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After ‘freak accident’ Steven Peterson wants to get off the sidelines in Alexandria mayoral race

After missing an important mayoral debate this week due to a “freak accident” while canvassing that led to his hospitalization, Steven Peterson says that he’s done sitting on the sidelines.

Peterson said that got 10 stitches in his nose and suffered a concussion after his 105-pound Golden Retriever chased a squirrel and he face-planted on a gravel path at the West End Farmer’s Market on Sunday. He said that the leash was wrapped around his legs and that he flipped over after the dog bolted.

The injury kept Peterson from participating in the Alexandria Democratic Committee’s debate on Monday or in a candidate forum with Tenants and Workers United in Arlandria on Wednesday.

The June 18 Democrat primary is only 46 days away.

“I am sorry that I missed the debate on Tuesday as I was looking forward to discussing the issues that the city has in front of them and exploring real solutions other than just words of encouragement,” Peterson wrote. “I want to leverage my 30 years of business experience to benefit the City of Alexandria, and I intend to accomplish that through a Listen, Learn, React and Lead mantra.”

Peterson’s campaign will resume next week, although he “won’t win any beauty contests,” he said.

Peterson sent ALXnow a statement on the issues that were presented in Monday night’s debate. In the email he said that his new mantra is “listen, learn, react and lead.”

“I am not going to take a back seat anymore and be the ‘developer’ candidate that arrived late to race, and is ignored, and is seen as a Republican,” Peterson wrote. “I want to appeal to the broader base and be issue-focused.”

A retired developer and political newcomer, Peterson is the distinct outsider in the race. He’s never served on a city board or commission, unlike his opponents, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson and City Council Member Alyia Gaskins. He also trails his opponents in fundraising and endorsements.

He also was opposed to the Potomac Yard arena and said he wants to reverse the Zoning for Housing/Housing for All suite of zoning ordinances passed last year.

Peterson’s full statement is below the jump.

With an annual budget of over $910m, and the issues that lay before us, I intend on being a full time mayor as I feel the job is too important if I am going to help run a city of 170,000 citizens.

The 2.5 cent increase in residential tax rates are disappointing reality to the citizens, but in this case, since the city has continued to deplete its commercial tax base, there were no alternative options. But this consistent tax and spend habit placed on the citizens must stop.

I would like to address some of the issues that have been laid out in the recent forums and help clear the air as we move forward towards the June 18th primary

Taxes — Since the beginning of my campaign, I have been the candidate that first preached that the 80% residential taxing of residences compared to 50% 20 years ago, is unacceptable and unsustainable, and it’s because the city is not concentrating on diversifying its current revenue streams. The city is rezoning commercial uses to residential uses at an accelerated rate and not even following their own ordinances. The 301 N.Fairfax commercial property and the 100 block rezoning from 150 public parking spaces to just six $3 million townhomes are but two examples. The ordinance states that if commercial buildings are going to be rezoned to residential uses at higher densities, then the first floor must consist of commercial or mixed uses. In the post-pandemic era, cities around the country are converting empty office buildings. That’s not the issue.

These two zoning cases were both voted 7-0 by the Council and the mayor in favor of 100% residential uses, and no commercial tax base alternatives. Their mandate muscled through the system, without following the current city ordinances or citizen input. Forget the fact that the Duke St. rezoning eliminated 150 precious public parking spaces that are desperately needed in the waterfront district.

The two candidates have since added my point of views to their speeches that the commercial tax base needs to reflect more diverse revenue streams. So they are now correct, but just a little late on coming to this conclusion.

The City Manager is also correct in his opinion that “the city’s financial security is at risk.”

The state of our education system is clearly on most people’s minds. Jackson has stated that she is for fully funding the public schools.

I totally agree that funding the school system is necessary, but that statement requires that we accept the fact that our educational system is subpar in the state of Virginia and we need a cultural change, not just a raise in the budgets. We need to collaborate with other successful educational programs in cities around the country and mind share, in order to change the present system.

Councilman Jackson has also stated that we need a second high school within the city. So, is adding a second high school going to solve the present issues that we have with our existing high school? The only issue that a new high school solves is overcrowding and the additional school adds millions to the yearly operating budget that is presently exhausted now. And how does councilman Jackson propose that the city is going to pay for a $350 plus new high school after just agreeing to construct two new elementary schools?

