Alexandria, VA

It was another busy week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

This week, ALXnow profiled Mayor Justin Wilson and his opponent, former Mayor Allison Silberberg. The pair are facing off in the June 8 Democratic primary, and have vastly different ideas on city governance.

Alexandria Police released its 2020 crime data this week, revealing a 19% increase in Part 1 crime and 15% reduction in Nuisance crimes. ALXnow also reported a number of noteworthy crime stories, including the release of a video showing a chase suspect who died after his arrest in D.C. on April 12, and the indictment of a West End murder suspect.

This week also brought the unbelievable story of locals chasing down suspected shoplifters in Del Ray.

On the vaccine front, the Alexandria Health Department paused Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, following new concerns about potential side effects.

In school news, Alexandria City Public Schools will shift to three feet distancing in classrooms on April 26. Additionally, the School Board has started a conversation on reducing the number of members from nine to six.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. BREAKING: ‘Alexandria City High School’ chosen as replacement name for T.C. Williams High School
  2. JUST IN: Dr. Stephen Haering suddenly retires as director of Alexandria Health Department
  3. Southern Towers residents nervous as landlord steps up eviction proceedings
  4. Man stabbed at Old Town intersection
  5. NEW: Locals chase down suspected shoplifters in Del Ray
  6. JUST IN: T.C. Williams JV football team walks off field after alleged racial slur, spitting incident
  7. Man faces 10 years for DWI in horrific West End crash in Safeway parking lot
  8. Planning Commission approves controversial subdivision, plants potential loophole for future denial
  9. JUST IN: Video released of police arresting chase suspect who died in D.C.
  10. JUST IN: Six Alexandria Police officers put on administrative duties after chase suspect dies
  11. JUST IN: West End murder suspect faces life plus 13 years in prison

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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A 23-year-old Washington, D.C. man faces at least two years in prison for allegedly breaking into two Alexandria pharmacies late last year.

The suspect will go to court April 28  on two counts of entering a structure to commit larceny and stealing more than $1,000 from the Walgreens at 1517 Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray on Dec. 8, 2020, and the MedPlus pharmacy at 5130 Duke Street in the West End, on Dec. 18.

Alexandria Police identified the suspect via security footage. The suspect was seen with an unidentified man allegedly stealing narcotics and then getting into a dark-colored Dodge Charge in the parking lot.

The suspect was not arrested after the discovery.

Instead, police placed a GPS tracker on the Dodge Charger and 10 days later discovered that it was parked in front of the MedPlus pharmacy at the same time that it was being robbed of narcotics, according to a search warrant affidavit.

APD, in coordination with the Metropolitan Police Department, caught up with the suspect at his home in northeast D.C. He was arrested on Jan. 26, and remains in the city jail.

There, officers found “narcotics listed as stolen by employees of both MedPlus and Walgreens,” according to police.

Walgreens and MedPlus photos via Google Maps

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A 34-year-old Arlington man was charged with distributing methamphetamine after reporting to police that he was the victim of an armed robbery in his fifth floor room at the Embassy Suites in Old Town.

On March 24, at around 7:15 a.m., Alexandria Police responded to a 911 call and met the suspect in the lobby. He told police that he’d just been robbed of money by a man with a knife in his room. He also said that a backpack belonging to a friend of his was stolen.

The officer asked if there was anything illegal in the room, and the suspect reportedly said, “There is some meth in the room, but it’s for personal use,” according to a police search warrant affidavit.

In the room, the officer found a clear bag, inside of which was a glass pipe. The officer asked the suspect what the pipe was for, and he reportedly said it was for smoking methamphetamine.

Later that day, officers searched the room and, in the safe, found 144 grams of suspected methamphetamine, marijuana and thousands of dollars. They also found digital scales, empty plastic bags and “numerous” syringes in a desk drawer, “one of which contained an unknown suspected narcotic liquid while the others appeared to be empty,” according to police.

The suspect was booked and released later that day on his own recognizance. The man suspected of robbing him at knifepoint was not arrested.

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Nuisance crimes fell nearly 15% last year in Alexandria, and it’s largely due to the decriminalization of marijuana and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to police.

