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Michael Lee Pope

Stories by Michael Lee

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Are Hospitals in Northern Virginia Ready?

Projections show a critical lack of hospital beds and ICU beds.

Northern Virginia’s health care system could be overwhelmed by an influx of patients infected with the novel coronavirus, according to an assessment from the Harvard Global Health Institute. The projections show hospitals in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria could quickly fill their available beds with patients, forcing administrators to either expand capacity or make the kind of life-and-death decisions about care that Italy has been forced into by the crisis.

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Generational Divide

Senior conservative Democratic senators from Fairfax undermine labor agenda.

When Democrats won both chambers of the General Assembly in November, hopes were high that the new majorities in the House and Senate would move forward with a progressive agenda that had been rejected when Republicans were in power. Labor groups were particularly excited about the prospect of passing a $15 minimum wage, collective bargaining for public employees and a requirement that all employers offer five paid sick days. But the General Assembly session ended this week without fully accomplishing these goals.

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House Versus Senate

Conservative upper chamber undermines progressive House of Delegates.

Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly like to see themselves as adversaries. The real enemy, they like to say, is down the hall.

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Mapmaking Politics

Legislative Black Caucus leads effort to undermine redistricting amendment.

Virginia has a horrible history with racial gerrymandering. It started with the ratification of the Constitution, an effort led by Virginians who wanted to count slaves as three-fifths of a person so representation in the south wouldn’t suffer because so many of its inhabitants were non-voting enslaved people. It continued all the way to 2011, when the Republican leaders engaged in a scheme of packing black voters into House districts to dilute their influence elsewhere, a plan the United States Supreme Court later determined was unconstitutional. Now members of the Legislative Black Caucus are worried a proposed amendment might enshrine racial gerrymandering into the Virginia Constitution.

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Why a Regional Wage in Virginia?

Effort to raise minimum wage hits snag on Senate floor, leading to regional approach.

It’s shortly after 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night, and state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) is working the Senate chamber to save the minimum wage increase. This particular Tuesday isn’t just any day of the week. It’s the final deadline for Senate bills to cross over to the House, so the pressure is building as the clock winds down. Senators are tired and cranky, and they will be working past midnight.

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Dieting Sisters in Virginia

From road diets to balancing the books, Alexandria and Norton compare notes.

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Ghost of Harry Byrd Haunts Virginia Assembly

Effort to remove statue prompts soul-searching at the Capitol.

The statue of Harry Byrd stands in a prominent spot in Capitol Square, watching lawmakers as they scurry from their offices to committee meetings and closed-door caucus meetings. It was erected in 1976, a time when memories of the segregationist governor and U.S. senator were still fresh among the Democratic majority. Now times have changed, and many people would like to see it removed and tucked away in a museum with a note explaining his plan to close public schools rather than integrate them.

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Cracking Down on Predatory Student Lenders

Northern Virginia lawmakers hope to regulate student-loan servicing companies.

Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) and Del. Marcus Simon (D-53) have introduced a bill they call the Borrowers Bill of Rights, which would use the power of the State Corporation Commission to crack down on what they call the egregious practices of student loan servicing companies.

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Closing All the Loopholes

Democrats poised to impose new regulations on high-interest lenders.

The days of unregulated high-interest lending may be coming to a close in Virginia. Now that Democrats have seized control of the General Assembly, members of the Legislative Black Caucus say cracking down on predatory lending is one of their top priorities for the 2020 session.

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Opening the Floodgates

Northern Virginia Democrats struggle with power now that they have it.

When they were in the minority, Democrats were mostly united in their views about everything from gun control and reproductive rights to the Equal Rights Amendment. Now that they’ve seized power, though, members of the newly minted majority are hearing from opposite sides on everything from gerrymandering and labor rights.

Week in Alexandria

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Unpaid Taxes Written Off

City often forgives delinquent taxpayers rather than going after them.

