck seeks because it is too reflexively concessionary to developers. Who, for example, would trust today’s city council to assure Alexandrians would have preferred access more than “a wink and a nod”? The bloc of well-informed civic activists who formerly dominated the springtime election understands that opening with a hard tackle is the most successful strategy for operating in today’s “iron age” of city government.

From their sacred graves, that “golden age’s” titans’ 1977 $117,000 federal grant today protects us from city hall’s machinations and “public-private partnerships” where all our civic treasures are on the auction block.

Dino Drudi

Alexandria