Alexandria City High School Executive Principal Peter Balas says that violence within the school is being handled and students caught fighting are being dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
In a letter to the Alexandria City High School community on Friday (October 1), Balas said that many of his 4,370 students have been traumatized by the pandemic and social/political upheavals over the last couple of years. He also said that a recent shooting of a student at the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center and the firecracker incident at a recent ACHS football game has added to a “heightened sensitivity” within the school.
“We have all been affected by the conflict among some students in our school and in the community,” Balas wrote. “With the unfortunate incidents at the football game and shopping center, there is heightened sensitivity among students and staff adding to the pressures of this unusual school year.”
Balas did not mention the security situation at the school, which is the largest high school in Virginia.
Many have criticized City Council’s defunding of the School Resource Officer program, which left no police presence inside of the high school and two middle schools, although police have been called several times this year because of fighting. In one instance, a juvenile was arrested for trespassing and assault and battery on ACHS grounds.
“As the Executive Principal of ACHS, I want to assure you that I do not, and will not, tolerate unsafe behaviors that disrupt the learning environment or the events that make high school a special time in most teenagers’ lives,” Balas said. “Please know that we all take these situations very seriously and deal with each case and each student with the utmost seriousness. Each incident of this school year has been handled by my administrative team and all sorts of consequences are considered.”
Balas said that his team is working with the ACPS Department of Student Services & Equity to plan “additional in-school activities that promote restorative practices” to support students “with their individual needs.”
“The events of the past two years have left many of our students, dare I say, most of our students and maybe even all of our students, feeling the impact of trauma,” he wrote. “The effects of trauma are varied. For teenagers who are still developing coping skills, the effects of trauma can manifest in behaviors that are oppositional and even impulsive.”
It was a busy fall week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.
Our top story this week was on a plan to completely close off the 100 block of King Street as a pedestrian-only zone. The plan has been in the works since 2019, and was put into action last year. ALXnow’s poll on the subject had very one-sided results, showing 91% (791 votes) in favor of a permanent change.
There was a momentous groundbreaking this week, as city leaders converged for the $454.4 million RiverRenew Tunnel Project. The project is a major overhaul to replace Old Town’s combined sewer system and prevent 120 million gallons of combined sewage from flowing into the Potomac River.
School violence has become a major issue in Alexandria, as videos of fights at schools are surfacing on the internet, there have been arrests at Alexandria City Public Schools, and protests in front of City Hall on Monday and Tuesday this week.
As for the Alexandria juvenile who was shot in the upper body at the McDonald’s in the Bradlee Shopping Center last week, police say that there have been no arrests yet.
- AlexRenew breaks ground for massive Old Town RiverRenew project
- BREAKING: A bunch of student fights were recorded at George Washington Middle School and put on Instagram
- Last year’s Alexandria City High School class had the highest graduation rate and the lowest student dropout rate ever
- Union says low staffing within Alexandria Fire Department threatens to shut down a fire station
- Upcoming Alexandria City Council and School Board election forums announced
- School Board Chair Meagan Alderton says ACPS leadership will be challenged by high Board turnover
- First apartment building in massive Carlyle Crossing redevelopment starts pre-leasing
- DASH and city leaders celebrate launch of bus system overhaul
- Alexandria starts distributing COVID-19 booster shots
- City Manager lays out plan to push back on evictions in Alexandria
- City looks to permanently ‘pedestrianize’ a block of King Street
- UPDATE: Alexandria man charged with homicide after stabbing at BJ’s Wholesale Club in Landmark area
- Total Wine is taking shape in Potomac Yard
- ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
- Man buys luxury car with fake driver’s license at Lindsay Lexus of Alexandria
- Protestors rally to return police to Alexandria schools, but officials say behind-the-scenes talks have stalled
- Man arrested for posting lewd photos of Alexandria stepsister on Twitter
- Firecracker shuts down Alexandria City High School football game
- Adoptable Chihuahua Dory only weighs 3.5 pounds
- Mayor Wilson: Potomac Yard construction delay ‘could have nothing to do with Metro station’
- Police: Juvenile shot at shopping center near Alexandria City High School
Have a safe weekend!