On Friday, the Alexandria Police Department released its stats on Nuisance crimes, which are “unreasonable and unlawful use of property, which causes inconvenience or damage to others.” They include destruction of property/vandalism incidents, drug offenses and disorderly conduct.

“The Covid-19 pandemic and the decriminalization of marijuana impacted nuisance crimes in 2020,” said Police Chief Michael Brown in a statement. “Nightlife activities were largely shutdown or restricted starting in mid-March, which impacted nuisance crimes involving alcohol.”

Earlier this month, police also revealed a 19% increase in Part 1 crime (crimes against people) in 2020 versus 2019.

As for Nuisance crimes, there was a 28% increase in destruction of property/vandalism calls for service, while public drunkenness fell 28%, driving under the influence fell nearly 40%, and liquor law violations dropped 54%.

There was also a 38% decline in drug and narcotic offenses. Marijuana was decriminalized last July, and since then anyone caught with up to once ounce is issued a $25 civil fine.

Below are the 2020 and 2019 Nuisance crime stats for Alexandria:

2020 Part 2 Nuisance Crimes Chart

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It’s no secret that Del Ray loves its dogs, and next month a new mural will be unveiled in their honor.

For the last month, local artist Patrick Kirwin has been working on the “Dogs Of Del Ray” mural, which is on the north side of Stomping Ground, facing the Pat Miller Neighborhood Square in the heart of Del Ray.

“It’ll last forever, or as long as the siding lasts,” Krwin said. “The trick is balancing the eyes, getting them right according to the axis on the head gives them their personality.”

Del Ray is full of personalities, like Dodger, Olive, Sadie and Aspin. Sue Kovalsky’s dog, Barley, for instance, will walk right up and lean on strangers on Mount Vernon Avenue — just to get a friendly pet.

Pat Miller came up with the idea with neighbor Karen Johnson.

“Dogs bring a lot to Del Ray,” Miller said. “When you’re out walking your dog, you always stop and talk to the next person that has a dog, so you get to know the community. And the dogs start liking each other and they start like being together.”

Miller says that the waiting list for dog portraits is completely full, and that some of the paintings are from dogs who have passed on.

“It was a tear-jerker, a way to memorialize their dog,” she said. “And that’s important because dogs are all about love and fun.”

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Morning Notes

Alexandria health director reflects on sudden retirement, tenure with city — “When Dr. Stephen Haering, director of the Alexandria Health Department for the past 11 years, unexpectedly announced his retirement on April 9, he did so for what he called ‘deeply personal’ reasons. Haering, whose retirement was effective immediately according to a city news release, told the Times in an interview that his departure was ‘not associated with the pandemic response.'” [Alex Times]

Vaccination drive brings a dose of hope for restaurant workers — “More than 1,000 restaurant and small business employees have filed through the doors of the old Fireflies restaurant over the past few weeks with the same purpose: receiving COVID-19 vaccinations. The location’s current vacancy made this the perfect site to administer such a large number of shots, Bill Blackburn, restaurateur and co-owner of Homegrown Restaurant Group, said. Blackburn joined forces with community organizer Charlotte Hall and Scott Shaw of Alexandria Restaurant Partners – who donated the space – to orchestrate the Alexandria Restaurant Drive whereby restaurant workers could receive vaccinations in a streamlined way.” [Alex Times]

Bren Mar Park demolition project to begin — “Demolition work will begin at Bren Mar Park on Collier Lane and Edsall Road in Alexandria, Virginia, as the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) removes a home on the property.” [Fairfax County]

Reimagined ‘Taste Of Old Town North’ to be held over 2 months — “The Reimagined Taste of Old Town North will start on April 21 and will continue through June 21. During the two-month period, residents can purchase a Taste Passport for $10 to use at participating businesses. These businesses will offer discounts to Passport holders.” [Patch]

Today’s weather — “Intervals of clouds and sunshine (during the day). High 63F. Winds WNW at 10 to 20 mph… A few clouds from time to time (in the evening). Low 44F. Winds NW at 10 to 20 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Taekwondo instructors and camp counselors — “Our growing company is currently seeking motivated and enthusiastic individuals who are GREAT with people to join our team at multiple locations. Our programs include martial arts classes for all ages, as well as After-school & Summer Camp programs for children 6-12 years old. Work hours tend to fall in the afternoons, evenings and Saturday mornings. This is a part-time position that can lead to a full-time position with excellent opportunity for advancement.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson doesn’t want to hold any other political office. He also wants to be elected at least once more in November, and in less than two months he’ll square off in a Democratic primary rematch against his political rival, former Mayor Allison Silberberg.

