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Michael Lee Pope

Stories by Michael Lee

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House Seat Shuffle

Former CIA branch chief J.D. Maddox to face Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker.

In Richmond, the 45th House District is known as a cursed seat because of its dizzying turnover. After the retirement of longtime Del. Marian Van Landingham (D-45) in 2006, the district has blazed through three delegates in rapid succession. Now the seat is open once again after the incumbent, former radio talk show host Mark Levine, lost the primary when his name appeared on the ballot twice because he was trying to simultaneously win reelection to the House while also snagging the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

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Contaminated Legacy

From slave plantation to industrial pollution, a hidden history of North Old Town.

The shuttered power plant dominating the landscape in North Old Town has layers of industrial pollution, a hidden history buried under the contaminated soil of the Potomac River Generating Station. Even before the coal-fired power plant was constructed in 1949, the property was home to the American Chlorophyll Company and Potomac River Clay Works. That means the long and complicated task known as "remediating" the property could mean removing everything from coal ash and mercury to industrial fertilizer and hazardous metals.

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Bag It?—Not Any More

Arlington to consider a new five-cent tax for each plastic bag.

Bag Tax

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Transforming Potomac Yard

Virginia Tech breaks ground for Innovation Campus in Alexandria.

Potomac Yard Groundbreaking

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Reform Is in the Bag

City Council to consider new five-cent tax for each plastic bag.

Alexandria started pressing for a plastic bag tax when George W. Bush was in the White House and Virginia was a red state. Now the years of advocacy have finally paid off, and state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) has been able to pass a bill giving City Hall authority to impose a five-cent tax on each and every plastic bag that's used in grocery stores and convenience stores.

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Facing Eviction

Virginia has new protections for renters, but temporary measures expire next year.

The clock is ticking for renters across Virginia who are in danger of being evicted. People of color and low-income Virginians are most at risk.

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Connecting the Unconnected

Less than 3 percent of broadband spending to help low-income people gain internet access

About 15 percent of Alexandria students did not have access to the internet when the pandemic began last year, a statistic that reveals how many households in Alexandria are locked out of the modern economy.

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Whistle Stop

McAuliffe launches DNC bus tour at Port City, dodges question about labor

The Build Back Better Bus caused quite a stir last week at Port City Brewing, and not just because of the alliteration.

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Big Money for Big Biz, Not as Much for Poor

Lawmakers go on a spending spree with billions of dollars from Uncle Sam.

Big business cleaned up this week, taking home the biggest prizes in the special session to spend $3 billion in stimulus cash. Meanwhile, low-income Virginians didn't fare quite as well.

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Spending Spree

General Assembly returns to Richmond to appropriate federal stimulus cash

In the 1985 hit movie "Brewster's Millions," Richard Pryor is given the task of spending $30 million in 30 days.

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Drawing the Line

How much should cities and counties be divided among lawmakers?

For Mason Cook of the Middleridge neighborhood in Fairfax County, the problem of gerrymandering can be understood in an afternoon commute. During a public hearing of the Virginia Redistricting Commission this week, he explained that if he were to drive from his house to his grocery store and then drop off a package at his post office, he would have gone through three different House of Delegates districts. "We hear a lot of talk about voter suppression. These kinds of congressional districts are all about voter suppression, and they make the congressional elections totally meaningless." — Bill Millhouser of Fairfax County

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The New New Deal

Uncle Sam is about to make it rain.

Not since the days of the New Deal in the 1930s has the federal government showered so much stimulus cash on Virginia, and Alexandria is about to receive millions of dollars for everything from guaranteed basic income and flash flooding improvements to staffing at the Freedom House and planters to make the King Street pedestrian plaza look more inviting.

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Rebuilding Hospitality

Restaurants, hotels and performing arts venues struggle with recovery

Now that the pandemic is fading into a bad memory, Alexandria's hospitality industry is at a crossroads.

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Baby Bust

Declining birth rates lead to shrinking Kindergarten enrollments.