Update on 10/2/21 — The videos of the fights at the school have been removed from Instagram, and have since been removed from the story.
A number of recent student fights at George Washington Middle School have been posted on Instagram.
The videos have been taken by children at the school and show teachers and other students breaking up incidents. They have been posted by an Instagram user named gwmsfights2022.
The first video was posted on September 4, and the videos were taken this school year, as the school appears to be operating at capacity and students are wearing face masks. The most recent video was posted five days ago.
Alexandria City Public Schools is aware of the posts and reported them to Instagram. The school system said in a statement that, while there are no police on school grounds, the security situation at the school is under control.
“School administrators have addressed any incidents this year in accordance with standard protocols for disciplinary issues,” ACPS said in a statement. “School safety and security is a top priority for our schools. ACPS leadership works with our security team to maintain a safe environment for students and staff in our buildings. Student involvement in incidents is investigated by school administration to include witnesses and handled using a tiered system of support for all students involved.”
ACPS would not say how many students have been suspended at the school this year.
Many believe the fights are the result of no school resource officers within Alexandria City Public Schools. In a move that was decried by the School Board earlier this year, City Council defunded SROs in a 4-3 vote.
There was a protest on SROs earlier this week outside City Hall, as several violent incidents have alarmed parents and political candidates. In a recent interview with ALXnow, School Board Chair Meagan Alderton also said that she wants to salvage the student-police relationship.
“Not sure if it’s the lack of SROs or the fact that we kept the public school kids out of school for two years, but neither one of those decisions seem particularly good to me right now,” an ACPS parent told ALXnow.
This is not the first of fighting videos that has surfaced since school started on August 24. ALXnow recently posted a video of a brawl at Alexandria City High School.
(Updated at 10:40 a.m. Alexandria City High School’s rates increased to their highest levels ever, not the highest in Virginia) Alexandria City High School has a lot more than just a new name to be proud of. This week, the school system announced that its recent graduating class saw the highest on-time graduation rate and the lowest student dropout rate in the school’s history.
“ACPS saw a nine-percentage point increase in the on-time graduation rate, from 82% in 2020 to 91% in 2021, and a nine-percentage point decrease in the overall student dropout rate, from 14% in 2020 to 5% in 2021,” ACPS reported. “The previous highest on-time graduation rate for ACPS was 86% in 2013 and the previous lowest dropout rate was 8% in 2019.”
The school system has been challenged by the pandemic on multiple fronts, and the figures reflect a student body that was mostly studying at home for a year. To contend with the challenge of nearly the entire student body studying at home, ACPS developed a Graduation Task Force, which “monitored the graduation status of all ACPS students, identifying those who needed extra support and developing plans to help them stay on track for graduation,” according to ACPS.
The graduation rate for English learners increased by 19%, Hispanic students saw a 15% increase and economically disadvantaged students saw a 10% increase, according to ACPS.
“These historic gains in the 2021 graduation and student dropout rates reflect the daily hard work and determination of our students and staff. They deserve our congratulations and our deepest thanks,” School Board Chair Meagan L. Alderton said.
The 2021 graduation rates are as follows:
- Black: 93%
- Hispanic: 84%
- White: 98%
- Students with Disabilities: 95%
- English Learners: 90%
- Economically Disadvantaged: 88%
“We are thrilled that more than 90% of our students graduated in 2021, and that the number of students who dropped out of school was just one-third of what that rate was in 2020,” said Alexandria City High School Executive Principal Peter Balas. “We know there is still work to be done but I want to acknowledge the remarkable gains of our students, especially our Hispanic students and English learners, as we report the highest graduation rate ever for ACPS.
Weeks of tension and frustration over violence in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) boiled over last night with a small crowd of parents shouting at City Council members to restore the school resource officer (SRO) program.