Wilson says the June 8 primary really isn’t about he and Silberberg, but more about the direction that the city wants to go. In fact, he never mentioned his opponent by name during a 45-minute conversation with ALXnow. He’s raised $90,000 to Silberberg’s $64,000, hired Henry Watkins (Sen. Adam Ebbin’s Chief of staff) as his campaign manager, and has a goal of knocking on more than 2,000 doors.

“We’re talking about the future of the city,” Wilson said. “I think what you’re going to hear me talk about in this election is policies designed to protect the city’s future, protect our residents and make sure that we build a more resilient city coming after this horrible shock of the last year.”

Still, Wilson — an admitted social media addict — has lately been posting about numerous 6-1 votes that went through during Silberberg’s tenure as Mayor. Wilson, who was vice mayor under Silberberg from 2016 to 2019, led most of Council’s opposition to the then-Mayor on such issues as development of the Silverado Memory Care facility, funding construction of MacArthur Elementary School, and approving The Spire affordable housing project. He does not mention Silberberg in the posts, only hinting that she made wrong decisions.

“If it’s unspoken, it’s gonna stay unspoken,” Wilson said. “I’m focusing on these efforts because they are benefiting our community.”

The 42-year-old Wilson is married with two children and lives in Del Ray. For his day job, he is a senior manager for Amtrak. He was elected in a special election to Council in 2007 after the resignation of then-Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald. He lost reelection in 2009, was elected in 2012 and was elected as Vice Mayor in 2015. He then defeated Silberberg in the Democratic primary for mayor in 2018.

The last 13 months of the pandemic have brought historic change to Alexandria, and now Wilson wants to go back to in-person City Council meetings.

“I think we should be back already,” Wilson told ALXnow. “My colleagues (on Council) are uncomfortable, so it’ll be up to my colleagues to decide when we go back.”

Wilson said he will decide on a running for third term at the conclusion of his second.

“I have no desires for any other elected office,” Wilson told ALXnow. “This is the office that I wanted to serve in. This is the office that I suspect will be my last elected office.”

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The deadline to vote on the 12 choicest matchbooks in Del Ray is 11:59 p.m. tonight (April 15).

Alexandria artist Laurel Prucha Moran has painted watercolor matchbook designs of more than 30 Del Ray restaurants, including Los Tios Grill, Thai Peppers, The Dairy Godmother and Spice Kraft.

The contest is sponsored by Made In ALX, an online local makers market founded last year by Lore Burek and Alexandria Living Magazine publisher Beth Lawton.

“I am donating 25% of the Del Ray print purchase price to ALIVE!” Moran said in an email. “If the print doesn’t end up with the exact matchbooks you prefer, I have a custom grouping option on my website and for each custom order, I donate the cost of a hot meal to the charity Hook Hall Helps which provides food in the DC region for restaurant industry workers during the pandemic.”

Lawton said that more than 1,300 votes have been cast so far, and the top three restaurants are:

“We thought this was a fun way to combine local art, our favorite restaurants and give back to the community at the same time,” Lawton said. “On the cusp, all around the 12th spot, are Cheesetique, Northside 10, Stomping Ground and Holy Cow. If people rally, they can really influence the turnout.”

Photo via Made In ALX

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-31) was in Old Town Thursday to introduce “Women For McClellan”, an initiative to send more than 75 her female supporters around the state in the run up to the June 8 Democratic primary.

McLellan held the event outside fibre space in Old Town, although shop owner Danielle Romanetti could not participate. It was her second event outside the shop, which has gained attention since being visited by Vice President Kamala Harris and being featured on GMA3 and Lifetime.

