Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Council Needs Political Diversity

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Council Needs Political Diversity

It’s that time of year when those who wish to run for a City Council position in the November 2018 election must declare these intentions, but no one has yet stepped forward.

There is at least one opportunity, since Mr. Tim Lovain has opted not to run again. In my opinion, the rest of the City Council should follow suit, with the exception of the current mayor, since these folks have done little to improve the status of this community. As an example, Alexandria maintains over a half billion dollars’ worth of debt, along with a $90 million debt service. In addition, Alexandria schools are not well rated by most accounts, infrastructure suffers from years of neglect, and streets are in chaos with traffic and parking issues that continue to fester. Moreover, the proliferation of new hotels has continued non-stop, despite a current 70 percent occupancy rate. This City Council continues to approve requests for parking reductions in extremely dense developments (which are all rubber stamped).

All of these contribute to a declining quality of life in Alexandria, while taxes and fee assessments have skyrocketed. It is time for some new blood and fresh thinking.

Although it is not in the self-interest of the current City Council (since the Dillon rule states that all powers of our city must be granted to by the General Assembly, and subsequently reflected in our Charter), we need to ensure that representation is more equitable. One way to do this is to request permission from the Virginia General Assembly to create wards similar to those for the School Board. Another way is to request that the Governor’s office propose legislation to the General Assembly that would direct the establishment of wards. There is a strong precedent for the ward system in cities with similar populations such as Paterson, N.J.; Berkeley, Calif.; Yonkers, N.Y.; and Elizabeth, N.J. Although there are a number of variations, most have 6 to 9 wards with the mayor being elected separately. These cities are prospering, and generally have council members on both sides of the political spectrum, which creates a more balanced governance that represents a variety of constituencies.

If the ward suggestion is unpalatable to the City Council, the most expedient and efficient way to create some hope for diversity in Alexandria would be to allow Republicans and Independents to run as “Blue-Dog” Democrats in the Democratic primary. If any of the Blue Dogs won, they would at least have a chance for a City Council seat, since Democrats generally poll 65-75 percent of the votes during a municipal election. This last suggestion may be the best solution to alleviate many of our problems. It somewhat mirrors what many other municipalities do in having all candidates run without being endorsed by a party.

Townsend A. Van Fleet