Alexandria, VA

In a crowded City Council election, the Alexandria Democratic Committee split the candidates into two groups for moderated debates, which posted Tuesday night.

Alexandria journalist Michael Lee Pope moderated the discussion, which touched on critical talking issues in city races over the last few years, from parking to broadband to — of course — Seminary Road. Interestingly, the coronavirus pandemic was not a main topic of discussion.

ALXnow featured the first debate on Wednesday.

This debate featured candidates John Taylor Chapman, Sarah Bagley, Amy Jackson, Kevin Harris, Patrick Moran, Bill Campbell and Kirk McPike. Answers are summarized.

The Democratic primary is June 8.

Seminary Road

A number of candidates support reversing the  Seminary Road diet, which has been a controversial issue for years.

Chapman voted against the proposal in 2019, and said he would vote to reverse it.

Moran — “I think a lot of the framework in which these conversations are made are so permanent,” Moran said. “I would spend the money to undo it.”

Campbell — “I absolutely would not spend any additional money to change that unless there was some new information that came up with regards to safety,” Campbell said. “And then you have to be responsible to take a look at that.”

Jackson would also vote to undo it, although she said that future road diets would have to be considered on a case by case basis.

“This became a ‘he said, she said’ in a lot of ways that I don’t think anyone on council was prepared for when city staff brought it to us,” Jackson said. “That just means that we have to do our own sleuthing and know the questions to ask after we’ve done our homework.”

McPike said he would not undo the road diet.

“I would not initially in this next council session, vote to revert the road back to what it was,” McPike said. “The intersection at Howard and Seminary is going to change in the near future when Inova Hospital relocates to Landmark Mall, and we don’t know what the needs are going to be along that stretch of road once that has occurred.”

Harris — “It’s one of those things that we ought to wait and see how it plays out before we try to change anything,” Harris said. “Because we’ve already wasted too much money creating the road diet. I think that we could use this money in other places.”

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Surrounded by about 100 other protestors outside of Alexandria City Public Schools’ Central Office, Kathryn Grassmeyer started to cry.

The mother of three wants schools to reopen to four or five days a week, and got emotional when talking about some of the difficult choices she and her husband have made regarding their children’s education.

“It puts parents in a horrible situation,” Grassmeyer said. “I had to choose which child needed to be in school more, so we went to a private school for one of them, and my other child is home every day, and then I have a toddler at home.”

The Monday evening rally was organized by the Open ACPS! group and coincided with the joint City Council/School Board Subcommittee meeting.

In that meeting Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. did not announce any change in his plan to keep two days per week of in-person hybrid instruction for students for the remainder of the year.

“There will not be a hybrid model over summer or in the fall,” Hutchings said. “We’re continuing to solidify efforts… to transition as many students as we can into classrooms over the next few weeks.”

ACPS is also requesting access to some recreational centers adjacent to schools to set up as temporary classroom spaces. While the required distance between desks in classrooms has gone down to three feet, there are still pandemic restrictions that ACPS says will require more space than some of the schools have.

Since the pandemic began, 16,000 ACPS students have alternated between completely virtual and two days per week of hybrid instruction. In the meantime, neighboring Fairfax County Public Schools are operating four days per week of in-person instruction, and Falls Church City Public Schools expanded in-person offerings to five days a week.

Erika Melman says it’s not too late to get her two children back to four days per week of in-person instruction.

“They’re just moving too slowly,” Melman said. “The year’s not over.”

While the hybrid model — where students attend both in-person and virtual classes — won’t be sticking around, schools will still be divided between between students who are in classes in-person and those attending virtually. Hutchings said students will be in either virtual or in-person classes, depending on what they state as their preference, but not both the way they are now.

Hutchings said there will be some flexibility for parents who start virtually to switch to in-person classes, but said the school will be up-front with parents that changing from one to the other will involve changing schedules and changing teachers. Over the summer, all students will be offered four-day-per-week of summer learning programs.

“We will have in-person and virtual open for all students,” Hutchings said. “We’re going to be targeting students who need to be in-person for summer.”

One advantage of using facilities adjacent to schools, staff said, will be that the schools won’t need to utilize transportation options like DASH bus.