“It is time that women, and especially Black women who have been the backbone of our party, who have been the backbone of economic opportunity, who have been the essential care workforce — it is time their needs and their perspectives are heard and met,” McClellan said. “Even in 2021, we still have to educate policymakers that sexual harassment and workplace harassment is real, and that women across Virginia face it every single day. It is time for that new perspective, and it is time for someone with that experience to solve those problems on day one.”

Romanetti said that McClellan is a hard-working legislator.

“Sen. McClellan has 15 years of experience as a legislator in Virginia and has shown that she is both thoughtful and hard working,” Romanetti told ALXnow after the event. “It is time that our state elects a woman to our highest office, and I’m proud to support her candidacy.”

While McClellan did not delve into specific policy positions, she was publicly endorsed Thursday by former Congresswoman Leslie Byrne and State Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33).

“There’s a saying in both politics and business,” Byrne said. “Just don’t tell me what you’re going to do. Show me what you’ve done… She has done so much over her life. She does for the Commonwealth what I hope every citizen would do. She works to make it better.”

McClellan currently trails in third place behind former Governor Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Jennifer Carrol Foy in fundraising. She’s the vice chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, and spent 11 years in the House of Delegates before being elected in a special election to the Senate in 2017.

She also said that her new group of supporters will help “shatter the glass ceiling” that has kept women out of the governor’s mansion.

“When my grandparents and parents fought for the right to vote, for the right to be treated like other citizens, they taught me through their life experience growing up in the Depression as they did under the tyranny of Jim Crow, that at its best government is a force that helps some people, that solves their problems and makes the community better. But at its worst, it oppresses some to the benefit of others,” she said.

McClellan continued, “As we face the worst health pandemic in 100 years, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a reckoning with racial injustice, a growing loss in faith that Virginians have in government’s ability to understand and care about their problems, let alone solve them — we need a new perspective in the governor’s mansion. Virginia has the worst record of elected women to office. It’s time to change that. We’re going to change that.”

Courtesy photo

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Sara Abbas was momentarily speechless.

Earlier this month, officials with the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria faked her out on a scheduled Zoom interview.

After she answered a few basic questions, they announced that she just won the first-ever $40,000 Titans In Tech Scholarship. The next thing she knew the call was joined by Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., T.C Williams principal Peter Balas, SFA Director Beth Lovain and her mentor Brett Sirois, a 2007 Titan alum and creator of the scholarship.

It was a surprising moment, and that’s when Abbas stood up and walked away from the camera to tell her family the good news.

“I was so shocked,” Abbas told ALXnow. “They’d already made their decision.”

Hutchings received the scholarship when he attended T.C. in 1995.

“Sara, this scholarship helped pave the way for my success and I know it will do that for you,” Hutchings said. “As a woman and a person of color entering the computer science world and looking to help students of color who follow behind you, I can see that you are on the way to change the world, that you are going to make a difference.”

Balas said that the scholarship will be a game-changer for Abbas.

“This scholarship is going to be a game-changer for you and your family,” he said. “And I can see that you are going to be a game-changer, too.”

There has been a 25% increase in applications for Scholarship Fund of Alexandria awards, and $525,000 is being given out to 180 seniors this year at its 35th anniversary spring gala on April 24. The Scholarship Fund has awarded $16.5 million to nearly 5,000 Alexandria students over the last 35 years.

“As a TC Alum and Alexandria native, I wanted to find a way to give back to the community that helped me get to where I am today,” Sirois said. “This scholarship was created to help a student like Sara jumpstart their career in technology and I’m happy to play a small part in her future success. Sara has worked so hard to get so far already, I have no doubt that the sky is the limit for her.”

Abbas will study computer science at Virginia Tech this fall. She said she wants to help children learn coding.

“I’m really honored to have been awarded the Titans Tech scholarship,” Abbas said. “It’s very meaningful, not only financially but emotionally as well because it strengthened my belief in myself. There’s no doubt that we’ll be able to accomplish my professional goals.”

In her scholarship essay, she wrote about the digital divide between the haves and have nots in society.

“I was writing how the link between technology and power, and how we need to care about making communities a more equitable place, and need to make computer science education available to everyone, since students of color are disadvantaged youth,” she said. “I’m really hoping to work in the middle schools in the surrounding Blacksburg area.

Photo via Scholarship Fund of Alexandria

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