Newsletter

Morning Notes

Cortado Cafe opens in Alexandria’s West End — “A new coffee shop has opened in the Shoppes of Foxchase shopping center in Alexandria’s West End.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Council amends, renames Transportation Master Plan — “City Council approved an amendment to the Alexandria Transportation Master Plan during Saturday’s public hearing that aimed to expand the city’s focus on alternative modes of transit while addressing concerns such as congestion, accessibility and equity.” [Alexandria Times]

Voting starts for Del Ray Halloween contest — “Voting is now open for the People’s Choice Award for Del Ray’s Best Decorated Halloween House” [Visit Del Ray]

The Chamber ALX hosts business awards — “Tonight was epic! Best in Business 2021 did not disappoint with 200+ attendees and 14 restaurants.” [The Chamber ALX]

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Alexandria incumbent Mayor Justin Wilson (D) faced off against challenger Annetta Catchings (R) in a forum hosted by the Seminary Ridge Civic Association (SRCA) earlier this week.

Discussion of crime and policing took up much of the forum, marking one of the few instances where the candidates challenged each other directly. During a discussion of the opioid impact on Alexandria, Catchings put the blame for the issue on drugs on border control and drugs imported from China.

“I’m not going to tap dance around this issue, we know why we’re seeing an influx in this,” Catchings said. “It’s borders that are porous, basically open, those drugs are coming in from that direction and from China. I have the benefit of traveling as a flight attendant. I listened to people talk about their cars being stolen and used for drug runs. It’s become part of our norm, now, something we’ve come to expect. This is a federal problem, it needs to be addressed at the border to reduce the drugs on our streets so it doesn’t overwhelm the municipalities; the departments we have here. It needs to be a partnership at the federal level.”

In one of the few back-and-forths of the evening, Wilson blasted Catchings over her characterization of the epidemic.

“Suggesting border policy has some impact on opioid abuse is not only completely inaccurate and ignorant,” Wilson said, “it’s also incredibly hateful.”

While the opioid crisis is complicated and multi-layered, with 80% of heroin addiction starting with abuse of medically prescribed opioids, one of the deadliest drugs on the market today is fentanyl — 90% of which comes to the United States from China, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. And while heroin does predominately come to the United States via Mexico, that’s usually through legal ports of entry.

“I’m not going to sink to that level,” Catchings answered. “I’d just like to attack things with basic facts. I’ll let my comment rest as it is… For my opponent to say it’s ignorant, he’s turning a blind eye, just like he does to flooding and crime.”

Closer to home, Catchings accused Wilson of “cutting ties” with Alexandria police and abandoning plans for body cameras.

“When the Mayor signed resolution 2950 — right after George Floyd’s murder, that was one of the things that was promised to our police officers,” Catchings said. “When I read it, what really concerned me was they formed a citizen review board, which has subpoena power, that pretty much handcuffs police officers and keeps them from doing their job effectively. They formed that review board before giving our police officers body-worn cameras. Cameras should have come before the review board.”

The city has struggled for years to get a body camera program running for the police department. Wilson said that should be changing with the city receiving funding from the federal government for a pilot program as part of Congressman Don Beyer’s body-worn camera legislation.

“Cameras are the cheap part, staffing is a considerable expense,” Wilson said, “[but] I’m committed to bringing body-worn cameras to Alexandria.”

Catchings said Alexandria has seen a significant uptick in crime during Wilson’s mayorship, though Wilson pointed out violent crime nationwide has gone up over the last year for myriad reasons, not the least of which was the pandemic. Wilson also said the city should consider non-policing alternatives and investments “upstream” to help prevent crime.

Regarding those upstream investments, Wilson and Catchings also sparred over the guaranteed basic income program being implemented as part of the American Rescue Plan funding.

“In the pandemic, we saw those who live on edge of the poverty level were hit hardest,” Wilson said. “One of our goals was to create additional resiliency in our community. It’s an old idea, something Nixon, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld pioneered as a response to the Great Society. We decided there were some good ideas there. As I talked to folks about this issue I asked them to look at how much we spend to address the impacts of poverty… We’re going to experiment with that, whether these kinds of payments, in lieu of other assistance, are a more impactful way to address poverty. We want to come out of the pandemic in a stronger place than we were before, we need to go out of our comfort zone to do that.”