Declining birth rates and the pandemic have conspired to send Alexandria's Kindergarten enrollment down 17 percent since 2018, a trend that school officials say will have a long-term influence on how the division operates and plans for the future. Some of the decline is driven by the pandemic as parents opted for private schools or kept their children in daycare rather than enroll them. But the long-term forecast for schools will be shaped one birth at a time.

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Marijuana Is Now Legal

The long strange trip from a failed war on drugs to social equity licenses

Smoke 'em if you've got 'em because pot is now legal in the commonwealth of Virginia.

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Democrats Choose Northern Virginia Ticket

Primary voters select candidates with gender and racial diversity but lacking in regional balance.

As election returns started rolling in from the Democratic primary Tuesday, Republicans started boasting about having the most diverse statewide ticket in Virginia history.

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Opposition Candidates Falter

Voters reject candidates who said City Hall lacks integrity.

Democratic primaries are usually about biography and personalities, focusing on professional resumes and personal connections.

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Democrats Decide

Voters to determine direction of party in June 8 primary

The June 8 primary will determine the direction of the Democratic Party in Virginia at a critical time, when the commonwealth is emerging from the pandemic and trying to recast itself as something other than a party in opposition to former President Donald Trump.

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Following the Money

City Council candidates raise money from friends and supporters.

Running a campaign for the Alexandria City Council isn't cheap. Former Mayor Bill Euille says he often advises potential candidates they'll need to raise $20,000 to $30,000 just to get through the primary and then twice that for the general election.

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Convention Done, Primary Ahead

Republicans get a head start in the general election; Democrats still fighting each other

The way Democrats talk about Donald Trump, you'd think he was on the ballot in 2021. And in many ways, he is. The former president may be out of the White House and kicked off of social media, but he's still eager to see himself as a kingmaker.

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Gutter Politics

City Council candidates campaign on fixing Alexandria's flooding problem.

None of the candidates for Alexandria City Council are for flooding, which has swamped the city's aging infrastructure in recent years as a series of major storm events have repeatedly submerged parts of Alexandria.

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Seven Republicans Running for Governor

May 8 convention to determine direction of party heading into November.

Republicans haven’t won a statewide race since 2009, when Attorney General Bob McDonnell received 59 percent of the vote against Democrat Creigh Deeds. Since then, Republicans have been shut out of the Executive Mansion. Ken Cuccinelli lost to Terry McAuliffe in 2013, and Ed Gillespie lost to Ralph Northam in 2017. Now Republicans are about to determine their statewide candidates in a May 8 convention, which will take place at 37 locations.

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Two-Front Primary

Self-styled 'aggressive progressive' wages statewide campaign while defending House seat

Northern Virginia has one of the most competitive Democratic primaries for the House of Delegates this year, a race that's complicated by an incumbent who's seeking reelection while also seeking a statewide office. Del. Mark Levine (D-45) will be appearing twice on the ballot, once toward the top of the ticket for lieutenant governor and then again for reelection to the House seat that he's held since his first election in 2015.

Running for Second in Command

Thirteen candidates are running for lieutenant governor in Virginia.

Seven Democrats and six Republicans are trying to secure their parties' nomination to be the candidate for lieutenant governor on the November ballot.

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Lucky Thirteen

June 8 primary will feature more than a dozen Democrats running for six seats

Recent years have seen a dramatic shift in city politics. Three years ago, the incumbent mayor was unseated in an election where two incumbent City Council members were turned out of office. Now three of the six seats on the council are open, and 13 candidates are running for six seats.

Green Summer

Alexandria delegation works with the governor to legalize marijuana on July 1.

Alexandria is about to become the capital of marijuana in Virginia. The city's legislative delegation is at the center of an effort poised to legalize weed this summer, years ahead of an agreement that was struck behind closed doors at the end of the General Assembly session in February.

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Ethicist on the Bench

Prosecutor of bad lawyers to take a seat on the Alexandria Circuit Court

Prosecuting unethical lawyers is not a great way to win friends and influence people. Yet somehow Kathleen Uston has been able to figure out a way to trade her job as assistant bar counsel at the Virginia State Bar for a seat on the Alexandria Circuit Court. She'll be installed on the court next week, the culmination of a career that has given Uston an inside look at some of the worst lawyering in Virginia while also giving her a special insight into the role ethics plays in the law. — Yvonne Weight Callahan

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Seeing Double

Alexandria delegate is one of four House members whose name will be on the ballot twice.