In May, the City Council voted 4-3 in favor of reallocating funding away from SROs, a program started in 1997 that installed police officers in Alexandria’s high school and two middle schools. While the schools have additional security staff, SROs were authorized make arrests and carry weapons — a fact that made headlines in 2018 when an SRO accidentally fired his gun inside George Washington Middle School.
“My daughter with special needs is at ACPS,” said Jennifer Rohrbach, who drops her child off at school every day. “I witnessed two fights while dropping off my daughter. The lack of support for these kids, it’s distressing and upsetting. For me, as a lifelong Alexandrian… to hear those screams of distress, it’s unnecessary. There have been fights before, but not to this level.”
Rohrbach shared stories circulating among parents about extreme accounts of bullying and concerns about a “devious licks challenge” on TikTok. Rohrbach said the removal of SROs, intended to help reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, has made the schools unsafe for all students. Though she wore a shirt supporting Republican Mayoral candidate Annetta Catchings, Rohrbach said she’s traditionally liberal and that the protest was non-partisan.
“A lot of defunding the program was about the African American population, but this is about all kids,” Rohrbach said. “Now no one is being served. I’m looking for safe schools for all students.”
Catchings was one of those protesting in support of restoring the SRO program.
“I’m out here in solidarity with parents,” Catchings said. “On the drive over, I thought back to the start of my campaign holding an ‘Open ACPS‘ sign… we have to make school a safe environment that isn’t toxic.”
One of the protestors, Roxana Guerra, is the parent of a 7th grader at George Washington Middle School. Guerra said she’s been in a state of constant anxiety after her son was assaulted in school.
“Two weeks ago, my son was bullied,” Guerra said. “His mask was pulled and he was slapped in the face. I didn’t find out until another parent told me, then the dean confirmed it… that he was hurt. I have anxiety every day and hope that he comes home safe. Finding this out by a third party was concerning, and anything could happen if these kids are coming in with weapons. I want our kids to be safe.”
Others at the protest noted that parents are so on edge a firecracker set off an evacuation from Alexandria City High School’s stadium during a football game.
“I’m a native Alexandrian, a product of ACPS,” said Liz Fuller. “The violence in schools is shocking. Children are not safe in school… Administrators are being pushed down in fights, security is being pushed, children are suffering brain injuries. The City Council has to listen to parents. They need to be held accountable. They defunded SROs with no plan.”
Protestors cornered City Council members who voted to defund the program as they entered City Hall, demanding that they change their position. Two, John Chapman and Canek Aguirre, briefly spoke with the crowd. Amy Jackson, who had voted against defunding the program, received more of a hero’s welcome from the crowd as she entered the building. Read More
Facing no electoral opposition in her November reelection, Alexandria School Board Chair Meagan Alderton says the next three years will be full of challenges. For one thing, the incoming nine-member board will have six new faces who will be challenged to lead a school system beset by controversy.
“I am definitely concerned about the turnover of the board,” Alderton told ALXnow. “One of the greatest challenges in today’s public schools in general is what I call the revolving door. We really reached a critical juncture in which we can’t even expect and plan to our support personnel — teachers, principals, leadership, superintendents… To not stick around for at least five years is devastating to our potential for progress.”
While many have criticized the school system’s reopening to full-time instruction as taking too long, Alderton gives ACPS high marks — an eight out of 10. She credits ACPS staffers who provided students with laptops, free meals and virtual instruction with keeping things afloat.
“I found it to be very humbling,” she said. “And overall I think they (staff) really did a good job to ensure that everybody had access to meals. We continued to focus on supporting the whole child, regardless of the physical environment.”
Alderton, the second Black woman to lead as Board Chair since Shirley Tyler 40 years ago, was elected to represent District C in 2018. Her fellow District C members Ramee Gentry and Heather Thornton did not file to run for reelection, and candidates Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi and Christopher Harris are shoo-ins for the two open slots in the district.
She was named Board chair in an internal election in January, and is a former special education teacher at elementary and middle schools in the city. She is also a licensed Realtor, her husband is a track coach at Alexandria City High School and, like Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., her children attend private school.
Alderton said she sends her kids to private school for faith-based reasons.