“We’re scheduling walkthroughs next week of the spaces and looking at what we’d have to modify,” said Alicia Hart, director of educational facilities for ACPS. “Nothing permanent, because their primary use is as recreational space. [But] we’re looking at how many desks we’ll need, how much furniture. From a timeline perspective, we know we have a short window to make these modifications.”

That window is even shorter than it typically is, as Hutchings noted that this is the first year that school will be starting in August rather than September. Hutchings said it will be important to get parents all the information they need well in advance of school starting to allow them time to make a decision.

“It’s not binding, but we need to know what families are going to do,” Hutchings said. “We can’t wait until August for that. It’s important for families to give us some idea of what they’re going to do, and why we need to make sure families know the implications.”

Parent Hakan Ozsancak said that there has been an erosion of trust with the school system.

“We believe in science, but over the last year we’ve tried to have a better dialogue, and we’ve just been looked at as parents who are just pushing for the kids to get out of the house,” Ozsancak said. “We’re not crazies, you know.”

Vernon Miles and James Cullum contributed to this report

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An analysis of the recent ALXnow poll on the Alexandria mayoral race shows hundreds of apparently fraudulent votes cast.

In response to allegations that one candidate seemed to benefit from rapid repeat voting, ALXnow conducted an IP address analysis of the votes.

Our analysis showed 167 votes cast from non-U.S. IP addresses, with all but five cast for Allison Silberberg.

Another 231 votes came from one particular IP address combination, with a rapidity that suggests repeat voting. While all three candidates received votes within this group, the vast majority were for Silberberg.

No other significant irregularities were observed.

Silberberg touted her apparent edge in the ALXnow poll in a social media post Sunday. There is no indication that she would have known about the apparently fraudulent votes.

Silberberg told us said that at no time does she condone cheating in voting or online polling.

When the 398 suspicious votes described above were removed from the more than 1,200 cast, the results of the poll are starkly different:

  • Justin Wilson: 53%
  • Allison Silberberg: 36%
  • Annetta Catchings: 11%

While not intended to be a scientific poll, ALXnow regrets that it was seemingly exploited in order to mislead Alexandria voters. A note will be appended to the original poll post, linking to this article.

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This week in Alexandria, there are more than 250 properties available to rent, according to Homesnap, including 97 rentals listed in the past month.

These range from a $6.9K/month two-bedroom fully furnished penthouse in The Oronoco to a $1.4K/month “junior” one-bedroom apartment across from Holmes Run Creek.

Below are seven recently listed rentals:

In the market? Check out just listed properties in Alexandria.

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(Updated 3:15 p.m.) Police and fire department are at 2920 Richmond Highway after a driver apparently crashed his vehicle into the building then left the scene.

There are no injuries reported yet, according to Alexandria Fire Department spokeswoman Raytevia Evans.

According to Evans:

Call went out around 2:30pm for a vehicle into a building in the 2900 block of Richmond Highway. No injuries reported at this time. Driver apparently hit the building and left the scene.

Staff at the Verizon store said the man became belligerent over a service issue and left before hitting the building with his vehicle.

A witness said the driver was a white man driving a black sedan.

“It sounded like a bomb,” one witness said. “Boom. Then I saw him drive around the corner [northbound on Route 1].”

Code enforcement and the building inspector are at the scene after officials responded to a report of a building collapse, according to scanner traffic.

James Cullum and Vernon Miles contributed to this story. Image via Google Maps

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Updated at 2:30 p.m. — Vice President Kamala Harris managed to stitch a visit to Old Town knitting store fibre space (1319 Prince Street) into the day’s agenda.

It was the vice president’s first official visit to a small business since she took office in January. Harris spoke for more than a half hour with owner Danielle Romanetti and her staff about the impact of the pandemic and the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that’s working its way through the U.S. Senate.

“We have to understand… who are the folks who have been sacrificing on the front lines, and really are part of not only the economic engine, but to your point, the vitality of the community,” Harris said. “We have, for example, as part of the American Rescue Plan $15 billion that goes just into to small businesses. We have been paying a lot of attention to the fact that during COVID, two-and-a-half million women have left the workforce.”

