Week in Alexandria

Week in Alexandria

Impeachment Flashback

The impeachment of Andrew Johnson wasn’t all that popular here in Alexandria, which was under military occupation during the Civil War. Alexandria Gazette editor Edgar Snowden editorialized against the impeachment of Johnson, who was accused of violating the Tenure of Office Act by firing War Secretary Edwin Stanton. When the House impeached Johnson, Snowden said the trial in the Senate would be a “spectacle,” one designed “to make sport” for the people.

“It is stated that the crowd expected is to be so great that the Senate chamber will not hold half of those who will flock there,” Snowden wrote in March 1868. “Tickets will have to be issued to the favored and elected curiosity hunters who desire to see an impeachment.”

Snowden also compared the Senate trial to a traveling waxworks show in the Dickens novel “The Old Curiosity Shop.”

“Be in time, be in time,” Snowden quotes Dickens. “Remember that this is Jarley’s stupendous show, and that it is the best show in the world. All others being imposition and deceptions. Be in time, be in time.”

Sidewalk Ban

Scooters are not allowed on the sidewalks of Alexandria.

That’s the conclusion of members of the Alexandria City Council, who recently approved the next phase of the dockless mobility pilot program. City officials had initially proposed a partial ban on sidewalks for parts of Old Town and Del Ray. But Mayor Justin Wilson offered a counter-proposal to just ban them on all sidewalks in the city,

“The most consistent concern that we have heard throughout this pilot process was residents’ concern about the interaction between scooters and pedestrians on sidewalks, and residents who are terrified of scooters coming up behind them and knocking them over,” said Wilson. “Regardless of the modes of transportation, where we see safety challenges in the city is when you have a disparity in speed, and the higher the disparity in speed the more dangerous it is.”

That disparity works both ways. While the heavily trafficked parts of Old Town on Del Ray might have a disparity on the sidewalks, streets like Beauregard Street or Duke Street have the opposite disparity — cars zooming by so fast that it could be dangerous to ride a scooter on the street, especially a scooter that’s been engineered to go slower than it’s designed to meet all the speed limits imposed by local governments. The mayor says that’s yet another argument in favor of the kind of bike lanes that are still causing controversy on Seminary Road.

“Obviously we’ve had a very controversial conversation around Seminary Road, but hopefully not all of them are going to be that controversial,” he said. “To the extent we have the ability to expand out network of bicycle and scooter facilities we want to do that, and it would make things safer regardless of where you are.”

Making Progress

Last weekend, the Alexandria City Council unanimously approved adding “gender identity” and “transgender” as protected status under the Alexandria Human Rights Act, a motion that was introduced by Councilman Mo Seifeldein. It was a unanimous vote, and nobody spoke against the motion, although one speaker at the public hearing expressed concerns it might violate the infamous Dillon Rule, which prohibits the city from doing anything the General Assembly has not given specific permission to do.

Before voting in favor of the motion, Councilwoman Del Pepper recalled when sexual orientation was added to the city’s Human Rights Code in the 1980s. Unlike this month’s vote, that was a time when City Hall was beseiged by people who argued that homosexuality was a sin. Council members were also concerned that conservatives lawmakers in Richmond might try to exact some revenge.

“When this was passed, adding sexual orientation, you could have heard a pin drop,” recalled Pepper. “We were all very tense.”

Part of that tension came was the result of a ruling from Attorney General Mary Sue Terry, who concluded that no statute authorized the city to enact an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Pepper recalled that Mayor Jim Moran decided to press on anyway,

“You have to push the envelope,” Pepper recalls Moran saying at the time. "This is how you make progress.”