“I didn’t come into the role to serve myself for the benefit of my own children,” she said. “I came into this role to use my skills and expertise in love for education as a benefit to all kids…. It’s a very private thing, it’s a faith based thing, and hopefully people can can see my heart and my dedication towards the work, because I know what needs to be done.”
Alderton’s term was also punctuated by the renaming of T.C. Williams High School and recent elimination of the School Resource Officer program by City Council. She says that there is a lot of work to do to rebuild the relationship between the Board and Council.
“I definitely have a good relationship with the mayor,” she said. “I expect that that will continue. I have found him to be supportive of the School Board, of the school division. In regard to what needs to happen in the future with Council, I think we’re going to have to do some really intentional work to rebuild the relationship.”
Alderton says that ACPS and the police department need to get creative in preserving its memorandum of understanding with the police department.
“I think it’s important for our students to have access to our police officers, not just when they’re out in the community,” Alderton told ALXnow. “I do want our police department to stay in touch with our schools. It is an important connection, and I’m sure we can come up with some good ideas.”
Alderton says that her defining characteristic is remaining calm under pressure.
“There’s so much going on around and swirling around, and there has been so much going on and swirling around during the pandemic,” she said. “Overall, I’m just a very calm person. I don’t find value in overreacting, and I have learned a lot about how to manage crisis. When everyone around you is in crisis, as a leader it is essential for you to be rational and to be what everyone else just can’t be in that moment, for a very justifiable reason. If you are going to lead, people need to be able to get some of that calmness and steadiness from you as a leader.”
What a busy week in Alexandria.
Our top story this week was on a juvenile who was shot outside the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center on Tuesday, Sept. 21. There have also been a number of concerning incidents at Alexandria City Public Schools, including a juvenile who was arrested for trespassing and assault and battery at Alexandria City High School.
Meanwhile, while the COVID-19 transmission rate remains high, public events are still happening in Alexandria.
- Connection Newspapers managing editor Kemal Kurspahic dies
- City Council approves new plastic bag tax for local grocery and convenience stores
- Electric scooter docks could replace some on-street parking in Alexandria
- City looks to state funding for Holmes Run Trail improvement and West End Transitway
- MacArthur Elementary shut down by water damage
- New Indian restaurant in Old Town eyes late October opening
- School Board to vote on transgender revisions in Alexandria City Public Schools
- ‘Fences’ is a triumph at The Little Theatre of Alexandria
- What’s the difference between Alexandria’s co-living policy and regular apartments?
- Government contractor in Alexandria under fire from Department of Labor for systemic racism in hiring practices
- Police: Juvenile shot at shopping center near Alexandria City High School
- Police dispatched three times for fighting at Alexandria City Public Schools in less than a month
- Police: Six hospitalized after overdoses on Alexandria-Fairfax border
- Poll: What do you think of Metro’s proposed Blue Line crossing to National Harbor?
- BREAKING: Flooding reported in Alexandria
- Interview: Port City Publius opens up about Alexandria
- BREAKING: Video shows brawl at Alexandria City High School cafeteria just two days after school starts
- Juvenile arrested for trespassing and assault and battery at Alexandria City High School
- Multiple violent charges dropped against Fairfax County man held without bond for assaulting police during arrest
- Preserving Arlandria’s affordability against gentrification could cost upward of $100 million
- JUST IN: One person injured after shots fired in West End Tuesday afternoon
Have a safe weekend!
The Alexandria School Board on Thursday (September 23) will vote Thursday on a number of policy and regulatory revisions on the treatment of transgender students.
Among the changes are proposals to not segregate extracurricular activities by gender and allowing students to dress according to their gender identity or gender expression. Student athletes would still, sometimes, be segregated.
“Dress expectations should allow students to dress in a manner consistent with their gender identity or gender expression, including attire required for school-related programs, activities and events,” ACPS notes in a staff memo. “An organization may only impose membership qualifications based on sex where based on competitive athletic skill or where the activity involved is a contact sport. However, membership shall not be denied solely on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”
The Board is making the changes to adhere to Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE’s) Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools, since the General Assembly now requires that all public schools in Virginia have inclusive policies regarding transgender students by the fall of 2021.