In the last decade, Alexandria has written off more than $100,000 in uncollected tax balances. The annual write-off happens every November, just as City Council members are appearing with a giant turkey at City Hall to celebrate Thanksgiving.

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Wealthy Homeowners, Poor Renters

Income disparity is highest in Arlandria, which trails the city in median household income.

Taylor Run is about three miles from Arlandria. But it might as well be on the other side of the planet in terms of median household income. Census records show that the leafy suburban Taylor Run neighborhood, which is just behind the George Washington Masonic Memorial, has the highest median household income in Alexandria, more than $180,000 a year. The low-income neighborhood of Latino residents near the border with Arlington, on the other hand, has the lowest, less than $55,000 a year.

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Scooting into 2020

City Council considers extending dockless mobility pilot program.

Alexandria is bitterly divided over scooters, and a recent survey showed that the city is just about evenly split between people who hate the dockless mobility program and people who love it. That’s the backdrop for members of the Alexandria City Council, who are now considering extending the pilot into next year. A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for Dec. 14.

Week in Alexandria

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Following the Money

Special-interest groups seek power and influence.

A look at campaign-finance documents from the 2019 election cycle reveals an intricate web of special-interest money, everything from Dominion and Verizon to casino developers and car-title lenders. Members of the Alexandria delegation took money from lobbyists and associations who have pending business during the upcoming two-month General Assembly session, when lawmakers will be forbidden from taking campaign cash.

Week in Alexandria

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Potomac Yard: Before and After

Transforming a suburban strip mall into an Innovation District.

The strip mall at Potomac Yard is a placeholder, a temporary solution to a thorny question about the relationship between density and traffic.

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More Educated, Better Paid

Foreign-born population attracted by government contracting and tech jobs.

Virginia’s foreign-born population is more educated and better paid, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis. The Richmond-based think tank points out more than 40 percent of immigrants in Virginia have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s a significantly higher level of education than the United States as a whole, and it’s even a bit higher than native-born Virginians.

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A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

Del Ray has more voters than Old Town, and it carries more clout.

Del Ray can boast that it’s the center of power in Alexandria, the home of both Mayor Justin Wilson and Sheriff Dana Lawhorne. Old Town, on the other hand, doesn’t have as many voters or as much clout.

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Republican Requiem

Democrats take General Assembly, sweep Fairfax School Board; Republicans hold Springfield.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Northern Virginia had its own breed of Republicanism. People like U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11), U.S. Sen. John Warner and Del. Dave Albo (R-42). Now, after a series of stunning defeats since the election of Donald Trump to the White House, Northern Virginia Republicans are a dying breed, with moderates bowing out or being voted out.

Week in Alexandria

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Generation Gap

Millennials and Gen X now outnumber older voters. So why do Baby Boomers dominate?

Millennials and Gen Xers now outnumber Baby Boomers and older voters in Virginia, according to data from the Census Bureau. But that doesn’t mean they have as much influence. Census numbers also show another trend: People over the age of 45 vote at much higher rates.

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Off-Year Campaign Cash

Money from Alexandria will help shape Election 2019.

More than $3.5 million in campaign cash has an Alexandria mailing address this election cycle, a spending spree that reflects the stakes this year’s election. Control of the House of Delegates and state Senate is at stake, and partisans on both sides are trying to influence the outcome.

Week in Alexandria

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Nice Work If You Can Get It

Eight Alexandria city officials pull in more than $200,000 a year.

.Alexandria does not have the top-paid government officials in the region. But it certainly doesn’t have the poorest, either. According to information received in a Freedom of Information Act request, Alexandria’s City Manager, Mark Jinks, pulls in a cool $288,000 a year. That’s at the top end of the range for local government chief appointed managers and administrators who oversee governments with a population of 100,000 or more, according to an annual survey conducted by the International City/County Management Association.

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Demand Curve in Alexandria

Labor shortage and housing shortfall lead to affordability crisis.

The number of jobs in the region is on the rise, a trend that will only be exacerbated when Amazon brings 25,000 new jobs to town. Meanwhile, unemployment in Alexandria is at about 2 percent, so low that it’s essentially full employment.