Catchings said she was concerned that non-Alexandrians could benefit from the program.

“This guaranteed income: it did not serve the people who live in this community and have lived in this community for some considerable time,” she said. “Anyone could come from outside of the city and put their name in a hat. You’re not really addressing the people who live in the community.”

There were a few issues where both candidates agreed: on the need to restore school resource officers to the schools, a need to continue regulating electronic scooter usage, and the need for Dominion Energy to invest more heavily in Alexandria’s infrastructure to prevent the kinds of frequent power outages the city has experienced recently.

Early voting is already underway for the general election, which is on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Via Facebook

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The Metro is operating at 40% service after the 7000 series railcars were pulled from service to be inspected for the same defect that recently caused a derailment in Arlington.

Metro has said that passengers should expect to wait up to 40 minutes for service on the Blue, Orange, Yellow, Green and Silver lines.

The service cuts come just as the transit system was starting to recover from a pandemic that caused ridership to tank. Even before that, there were concerns that Metro ridership was in a death spiral, and elected leaders like U.S. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly have blasted the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for ongoing issues that have eroded public trust.

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(Updated 10/22) One of the possible motives being the recent violence in Alexandria City Public Schools being investigated by the Alexandria Police Department seems to be, of all things, disagreements over music lyrics, a police officer said at a meeting of the Gang Prevention Task Force last night (Wednesday).

“The issues at the school… appear to be a dispute over rap music,” said Lt. Jerry Newcomb, commander of the Crimes Against Persons Section. “It’s an ongoing investigation. We’re hoping to find out more… It’s a dispute over lyrics. Some of them think that the lyrics they’ve come up with are proprietary in some way, but we’re still trying to dig into it. That’s the underlying reason that we’re hearing.”

Newcomb said the investigation is hindered by an unwillingness of witnesses to come forward.

“A lot of the problems are we do have witnesses on the scene, but when we go to talk to them, none of them want to talk to us,” Newcomb said. “Our information is extremely limited, but we’re doing the best we can.”

Michael Johnson, from the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, said that he recently attended a gang prevention conference in Virginia Beach and talked to officials from North Carolina, who said they’re having similar issues.

“These issues from the young guys rapping, that’s not just here, but it’s down to North Carolina and Georgia too,” Johnson said. “It’s coming from YouTube and Facebook. I don’t want anyone to think it’s just Alexandria, it’s happening along the whole East Coast. Guys are traveling from other areas who call themselves rappers and are engaging in this and our kids are doing the same.”

The meeting also included an update on gang activity, including a note from one official that while there are reports of MS-13 graffiti popping up around Old Town, but at least some of that is from a person police know to not actually be affiliated with the gang. Officials also said that some of the newer gangs getting police attention are 47 West Side and South Side Chirilagua, which police say is something of a farm team for MS-13. Police also said South Side Chirilagua are also partially merging with another crew and rebranding.

“These are the types of gangs that always worry us because we don’t have a lot of intel on their activities,” said Jay Lanham, director of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force.

Also, because it’s a city meeting with elected officials from the School Board and City Council, naturally the School Resource Officer discussion cropped up again. Both School Board member Ramee Gentry and City Council member Mo Seifeldein are on the task force — and both also leaving their elected office before the next meeting in January. During the meeting, Gentry urged the group to nudge the city toward reconsidering its earlier SRO position and urged “other elected officials” in the group to reconsider.

“Some of the discussion around SROs has been tainted,” Gentry said. “I really hope that the next batch of elected officials will listen to this group and carefully consider the best way to move forward in terms of best way to make our students feel accepted and protected in our school buildings.

Seifeldein, one of the School Board members who had advocated for SRO removal, noted that he was the only other elected official in the group.

“When I or Council members make policies, we follow facts and experts and peer-reviewed studies when we make policies,” Seifeldein said, “and I would hope that you do the same when you speak.”