“Teachers, administrators, and other personnel employed on a full-time basis who support and interact with students are required to complete a mental health awareness training or similar program,” notes an ACPS memo. “In order to promote a positive school climate where all students feel safe and supported, regular education about transgender students will be included in such training.”
The regulatory revisions highlight eight issues, according to ACPS:
- Compliance with applicable nondiscrimination laws;
- Maintenance of a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment for all students;
- Prevention of and response to bullying and harassment;
- Maintenance of student records;
- Identification of students;
- Protection of student privacy and the confidentiality of sensitive information;
- Enforcement of sex-based dress codes; and
- Student participation in sex-specific school activities and events and use of school facilities. (“Activities and events” do not include athletics.)
If you’re looking to stay busy for a good cause, there are dozens of available volunteer opportunities in Alexandria.
Here’s Volunteer Alexandria’s list of new and upcoming opportunities.
- Active Shooter Training — Be prepared for the unthinkable by learning the “Run, Hide, Fight” model of an active shooter emergency. Lt. John M. Weinstein of Northern Virginia Community College will provide basic instruction on how to protect yourself and your loved ones if you are ever in this situation. Tuesday, September 28, 7:00 – 8:00 p.m at the Northern VA Community College – Alexandria Campus. Click HERE to sign-up.
- Alzheimer’s Association – Walk to End Alzheimer’s at National Harbor and the National Mall — Volunteers are needed on the day of the events to help with set up, sign placement, information services, promise flower distribution, cheerleaders, and route monitors. To learn more and register, click HERE for the September 25 Walk at National Harbor and click HERE for October 9 Walk on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
- Crossing guards needed help children get to school and home safely — ACPS need your help getting our kids to and from school safely. Volunteers will control traffic at already designated crosswalks to allow families to cross streets safely to and from school. Times would be 7:15 a.m. to 8:10 a.m. and 2:25 p.m. to 3:05 p.m. at various schools across the city. Click Here to sign-up.
- Deliver Meals to ACPS School Children — Senior Services of Alexandria is looking for volunteers to support school lunch delivery to families who have children learning virtually this fall. Volunteers are needed to pick up and deliver meals on Mondays and Wednesdays. Car and valid driver’s license required. Click HERE to express interest.
- Event support needed for Living Legends of Alexandria reception honoring volunteers — Living Legends of Alexandria is seeking volunteers for the event. Tasks may include assisting with live screening set up, crowd control, parking lot assistance for anyone needing help, and much more. The event is at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 30. Click HERE to sign up.
- Help with a 5K race — Run! Geek! Run! is a 5K race held each year with the proceeds going to the Child and Family Network Centers. Ironisitic is looking for volunteers to help our runners, assist with the water station, support the finish line, register individuals, cheer our runners along on the route, and clean-up after the race on Saturday, September 26. Click Here to sign-up.
- Help Beautify a Church – Meade Memorial Church is looking for someone to help maintain church grounds by cutting grass, trimming bushes and hedges, and pulling weeds. Hours are flexible and supplies are provided. Click Here to sign up.
- Kids games and card making for first responders – Join us at Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library on Saturday, September 25 from 10 a.m. to noon to make cards for first responders, police officers, and firefighters. We will also be playing a few games to learn about fire and earthquake safety! Click HERE to sign up.
- Teach a Child How to Read – Wright to Read volunteers work one-on-one, either virtually or in-person at a public space, with a student to improve their literacy skills for an hour a week. Wright to Read has been serving Alexandria’s children for over 40 years by providing one-on-one literacy tutoring and mentoring to Alexandria City Public Schools students. An online information session takes place on Thursday, September 30th at 6:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.
- Until Help Arrives – This virtual class will teach you how to recognize violent activities, respond safely, provide immediate rescue tactics to the injured, and report them to 9-1-1 efficiently. These are transferable skills are applicable to countless situations involving traumatic injury (e.g. car accident, household injury, or an active shooter). The next class will be held on Monday, November 1. Click here to sign up.
