On Nov. 6, we will elect a new mayor, council, and school board. If past behavior is a predictor of the future, we will have one party rule with little or no accountability. At least the school board eliminated political affiliations and abolished at large voting in favor of district representation; a system acknowledging differences between east, central, and west Alexandria. Perhaps the new mayor and council will take up similar restructuring to enhance representation and small “d” democratization of Virginia’s seventh largest city. On this and many issues affecting the residents of our city, outcomes from elected officials can be framed by their internal response to the question; who does city council work for: a) the mayor, b) the public, c) both?
Given, that once elected, citizens have no checks on councilmembers, the question goes to the candidates for self-reflection. Answering (a) or (c) assumes the mayor is imbued with general powers and duties of a chief executive. However, the city charter codifying the powers and duties of Alexandria’s mayor according to Virginia law states:
“The mayor shall preside over the meetings of the city council and shall have the same right to vote and speak therein as other members. The mayor shall not have the power of veto. He shall be recognized as the head of the city government for all ceremonial purposes, the purposes of military law and the service of civil process.”
On the other hand, when it comes to power; all powers of the city as granted in the charter and the determination of all matters of policy are vested in the council. Therefore, any member of council who simply defers to the mayor on these matters, abdicates his or her responsibility and thus breaks the trust granted to them by the public. However, a council member might also believe allegiance to a political party eclipses loyalty to the public at large. If they view the mayor as head of the party in office, they might reconcile to follow rather than govern as an equal; this too is a breach of public trust.
For voters the question is which six candidates are most likely to champion the people’s agenda, challenge the ascendant authority of the mayor, stand up to partisan decisions over governance or growth and development that previous councils have allowed to descend into a zero-sum game of absolute winners and losers. Whereas, there are some new and energetic entries on the Democratic slate, the question remains, can any of them stand up to the mayor or his perceived council allies.
Voting for the Democratic slate is a vote for the status quo; where the voice of the people, is effectively silenced after the election. The Republican candidates offer diverging choices. Mark Shiffer, the independent candidate, stands out as the best choice for the people and will garner my vote. That leaves five other candidates, it’s a tough decision, one I will likely struggle with up to election day. However, one thing is clear, the status quo cannot continue — the next council must work for us.
Roy R. Byrd