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More Students, Fewer Dollars

Schools are bursting at the seams while trying to do more with less.

.Enrollment is up, and funding is down. That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, which looked at funding and staffing trends at every school division in Virginia.

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High Interest, Big Money

Lenders of last resort in Alexandria try to buy influence in Richmond.

Alexandria has eight car-title lending locations and two payday lenders, plus a growing number of companies offering online loans at nosebleed interest rates. It’s an industry that’s been under fire in recent years, and now campaign-finance disclosures show these companies are spreading their money around to Democrats and Republicans in an effort to influence the next General Assembly.

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250,000+ Eligible Latino Voters in Virginia

Arlandria is home to one of the largest Salvadoran communities in the country.

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Dismal Science

Construction permits are down and unemployment claims are up, raising red flags for economists.

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Living in the Dark

Could you survive without your iPhone? Do you have an evacuation kit? Are you really prepared for the worst?

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Virginia House Whip Faces Democratic Primary

Spain criticizes Lopez's work on immigration, relationship with governor, presence in community.

If Democrats seize control of the House this November, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49) is poised to be in a leadership position helping to guide the agenda of a party that has not been in power since the 1990s. But that’s only if he makes it through the primary.

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Pay to Play or Legitimate Representation in Virginia?

Senator’s consulting business takes center stage in primary campaign.

Is two-term Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) a rising star, poised to become chairwoman of a Senate committee if Democrats seize control of the Senate? Or is she an opportunist capitalizing on insider influence for personal gain? That’s a question for voters this June in a primary that pits Favola against challenger Nicole Merlene, who says Favola’s consulting business is the embodiment of everything that’s wrong about Virginia politics.

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Virginia Senate Minority Leader Faces Two Primary Challengers

Dick Saslaw hasn’t had a primary challenge since the 1970s; now he has two.

The last time Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw had a primary opponent, Jimmy Carter was in the White House and the Bee Gees were at the top of the charts. This year, for the first time since 1979, Saslaw has primary opposition. Not just one opponent, but two.

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Green Late Deal in Alexandria

Broken promises and missed deadlines plague Eco-City Alexandria.

Alexandria adopted its Eco-City charter with great fanfare in 2008 along with a promise: The charter would be renewed in a decade. That deadline has now come and gone with no plans to update it. In 2009, members of the City Council approved an Eco-City action plan along with another promise: It would be renewed in five years. Once again, city officials breezed through that deadline.

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The Hidden History of Del Ray

Uncovering the secret past in the Town of Potomac.

Gambling. Corruption, Racism. Greed. These are all part of a little-known narrative from the Del Ray's long-ago past, a time when progressive leaders closed a corrupt racetrack and formed the Town of Potomac, only to see an unwanted attempt by Alexandria City Hall to steal the land in a controversial annexation.

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Boysko Wins Wexton Seat

Democrats enter the new year with a fresh victory and a full head of steam.

.Virginia’s 33rd state Senate District was once a solidly Republican seat, a place where conservative voters repeatedly rewarded Bill Mims for opposing same-sex marriage and championing homeschooling. But ever since Mims resigned to take a job in the McDonnell administration, the seat has been held by a succession of Democrats on their way to bigger and better things.

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Education Issues Take Center Stage

Constituents tell lawmakers to increase teacher pay; ERA, $15 minimum wage and more.

Teachers deserve a pay raise, and Virginia desperately needs to hire more school counselors. These were two of the most prevalent concerns voiced by constituents to members of the Fairfax County legislative delegation, the largest in the Virginia General Assembly.

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Democratic Insurgent Versus Republican Moderate

January special election to fill seat vacated by Jennifer Wexton features two familiar faces.

The first election of 2019 might end up being a harbinger of things to come for Republicans, who have seen their presence all but evaporate in Northern Virginia. It could also test the limits of the blue wave that washed over Virginia since Donald Trump was elected president.

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