Who is this writer? Is Port City Publius more than one person?
Port City Publius wouldn’t answer those specific questions, but the writer opined on a number of Alexandria-centric topics in a recent interview.
ALXnow: You are very funny in your posts. Who are your favorite writers?
Port City Publius: Charlie Pierce is a good example of someone whose writing and worldview has influenced my approach; I definitely have an affinity for the ink-stained wretch set. Caitlin Flanagan writes the way I want to write, though the majority of her takes suck pretty bad. Alexandra Petri, without question. Tressie McMillan Cottom. James Baldwin. Ursula Le Guin. bell hooks. Mel Brooks. Tolkien, except for the Silmarillion which is terrible and anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves. C. Wright Mills and Arlie Russell Hochschild. All the writers in the Jezebel and Deadspin diaspora remain indispensable. Elizabeth Bruenig often makes me challenge and reassess my priors. I’ve read Jamelle Bouie and Matt Yglesias going back to when they were both at Slate. I think Jason Isbell has a lot of smart things to say.
ALXnow: What inspired you to embark as Port City Publius?
Port City Publius: You know the famous scene from Network, the one where the sweaty guy is shouting about how angry he is? Well that was me five years ago. I finally sat through one too many public meetings where the only testimony was from retirees with incredibly intense outlier opinions about how many buildings built after 1800 should exist (none) how much noise and fun is ok (also none) and how many working-class people could be permitted to try and eke out a life in this city (spoiler: it’s none again). It remains fu**ing wild to me that nearly anyone who wants to run a business in this city has to first put up with some guy named Carl who last worked for OMB in 1987 say that he’d really rather they only be open from 1-3pm on alternate Tuesdays because the shadows cast by business patrons might damage the rare book collection he keeps near the front windows of his home.
I knew from conversations with different groups of friends and sewing circles and tennis partners and drinking buddies that most people around here felt pretty differently about things, but this perspective wasn’t being heard or included in public dialogues because we have, uh, lives and sh**. So I set out to put a voice to that. To establish a counter-narrative to the intensely tedious NIMBY bull**** that had infected the waterfront plan, among other things at that time.
ALXnow: When do you decide to publish? Do you only strike when needed?
Port City Publius: First I ask myself “do I have real work to do this week” at which point the answer is usually yes and nothing gets published. Beyond that, I’m typically looking for something to catalyze my internal barometer of “well that sh** can’t stand.”
ALXnow: What are you going to write about next? Is there a list of topics, or do you shoot from the hip?
Port City Publius: As Gloria Steinem famously said, without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming after all is a form of planning. I’m sorry what was the question again?
ALXnow: What is your political philosophy? Has it changed over the last few years? What prompted that change?
Port City Publius: I think we have an obligation to prevent the immiseration of each and every one of our fellow citizens, and that government intervention is a necessary and crucial part of that. I’d say I generally follow the teachings and live the values that right-wing Christians pretend to believe in: you know, loving your neighbor and taking care of the poor and seeing the worth and potential in every person and whatnot.
To the extent that you can map me onto the political spectrum, I’d fairly describe myself as progressive; but I also think the left/right dichotomy is often reductive, and both mainstream political parties can be pretty lame and show excessive deference to the status quo at the expense of pursuing transformative change.
ALXnow: You like saying ‘Yes’ to development and decry NIMBY’s. Can you spell out the future that you’d like to see realized for the city?
Port City Publius: Used in this context “development” is an essentially useless term that has been effectively weaponized by the modern inheritors of the Know-Nothings. I think we should say yes to a wide variety of things that move this city forward in a manner that benefits a broad constituency of residents and interests, even if the proposed thing looks and feels different and isn’t made of bricks and cobblestone. I would not broadly describe each of these things as “development.” If I built you a gorgeous brand-new public waterfront park, would you call that “development”? If I tear down an over-enrolled and under-maintained elementary school and replace it with a beautiful new building, is that “development”? I think it tremendously sucks that the grumps and busybodies in this city get to describe anything they benefit from as “investment” and anything they think inconveniences them as “development.”