The ballot for the Democratic primary in June might cause you to do a double take. Del. Mark Levine (D-45) will be on the ballot twice, once running for reelection against primary challenger Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and then again against seven other candidates for lieutenant governor. Levine and three other House members will be doing double duty, asking voters to reject their primary opponents for seats they would vacate if they win stateside office.

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McAuliffe to Pick Up Support in Alexandria

Former governor to receive key endorsements from prominent city officials.

As the spring campaign season heats up, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is about to receive endorsements from prominent Alexandria elected officials in the hotly contested Democratic primary for governor.

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Starting from a Clean Slate

Compromise on expungement: automatic for some misdemeanors, petition for some felonies.

Marijuana convictions will be automatically expunged under a bill now under consideration by Gov. Ralph Northam, although convictions for crack cocaine will require missing a day of work and probably hiring a lawyer to go to court and seal the record. The legislation is a compromise crafted late in the General Assembly session by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring of Alexandria and state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), who clashed repeatedly over the last year about how the process should work.

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High Time for Legalization?

Advocates call on the governor to legalize marijuana as soon as possible.

The debate over legalizing marijuana is about to light up, putting Gov. Ralph Northam at the center of a budding controversy. At issue is a question of timing. Should he agree with lawmakers that legalization should wait until New Years Day 2024, giving the commonwealth enough time to stand up the new Cannabis Control Authority? Or should he amend the bill the General Assembly put on his desk to legalize weed now to prevent communities of color from being overpoliced in the interim?

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Controlling Gun Violence

After assault weapons stumble, lawmakers limit guns at polling places and government buildings.

Fulfilling their campaign promises to take action against gun violence, Democrats in the General Assembly are sending Gov. Ralph Northam several gun-violence prevention bills.

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The Strange Career of Felon Disenfranchisement

Amendment targets Jacksonian-era restriction weaponized during Jim Crow.

Felons have been prohibited from voting in Virginia since 1830, when the "right to suffrage" was denied "to any person convicted of any infamous offense." But it was during the era of Jim Crow that felon disenfranchisement became weaponized to prevent Black voters from influencing elections.

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Absentee Minded

Lawmakers consider bill to assign absentee ballots to precincts where voters live.

On election night, Democrats were shocked by how well Donald Trump was performing in Alexandria. As returns were posted online, concerns were rising among supporters of Joe Biden as the incumbent was outperforming expectations at precinct after precinct.

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Sealing the Record

House and Senate Democrats disagree on how old convictions should be expunged.

For people haunted by a conviction for felony drug possession or misdemeanor disorderly conduct, a debate now happening in the Virginia General Assembly is one that could have dramatic consequences for finding a place to live or landing a job. Lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow those people to seal their criminal record, expunging old convictions and helping them wipe the slate clean. But Democrats are bitterly divided over how to accomplish that goal.

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Fully Baked

Alexandria senator leads effort to legalize marijuana in Virginia.

The so-called "war on drugs" was a failure, locking up generations of Black men and tearing Black families apart. Now lawmakers in Richmond are finally coming around to realizing the damage that the prohibition against marijuana caused in minority communities. Last year members of the General Assembly approved legislation decriminalizing marijuana. This year, they may be on the verge of legalizing recreational use of marijuana — ending the failed war on drugs and adopting new equity measures to address some of the damage it caused.

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Killing the Death Penalty

Lawmakers consider bill to abolish capital punishment in Virginia

Virginia has executed people longer than any other state, a tradition that stretches back into colonial days when Captain George Kendall was executed for treason. Over the years, the commonwealth has executed more than 1,300 people. Now, Virginia may be about to join 22 other states that have abolished the death penalty.

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Privatized Incarceration

Alexandria senator leads fight against profiting from prisoners

Housing inmates in Virginia prisons costs the state about $70 a day for each inmate. But the private sector can do it a lot cheaper, about $50 a day. Lawmakers are about to debate whether that's a savings they can afford.