If politicians are going to throw out grandiose ideas, there needs to be a way to pay for them in the near term and for decades to come.

Yes, the teachers and administrators are strapped and need higher wages and the student/teacher ratios of 15/1 need to either come down, or the quality of education will continue to suffer.

Again, when I began my campaign, I pointed out that the city only receives 20% of its annual budget from the state, as compared to other state municipalities and that increasing this to just 50% would add millions into the city’s annual general fund.

I have stated since I began campaigning that that approaching the state for additional funds is the next plausible solution to help our funding issues. The other two candidates are now advocating what I began stressing in March. As mayor, I will hire lobbyists that go to Richmond and fight for increases in State funding. That’s how state and federal officials operate and I see no reason why we should not follow the same model.

Maybe this is a step towards funding a new high school because at this point in time, the only plausible way to fund a new school is through the 10 year $2.3 billion CIP, and get in line for those funds.

Parents and citizens alike want answers and solutions to these dilemmas, not just $350m wishes and conjecture.

Regarding the arena deal, I have stated that this is a perfect example of how not to govern a city. Jackson has stated that she has been against the arena since its inception, but there are numerous pictures of she and Councilwoman Gaskins on stage with the likes of the governor, the mayor and Monument Entertainment welcoming the new arena’s arrival as if it was a “fetta complete” deal that everyone should just accept as gospel.

It was not until recently that Amy Jackson did the Michael Jackson “moonwalk,” backtracking against the arena after hearing of the citizen backlash for lack of involvement and lack transparency. Councilwoman Gaskins recently stated that she “did not come out as a hard yes or a hard no, to the arena deal,” but again, she was on stage on December 13th cheering the surprised announcement.

These responses are too late for the governing body of the city to change direction so late in the process. Proper leadership needs to be in place in for historic decisions such as this that will most definitely take place in the future.

Since the beginning of my campaign, I have been the only candidate that has opposed the arena deal simply because it is not the appropriate use in a suburban setting where 20,000 people ascend into Potomac Yard 300 plus times a year adding traffic, crime and lack of parking, that could adversely affect the local citizenries daily quality of life. In addition, to the potential tax benefits, the city cannot gloss over the potential financial strains to the city’s triple AAA bond rating in the event of a financial default, notwithstanding the potential financial burden that the city would be strapped with in the event of a default.

Maybe these issues could be addressed with further investigation, but in the short period of time that the city was given, proper answers were not provided. Above all, proper citizen input was not really considered. I love the Caps and Wizards, but this would not be smart, responsible development.

Councilwoman Jackson continues to stress that she is a “hometown girl”, and I appreciate that she has lived here her entire life. Councilwoman Gaskins is a relative newcomer to the city, but I don’t begrudge her of her recent move to our city.

My wife, Martha, and I have lived here for over 30 years so I feel that this is quite long enough to have a pulse on where this city needs to move in the future.

As far as some of some of councilwoman’s Gaskins recent statements:

Gaskins is running to build a “safer, more affordable and accessible city.” How exactly are we going to get safer and more affordable and what does “accessible” mean

Accessible, I assume means, listening to the citizens, but that’s not what citizens are saying that is happening now.

Councilwoman Gaskins states: “We need a comprehensive economic strategy.”

“We need an intentional and aggressive small business strategy, and improved relations with Richmond. And we need to fund our basic quality of life, and invest in tourism initiatives.”

So, what do these statements all mean and what are the solutions other than political jargon? I don’t have all the answers but I am not going to put myself out there with grand statements until I have a better understanding of how I am going to get this city from A to Z, and that will involve a drastic increase in citizen input.

As mayor, I am going to Listen, Learn, React and Lead.

As far as zoning for housing, I have stated repeatedly that single family homes are a fabric of every city in the US. There are better ways to deal with the affordable housing issue, but outlawing future single family residential is not the answer.