Anyone with more information on any of these crimes is asked to reach out to the police’s non-emergency line: 703-746-4444

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Morning Notes

DASH ridership up 26% — “[DASH] says its Sept ridership was up 26% (215,963 vs 171,589 in Aug) after it launched revamped bus route network, made fares free. Probably got a bump from more reopening/activity.” [Twitter]

Mount Vernon Trail marked for bump removal — “The trail bumps were marked by spray paint with care with hopes that our volunteers would remove them from there. Volunteer to remove trail bumps on 10/23 or 10/30.” [Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail]

Magistrate fired over comments to Times — “Magistrate Elizabeth Fuller, the woman who filed the complaint that ultimately led to the bondsman in the Karla Dominguez homicide case
losing his license, has been fired for comments she made to the Alexandria Times earlier this month.” [Alexandria Times]

Where to drop off unused prescription drugs in Alexandria — “If you have expired or unused prescription drugs taking up space in your medicine cabinet, Alexandria residents will have an opportunity to safely get rid of them later this month.” [Patch]

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Amana Bhuiyan, courtesy photo

(Updated 5:50 p.m.) Amana Bhuiyan wakes up at 4 a.m. at her home in the Huntington neighborhood of Fairfax and immediately starts driving Uber. Around 9 or 10 a.m. she’ll switch to Instacart or DoorDash. Then around 2 or 3 p.m., it’s working at Walgreens until closing until around midnight. Then, another few hours of late-night Uber before returning home to sleep for two or three hours before starting it all again the next day.

It’s an exhausting schedule, but Bhuiyan said it’s what it takes to try t try to raise the money necessary to pay to remove a painful tumor.

“It’s exhausting, but when you have something to fight for, we make it work,” Bhuiyan said, trying to remain upbeat.

Bhuiyan has a tumor just above her hip near the lower part of her spine, which it painfully rubs up against. The tumor is complicated by Bhuiyan’s hemihyperplasia, which means she has extracellular growth on one side of her body. As a last resort, Bhuiyan is running a GoFundMe campaign to try to help cover the medical costs for removing the tumor. The GoFundMe has currently raised $18,640 with a $30,000 goal, which Bhuiyan said would help put a dent in the $150,000 in medical debt from her surgeries and her mother’s paralysis.

“I was born with [hemihyperplasia] which made it so that my tumor was hard to diagnose,” Bhuiyan said.

For two years, Bhuiyan said she jumped from doctor to doctor, from recommendation to recommendation, but each time she said she was told the procedure would be too risky to try and fix. Finally, Bhuiyan found a plastic surgeon willing to work on it. Bhuiyan already had one eight-hour surgery where she said the doctor was able to remove 65% of the tumor. But now, even as Bhuiyan is struggling with the debt from the first surgery, Bhuiyan said the tumor is slowly growing back. Now, even on the nights where she does have a few hours to sleep, Bhuiyan said it’s difficult due to the pain caused by the tumor.

“I already, right now from the first surgery, have maxed out that credit card,” Bhuiyan said. “I had amazing credit. I had a 753 credit score, and now I’m down to 562. I’m not being accepted for any loans because I’m apparently borrowing too much.”

That first surgery ended up costing over $50,000, which Bhuiyan said was all out-of-pocket. Bhuiyan, like many service industry workers that provide the labor pool for major apps, has no health insurance through her jobs. She said she applied for Obamacare last year but never heard back, and makes just enough from all of her jobs that she falls into the gap not protected under Medicaid. But even if she had insurance, Bhuiyan said the tumor isn’t considered a medically necessary surgery and isn’t covered by insurance for plastic surgery.

“I’ve been trying to get it to the point where hopefully I can pay off enough of my debt to try to get a loan to pay off the rest of this surgery because just the surgeon fee is $23,000,” Bhuiyan said. “Because he is a cosmetic surgeon, they don’t take insurance. It’s all out of pocket.”

On top of that work, Bhuiyan is taking classes at George Mason University, and she eventually wants to be a doctor and help people. In the meantime, Bhuiyan hopes at the very least that more people can understand the living situation for those less financially well-off in the area.

“We live in an area where most people have insurance and work for the government, and we don’t really know what the bottom percent of people are going through unless you have someone in your life going through it,” Bhuiyan said. We don’t usually see it. If nothing else, I’m doing this so people can be educated about it.”

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After achieving some funding from earlier grants, the City of Alexandria is going back to that well to try and finance more flood mitigation.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 26, the City Council is scheduled to review a request for a grant of up to $50 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and up to $10 million from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and Virginia Resources Authority (VRA).

The FEMA grant aims at helping localities fund hazard mitigation projects that reduce the risks for communities facing disasters and natural hazards, which those impacted by Alexandria’s historic flooding would say the city probably qualifies for. The pre-disaster mitigation grant funds planning, design, and construction of emergency prevention projects.