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Essential Leave

Advocates for paid sick days try to build support among Virginia Senate Democrats

Before the pandemic hit, Senate Democrats stopped a proposal requiring businesses to offer paid sick days. During the pandemic, they rejected it again during a special session. Now as lawmakers prepare for the upcoming General Assembly session, advocates are hoping they've finally got a strategy to persuade reluctant Senate Democrats to approve a new law increasing the number of workers in Virginia who have access to paid sick days.

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Appealing Bad Rulings

Lawmakers to consider expanding appeals court, providing new oversight to judges.

Virginia is the only state in the country that does not guarantee a right to appeal, allowing circuit court judges to make decisions with little oversight or scrutiny. Critics have been calling for reform ever since the Court of Appeals was first created in 1985. The Supreme Court of Virginia recommended an appeal of right as a "long term goal" in 2018. Now, Gov. Ralph Northam says he wants lawmakers to add four judges and support staff "to ensure the court can hear more appeals cases in a timely manner under an increasing workload."

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Dropping Out of the Electoral College

Lawmakers to consider joining National Popular Vote Compact

Virginia may be on the verge of dropping out of the Electoral College, joining a National Popular Vote Compact in an effort to ditch a presidential election system critics say is outdated and undemocratic.

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Absurd Leverage

Lawmakers to reconsider mandatory minimum for assaulting law enforcement

Earlier this year, lawmakers rejected a bill that would have ditched the mandatory minimum sentence for assaulting a law-enforcement officer. Now the General Assembly is about to consider the issue again.

Drawing the Line

Newly created redistricting commission zooms toward new maps in 2021

Now that voters have approved a constitutional amendment creating a new redistricting commission, the pieces have already started falling into place for how the commission will work and who will serve on it.

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Expunging the Record

Democrats are divided on how to clear charges and convictions.

House Democrats and Senate Democrats are deadlocked over how people accused of minor crimes should be able to clear their records, a clash that has stalled action for now on one of the most important criminal-justice reform efforts on the agenda for Democrats now that they have seized control of the General Assembly.

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Thanksgiving Through the Years

From war and pandemic to claptrap and taffeta, the evolution of the holiday in Alexandria.

The story of Thanksgiving is fake news riddled with misinformation and fraud.

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Being There

How much virtual participation it too much?

Advocates for open government worry about too much virtual participation. Virginia Press Association executive director Betsy Edwards says the law is designed to make sure the public and the press have an opportunity to ask members of the Planning Commission why they voted against a zoning change and or why the mayor voted for a bike lane. She worried that unlimited virtual participation would limit availability to the public and the press to ask questions and get answers.

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The Pandemic Election

Virginia voters support Biden, Warner and a new redistricting commission.

Twenty years ago, Virginia was a red state. Republicans scored Virginia's electoral votes in every presidential election since LBJ was reelected in 1964. Republicans held both U.S. Senate seats. The Grand Old Party had all the statewide offices, a majority of the congressional delegation and both chambers of the General Assembly. That was the environment when Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, ran for governor and lieutenant governor.

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Myth-busting the Vote

A look at how the election will really happen in Alexandria

For most Alexandria voters expected to cast a ballot this year, Election Day has already come and gone. The unprecedented spike in early voting comes at a time when the city is battling a deadly pandemic and a whirlwind of misinformation. Here are a few myths about the election this year and why they are wrong.

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Civilian Oversight

City Council members to consider creating citizen board to investigate police

Last spring, disparities in law enforcement created a groundswell of support for a new civilian review board in Alexandria, a group that could investigate excessive use of force and abuse of authority. Since that time, the General Assembly passed a new law giving these kinds of bodies authority to subpoena documents and witnesses as well as make binding disciplinary determinations. Now members of the City Council are about to consider several options for what kind of civilian review board they want to create.

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Hiding at the Top of the Ticket

Race for Senate features two-term incumbent versus first-time candidate.

When Mark Warner ran for governor in 2001, opponents knocked him for wanting to be governor without having ever run for office before.

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