Possible solutions:

  • Creating JV’s (joint ventures) with area builder/developers in which the city acquires land and places the land into a public/private partnerships at cost, with no land appreciation that routinely comes with normal real estate development.  The builders are then incentivized to construct and sell or lease at below market rates. The builder/developer receives a return on his construction investment and potential management fees. Under this model, the city is not directly involved with the construction and or management of the more affordable dwelling units, but have helped solve the affordable housing crunch issue.
  • Another potential solutions that has been used sparingly is increasing density credits to builder/developers that allow for taller constructed buildings, but mandating that a percentage of the increased density is for approved applicants only. Do not allow for builder/developers to just simply pay into a “pay as you go” affordable housing fund.
  • These slush funds just place responsibility back on the city to figure out how to spend these monies. Unless, these monies go into a fund that, as above mentioned, help to acquire additional land or existing buildings that exist throughout the city, and can be either spent on new construction or converting existing structures into more affordable dwelling units.
  • The city must increase the ADU (accessory dwelling unit) requirements for new zoning approvals. For example, the 301 N-Fairfax rezoning only commits the builder to construct 2 out of 48 units for “affordable housing. “This mandate % is much higher in jurisdictions such as Fairfax, Arlington and Loudon Counties. The city should follow their lead.
  • Both Councilwoman Jackson and Gaskins supported the single family amendment despite overwhelming pushback from the  citizens.

I have proposed real potential solutions for a difficult subject that the citizens feel that they were run over with last year regarding zoning for housing.

Regarding public safety, I believe that the other candidates now believe that the 30% uptick in crime and 58% in car theft is unacceptable. When I first considered running for mayor, I was shocked that these statistic were not more prevalent in the other candidates political messages that preceded me, as I was late in entering the race. The present police force of 300 is carrying too much of this security burden that has created unabated fatigue. Increased pay to the present officers can only go so far. The force needs to be increased. More body cameras need to be provided, and the police force needs to be constantly reminded through public sentiment that they are a vital cog in the success in our ever growing and prosperous city. And it’s the citizens responsibility to welcome the police in their neighborhoods, as they have one goal in mind and that is keeping the citizens safe. Lets ask the citizens how they feel that the police force can help them feel safer, and how the police force in return can suggest to the citizens, how they feel they can improve public safety throughout the city.

Open communication between the police force and the citizens is but one suggestion that I will stress as mayor.

In addition, housing affordability for the police force also cannot be ignored. So, as mayor, I will advocate that the officers are granted some type of preference when attempting to receive more affordable housing, if they qualify as other citizens do in the present system.

It has been stated that black residents in Alexandria are 117% more likely to die before age 75 than white people. Gaskins has stated that “this issue keeps her up at night and can be helped by new housing projects and encourage economic justice and setting up minority business owners.”

Ok, it sounds like a noble gestures, but how are these statements going to come to fruition? In my opinion, this is social equality issue, plan and simple. The city needs to change its overall culture within our rapidly expanding diverse community.

Are minorities receiving equal pay for equal work? Let’s test the question. Are minorities receiving their fair return on the taxes that they pay? Again, let’s test the question. The city needs to close the social spending gap and repatriate the monies to benefit minorities.

I don’t have the answers, but I want to listen, learn react and help solve the present gaps in funding. The city cannot leave anyone behind.

As far as relationships in Richmond go, if only 20% of our education budget is being funded by the state, compared to upwards of 80% in other municipalities in the state, as mayor, I will fight hard through extensive lobbying efforts to change not only this inequity, but others that I find through research headed up by the city manager’s office.

Maybe, since I’m not your typical politician, I haven’t learned how to make my voice and opinions heard loud enough in the spotlight ,because that’s not my style. But in the next 45 days the citizens will understand where I stand and how I will listen, learn identify the problems, and help create solutions.

Everyone has heard the old adage, “a rising tide raises all ships.” Let’s put that to task!!

I was a real estate developer, and despite some negative public sentiment, I am proud that, as a developer unlike the other two candidates, I have run a major company and have the business accumbent to propel the city forward. I know what good development is and how bad land uses changes can adversely affect the city. I know how to help manage a $ billion dollar budget, and make the hard decisions after weighing all the input from citizens, the city administration and the city council.

I will Listen, Learn, React and Lead.