Alexandria City Councilman John Taylor Chapman arranged the visit after being contacted last week by the vice president’s office.

“The vice president’s office was looking to chat with small, locally women- owned businesses and reached out to me and I connected them with fibre space,” Chapman told ALXnow. “It’s definitely an honor that she chose Alexandria for her first visit out of the White House. It was great to have her come across the river and spend time with us.”

Romanetti got a call from the White House on Friday, and opened her store after the visit at 2 p.m. She said that Harris likes to crochet, bought a hoodie for her daughter with the printed message “Come the apocalypse I will have clothing” on it, and talked about the relief that small businesses will experience in the event of the bill’s passage.

Communications officials on Harris’ staff said the vice president was discussing what women in the workforce are going through and how to get them the support needed.

“She’s actually really easy to talk to, and, and it was very comfortable,” Romanetti said. “Her daughter, Ella, is a knitwear designer who just was in Vogue. She just signed a contract with a with a designer to do a line of knitwear.”

Fibre space was one of several stores that took a severe hit last year from the pandemic. The store has been able to weather the last year with a PPP loan, a COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan and two small federally funded business grants from the City.

“I am hopeful that this bill will pass, and that it’s going to put a lot of money into small businesses,” Romanetti said. “A lot of business owners are wondering if there is gonna be more loan money available. We also need vaccines, and we need schools to safely reopen because those are also huge issues for business owners. That’s also a huge part of the relief bill.”

Shop employee Maiya Davis talked with her about her pandemic experience. She’s worked there for two-and-a-half years, and was forced to completely shift her life last March.

“We basically had to learn new jobs overnight,” Davis said. “It was a job that just kept changing depending on which struggles we were facing that day. We had to deal with stressed out customers, we had to deal with running a web store all of a sudden, which is something we hadn’t done before. And then we also had to deal with the loss of our community space.”

Alexandria marketing strategist Maurisa Potts was also in attendance, and told Harris about the experiences that dozens of her small business clients have experienced.

“From where I sit in having to service these clients and getting their message out and communicating the hardships and the innovation that’s been happening during this time, a relief package like this will greatly help them,” Potts said.

Vernon Miles and James Cullum contributed to this article.

Photos via Peter Velz/Twitter and fibre space

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ALXnow needs your help in order to better serve the Alexandria community.

No more than once a year, ALXnow conducts a reader survey. The eight-question 2021 ALXnow Reader Survey should take no more than 5 minutes to fill out, but will have a big impact on the site.

The survey asks about potential new features, adjustments to our news coverage, and your satisfaction with our Alexandria reporting. We’ll put the responses into action throughout 2021.

We would greatly appreciate if you would take the time to tell us how we’re doing and what we can do better, by taking the survey. Thank you!

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The following Letter to the Editor was written by Dr. Stephen Haering, Alexandria’s Health Department Director.

One of the most common questions we receive at Alexandria Health Department (AHD) is how to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 in our community. To start, we need to acknowledge some hard truths, including that we never truly left the first wave.

Across the U.S., COVID-19 cases are spiking. In Wisconsin, they are building field hospitals in parking lots to accommodate the overflow from hospitals that have run out of beds. Even in northern Virginia, our region has moved from “low” to “approaching substantial” community transmission, which means that our cases are increasing steadily. And although most Alexandrians have been taking the right precautions, we’re approaching a dangerous confluence of events–including flu season and holiday gatherings–that threaten our community’s safety.

So, how do we stem the tide and bring our community back to low levels of transmission? First, the easiest step: get your flu shot. It’s not too late for you and your whole family to check that off your list. Almost all healthcare providers and pharmacies carry the flu shot, and if you have health insurance, it is free. If you don’t have insurance, schedule an appointment at Alexandria Health Department (call 703.746.4888). COVID-19 shares many of the same symptoms as the flu, and it is possible for you to contract both illnesses at the same time.

Second, choose lower risk activities to celebrate Thanksgiving and the upcoming December holidays. Travelling for celebrations is a hallmark of these holidays but is especially risky with the COVID-19 increases across the country. If you can’t avoid travelling, know your travel risk and consider getting tested both before and after traveling, particularly if you are visiting or returning home to someone at high risk of severe illness. Keep in mind that the virus can take between 2-14 days to incubate. AHD recommends that you wait about 7-10 days after a gathering or travel to get tested.