The future I want is one in which we radically reduce the resident veto over the ability to do business here. This is not the goddamn United States Senate, old white men do not have a divine right to filibuster the necessary progress desired by the majority of the populace. I want a future where more people try out the words “sure, why not” rather than their reflexive “well, actually.”
There exists an intense bias toward the preservation of the status quo, even on the part of (especially on the part of) people who otherwise think of themselves as well-meaning. I am reminded of King’s disappointment in the white moderate, and his searing observation that “shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will” and really the point I’m trying to make here is that more of you need to read “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
The future that I want for us is one in which we do things that make us feel uncomfortable because feeling a little uncomfortable is actually ok.
ALXnow: With the most recent primary election, is the city headed in the direction you want?
Port City Publius: I think the seven candidates on the Democratic slate generally seem like well-intentioned, thoughtful people. And I think we can roughly extrapolate that they would govern in a well-intentioned and thoughtful manner. I think it’s hilarious that a dude who worked for Jesse Helms is laboring under the deluded belief that someone who accommodated and enabled a notorious segregationist can get elected here.
But I also think the notion of the city being headed in a particular direction lasts exactly as long as the interval of time between each council public hearing. The people on that dais are complicated, flawed, fallible people — just like each of us. The exercise here is not to bestow upon them some blank cheque mandate to go forth and rule over Pax Alexandria, may the sun never set on our empire. No, we should challenge them and hold them to account and measure their success by the fidelity to which they hew to the shared values they have publicly committed to. This is not baseball. You should not be a fan of one party or another–of one politician or another–and in doing so blindly overlook the ways in which they are failing to live up to the best version of themselves. They are public servants. They are an avatar of our collective will, and we should never lose sight of that.
That all being said: do I think we are headed in a better direction right now than if the candidates mostly running because they thought city council was like a Super HOA had won? Yes. Yes I do think we are headed in a better direction.
Port City Publius: That they probably shouldn’t have kicked so many people out of the group.
No, listen. I sort of mean that. Their thin-skinned pettiness is absolutely the reason they didn’t win anyone around to their point of view. They kicked out so many people! And every one of those people told ten other people (who told ten other people, and so on) what a joke that group was. If you create an environment in which you kick out anyone who doesn’t gleefully parrot the propaganda you’re pushing, what kind of group will you be left with? Please don’t say the modern Republican party. Ok fine I see how I left myself open to that joke. Very good. You’re very clever, we get it.
My point is you can’t persuade anyone if you drive off everyone that doesn’t agree with you. And also that people will see right through your bullsh** when you define “integrity” as “willingness to do the highly specific and sort of weird sh** I want” and constantly flex that definition based on the proximate needs of acting out your irrational hatred of a certain local politician.
ALXnow: Are groups like BIBA merely a new-normal part of local conversations? Or is this a direct result of politics getting turned up 11 notches and Republicans trying to influence things?
Port City Publius: I think this is a great reminder that politics is hard and best not left to sloppy amateurs in an information bubble fixated on issues that most people genuinely don’t give a sh** about.
ALXnow: Aren’t you essentially the same kind of critical voice as BIBA — a resident(s) who has had it with what they perceive to be ridiculous elements in the community? Or is your voice representative of Democratic values and theirs is representative of… something else?
Port City Publius: I don’t see an equivalence. I deploy righteous indignation and world-weary exhaustion as a rhetorical technique in service of advocating for policies and actions that largely benefit people that aren’t me. They think someone paved a road wrong for Suspicious Reasons.
I think if I woke up one morning and decided to dedicate most of my free time to complaining on the internet about all of the ways that I was personally inconvenienced by things meant to improve the lives of people that have less than me, well, I think I’d have to do quite a bit of soul searching about that.