The state grant, the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund Grant, is specifically aimed at providing support for floodwater mitigation projects.

How much, if any, of this funding Alexandria would receive is unknown. Governor Ralph Northam recently approved $115,200 in grant funding for Alexandria — a relatively small amount of the $7.8 million pot allocated to projects nationwide. The funding would be welcome, as city leaders recently expressed a desire to rethink waterfront flood mitigation plans after they came back with $90 million as the cost-conscious option.

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It’s another beautiful, sunny day in Old Town where you occasionally can’t hear the person standing next to you speaking because an airplane from National Airport is flying directly overhead.

Sound familiar?

Airplane noise has been constant source of frustration in recent years for residents of Alexandria and neighborhoods in Fairfax just to the south. If you’ve complained that it seems like it’s gotten worse lately, the city confirmed that suspicion in a presentation for a meeting planned next Tuesday (Oct. 26).

“Aircraft take-offs (are) no longer staying over the Potomac River,” the report noted. “NextGen technology allows earlier turns, closer to the airport. FAA noise screening analysis showed an increase in noise for a few blocks in Alexandria. Fairfax County and Prince George’s County have similar noise issues.”

The city’s aim, according to the presentation, is to push that overhead airplane traffic toward the center of the river and further south.

“[The city objective is] to push the flight path to the east toward the center of the Potomac River, further away from the City,” the presentation said, “[and] reduce the number of early east and west turning movements before the Woodrow Wilson bridge.”

The presentation noted that City Manager Mark Jinks has been working with affected jurisdictions nearby — Prince George’s County and Fairfax County — to hire a consultant to study possible noise mitigation measures. The Study is $250,000 being split between the three jurisdictions.

Even so, the presentation warned that any potential fixes are still years way.

“Due to the long process, many stakeholders, and the backlog of flight path modifications under consideration by the FAA, it is expected that any proposed flight path modifications will not be reviewed and potentially changed for another two to three years,” the city said.

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Morning notes

Alexandria political cartoonist shifts to radio — “Following a 30-year political cartooning career, Steve Artley has transitioned his satirical prowess to another form: radio.” [Artley Cartoons]

National Industries for the Blind awarded $8.9 million contract — “National Industries for the Blind, Alexandria, Virginia, has been awarded a maximum $8,898,968 modification exercising the third one-year option period of a one-year base contract with four one-year option periods for moisture wicking t-shirts.” [Defense Daily]

Alexandria Times reviews local cappuccinos — “That’s why, for this edition of the Alexandria Times’ Port City Flavor section, I thought I would embark on a caffeine-infused adventure to compare cappuccinos at three of Alexandria’s most beloved coffee shops. I chose to stick to cappuccinos because I have a soft spot for them and honestly, who doesn’t enjoy a good cappuccino?” [Alexandria Times]

National Society of Professional Engineers looking for advocacy manager — “Initiate and lead NSPE Advocacy programs, overseeing all federal, state, and PAC activities and supervise Policy Associate with final approval from Senior Director.” [Roll Call]

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As part of an ongoing effort to commemorate civil rights efforts both past and ongoing, the city hosting a film screening and virtual discussion about Confederate statues around Virginia and their recent removal.

The discussion will center around How the Monuments Came Down, a documentary produced by Field Studio and the VPM Media Corporation.

The documentary focuses primarily on Richmond, with a look at the history of the statues and the culture around that. A virtual discussion tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 7 p.m. will be hosted by historian Lauranett Lee and Eugene Thompson, a former member of Alexandria’s Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Confederate Memorials and Street Names.

The committee, which met through 2015-2016, was part of a tempestuous fight over whether to rename some city streets or remove certain memorials. The committee eventually advised the renaming of Jefferson Davis Highway — now Richmond Highway — and to consider individual requests to rename streets that could be named for Confederate leaders. Discussions are still ongoing about renaming some streets, with the Alexandria Times reporting some local back-and-forth over Lee Street in Old Town.

While the committee voted to recommend that the Appomatox statue remain in place with context added to the site, the statue was ultimately removed last summer by the Daughters of the Confederacy after the city was granted authorization by the state to take it down.

The film How the Monuments Came Down is available to watch for free until tomorrow. Those interested in the discussion can register online.

Photo via Justin Wilson/Twitter

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