Finally, maintain the momentum. As we’ve said from the beginning, this pandemic response is a marathon. However, with all the stressors from uncertainty, managing households on tighter budgets, and the racial and social injustice that have been exacerbated, it feels like we’re all operating at a sprint pace. It’s incredibly difficult for all of us to maintain the required vigilance for wearing masks, keeping our physical distance, and quarantining when identified as a close contact. But we can’t let this COVID-19 fatigue move us into a complacency that spreads illness — we need to remind each other, with compassion, that we all need maintain our 6-foot distances, consistently and correctly wear facemasks, sanitize hands and surfaces frequently, and stay away from others when ill.

We get it. You’re over COVID-19 and all the public health guidance that goes along with it. I wish there was an easy solution that I could summarize in a quip. Or even that the introduction of a vaccine would solve all our concerns. But my job isn’t to provide Alexandrians with false reassurances or empty promises. My job is to protect and promote health and wellbeing in our community. Alexandria Health Department carries out that work by following our public health justice principles to prioritize science-based recommendations, focus resources on saving lives, and engage and empower Alexandrians most in need. We can get through this pandemic but it will take all of us doing our part for our community.

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Thanksgiving is only three weeks away, and with coronavirus on the rise in much of the country, plans for the holiday are in flux.

The usual gatherings of family and friends are now subject to a calculation: is a big turkey dinner worth the risk of contracting a potentially deadly or debilitating disease?

For some, the solution will be a smaller dinner, perhaps with only some of the fixin’s. For others, however, it might be business as usual.

Asked about it last week on CNBC, two prominent figures in the medical field said the traditional Thanksgiving gathering was out for them this year.

What are your current turkey day plans? If they’ve changed from your usual Thanksgiving plans, let us know in the comments.

Photo via Sarah Lou/Flickr

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The man wanted in connection to a series of shootings in North Old Town early Monday morning is now in custody.

Virginia State Police say Mitchell D. Thompson, a 26-year-old Alexandria resident, turned himself in.

“He is in police custody and being processed on the felony warrant for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon,” said VSP spokeswoman Corinne Geller. “Additional charges are pending, as the investigation remains ongoing at this time.”

State police released additional information Monday night about incidents that led authorities to urge residents to lock themselves in their homes and eventually resulted in a shootout in which one suspect died.

The series of events started with an armed robbery at the Holiday Inn on First Street around 5 a.m. Almost an hour later, two suspects, including Thompson, were spotted, ran from police, and engaged in a shootout during which an officer was shot, VSP said. Just before 6:30 a.m., following a K9 search, one of the suspects was located and a second shootout between the suspect and police ensued, after which the suspect was found dead.

More from a state police press release:

The incident began Monday at approximately 5:01 a.m. when the Alexandria Police Department received a 911 call for shots being fired at a hotel in the 600 block of First Street in Old Town Alexandria. As officers were responding to the scene, two individuals involved in the shooting had fled the hotel on foot. A perimeter was immediately established and search efforts were underway. Further investigation at the hotel determined that an armed robbery had taken place inside the hotel. No one inside the hotel was injured.

At approximately 5:50 a.m., an Alexandria Police Officer located two suspects – one of them Thompson – and a foot pursuit was initiated. When the officer and the two adult males reached the intersection of North Royal Street and Second Street, the officer and one of the two suspects exchanged fire. The officer was shot and both suspects fled the scene again on foot. The officer has been treated and released for non-life threatening injuries sustained in the shooting.

The search perimeter was expanded and police K9 teams located, at approximately 6:24 a.m., one of the suspects near the intersection of Montgomery Street and North Fairfax Street. As Alexandria police officers engaged with the adult male suspect, shots were fired by both the suspect and officers on scene. The male suspect died at the scene. A stolen firearm was recovered in the male suspect’s possession. No law enforcement at this location were injured.

The man’s remains have been transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Manassas for examination and autopsy. Next of kin notification is still pending.

The investigation remains ongoing at this time into all three incidents by state police, with the assistance of the Alexandria Police Department and the ATF.

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