My sincere advice for people in this city–for anyone anywhere really–is to be more selfless. Stop looking for ways that the ordinary progress of the world is secretly a targeted attack on you, personally. Stop looking for reasons to be so upset about everything. Hurl your laptop into a river and live your life, which I need you to understand is really pretty great relative to any global or historic measure. Facebook and numerous other parts of the modern media ecosystem are intentionally making you upset so they can sell you brain pills and reverse mortgages and whateverthefu** else. You don’t have to play their game. You really don’t.
ALXnow: Are you going to endorse any City Council or School Board candidates? If so, who?
Port City Publius: I think we should abolish the school board and return control of schools to the city. Does that count as an endorsement?
ALXnow: It doesn’t look like you’re anti-establishment. You are often highly critical of the City’s critics by backing Mayor Justin Wilson and city plans and departments. What elements of the current government are you critical of? How are the City manager’s office, police department and school system holding up, for instance?
Port City Publius: I think if we had actively and intentionally set out to have terrible schools leadership during this crisis it would have been utterly indistinguishable from our actual experience. We’ve gotten this far through a mixture of inertia, dumb luck, and the titanic efforts of parents and families and individual teachers and administrators; because it has been astonishingly clear that the superintendent is terrified to make any choice that could ultimately be deemed unsuccessful and have that failure accrue to him and his reputation. He’s the football coach that always punts on 4th and 1 because that’s what convention says and if you follow convention and fu** up, you don’t get blamed, the punter does. This dude is writing a book about educational leadership! A book! That is off the charts Andrew Cuomo energy! I hope the Raleigh Unified School District–or wherever the hell he finds the next rung of the ladder he thinks he’s climbing–hurries up and makes him an offer so our community can get someone with creativity and moral courage into this job. A book. Jesus.
The police seem fine.
ALXnow: You are not always praising local politicians, like former Mayor Silberberg. Are you connected to the @ALXBottle handle? It reads similarly to your style, as you both are highly critical of her.
Port City Publius: Surely you can accept that the sample size of local residents who think the former mayor was a dilettante who never bothered to learn or execute the core competencies of the role she was serving in is an N larger than 1.
Besides, my burner account is a Ron Swanson parody joint. I don’t have time to run another one.
ALXnow: How would you rate Justin Wilson’s performance as mayor?
Port City Publius: 85% Fresh.
ALXnow: Why keep your identity secret? Are you maintaining anonymity as an effort to protect your butler? What happens if you write under your real name? Could you lose your day job?
Port City Publius: I think if my identity came out, most people would think it was unbecoming of a former secretary of state and presidential candidate to write an ongoing series of essays about a city she’s never lived in. Plus I already got in enough trouble for the email server thing, I’m not just going to hand the New York Times another round of bullsh** for Peggy Noonan to freebase, you know what I mean?
ALXnow: When you write, “Port City Publius is committed to seeing Alexandria thrive for generations to come,” what does that mean? What kind of commitment are you talking about? Like, no matter what you won’t move away and will keep writing?
Port City Publius: It means that all of us need to be better about making choices that don’t directly or immediately benefit ourselves; but are instead done in the interest of improving the lives of people we will never know or never meet. We live in a society, man.
ALXnow: Alexandria City Public Schools have been criticized for their handling of the pandemic. While a broad question, how do you think the school system is doing and how would you characterize the effectiveness of their leadership at the upper-staff and elected levels?
Port City Publius: I think I answered this a few questions ago when I called the superintendent a mendacious hack.
ALXnow: What issues are you looking at in your crystal ball affecting the city? Increased taxes? Employee compensation? Affordable housing? Flooding? Development? These seem like perpetual problems that have plagued the city for generations.
Port City Publius: I haven’t seen anyone talking about renaming streets in Old Town so I think I’ll probably tackle that? In all seriousness – everything you list here is really important and are each deserving of substantive dialogue and consideration. And there has been a great deal of that already, on a wide range of forums. One of the reasons that I feel so very lucky to live in this city is to be around so many people who both care about making things better and apply their considerable skills and talents to that task. I’d embrace the chance to add clarity and purpose to the discussion of any of these issues, should my thoughts come together in a way worth sharing. As long as, you know, the Emmys aren’t on or something.