(Updated 3:15 p.m.) Early voting in the upcoming Democratic Primary is scheduled to start later this Friday, May 6.
The only election on the ballot is the Democratic nomination for the 8th District House of Representatives seat. Victoria Virasingh is hoping to unseat Don Beyer, the 8th District Representative for eight years.
Virasingh and Beyer have little difference in way of policies and most of the debates have featured the pair in agreement on most issues. Virasingh has argued that her unique perspective as the daughter of immigrants who worked minimum wage jobs gives her a unique insight Beyer doesn’t share, the Washington Post reported.
Alexandria Republicans, meanwhile, are holding a convention on May 21.
Virginia voters do not register by party, so anyone registered in Alexandria can vote in-person at the Office of Voter Registration & Elections (132 North Royal Street) or by mail
The deadline to register to vote in the Primary is May 31. The Primary is scheduled for June 21.
With the pandemic and snow prompting a completely virtual ceremony, the new Alexandria School Board was sworn into office on Tuesday (Jan. 4).
Board Chair Meagan Alderton was also unanimously reelected by her colleagues to serve as leader for another year, and Member Jacinta Greene was named vice chair.
“I am looking forward to another fun ride with you all this coming year,” Alderton told the new Board. “I really appreciate the support, and I definitely will always hope to never let you guys down.”
After a tough term overshadowed by COVID-19, only three members sought reelection in November — Alderton (District C), Greene and Michelle Rief (both in District A).
“Thank you for your everyone for your vote of confidence in me in this role, and I will to the best of my ability wholeheartedly serve you as vice chair,” Greene told her colleagues.
Also in District A, former City Councilman Willie F. Bailey took the oath. In District B, Ashley Simpson Baird, Tammy S. Ignacio and former School Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz were sworn in, as were Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi and Christopher Harris representing District C.
The School Board’s next meeting is on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Last night our colleagues on the @ACPSk12 School Board took their oaths of office for the next 3 years.
The partnership between City Council and our School Board is critical as we work to ensure the success of every child.
Congrats to our new Board!
Let’s get to work. pic.twitter.com/0xSHiohajE
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) January 5, 2022
After nearly two years under COVID-19, the new Alexandria City Council was sworn into office Monday night (Jan. 3).
Monday’s snow storm and rising COVID numbers made the ceremony a virtual event. The specter of COVID loomed large over the ceremony, too, as Mayor Justin Wilson took the oath from Spain, where he has been stuck since contracting the virus during a holiday trip with his family.
“Alexandria needs to be a city that does big things,” Wilson said. “But it also needs to be a city that does less things, and does them better.”
It’s Wilson’s second term as mayor. Married with two children, he was elected in a special election to Council in 2007 after the resignation of then-Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald. He lost reelection to Council in 2009, was elected in 2012 and was elected as Vice Mayor in 2015. For his day job, he is a senior manager for Amtrak.
The new Council will have to mull a tax increase, as City services will be strained by COVID for years, and the police and fire departments have long decried low pay, morale and high turnover.
“If there is anyone that expects that we can simply layer this collection of new services on top of what we have always done, and expect it neither to cost us dramatically more nor impact our ability to execute, the dose of the reality that is coming is going to be especially harsh,” Wilson said. “We have seen in recent days and weeks our basic services strained, challenged, compromised. This Council must do the hard work of determining not just what we can fit into one annual budget, or even a multi-year capital plan. This is broader than that. If we are facing a once in a generation reconciliation of the role, scope and function of local government, this Council must bravely take on that mission to figure out what we don’t do in the future and who’s gonna do it, and what we should keep doing… and how we do it better than anyone else.”
Council unanimously elected Councilwoman Amy Jackson as vice mayor, since she received the most votes among council candidates in the November election.
“We’re going to continue with our COVID-19 recovery,” Jackson said. “I know Alexandria is resilient, I know our children, our Alexandria Health director, along with our city manager, all of my colleagues and our city staff are working to help everyone get on the same page concerning our vaccinations and getting tests, and all of that will help us be a better Alexandria on the other side of this, a healthier Alexandria.”
“I thank you and I hope to continue to respectfully engage with you as we go through these next three years,” Chapman said. “Seeing so many of you sacrifice for the city, sacrifice time away from your families, be worried about your health status — all of that is not unseen by members on this council, and not unseen by me.”
McPike said that many challenges lie ahead.
“We can build an Alexandria where every young person has an effective and safe place to learn, where we can address our housing challenges while still preserving our green spaces; where we can help our local businesses thrive while ensuring that our workers and the unions that represent them have a seat at the table,” he said. “If we do our jobs well Alexandria It can be a light that shows the way to better future for our region and our Commonwealth. That work will not be easy. It will take patience and compromise.”
Due to Monday’s snowstorm and rising COVID infections, the induction ceremony for new members of the Alexandria City Council has shifted to a virtual-only format. The School Board’s induction ceremony has been moved to a larger building for distancing.
Mayor Justin Wilson, who is stuck in Spain after contracting COVID, will be sworn in with City Council at 6 p.m. on Zoom. Councilman-elect Kirk McPike also recently tested positive for COVID and is isolating at home.
The new Council will be made up of Wilson, McPike, Sarah Bagley, Alyia Gaskins, and incumbents Amy Jackson, John Taylor Chapman and Canek Aguirre. Council is then expected to elect Jackson as vice mayor, since she received the most votes among council candidates in the November election.
A recording of the installation will also be available on Tuesday (Jan. 4) and on Cable Channel 70/1084.
School Board installation
The Alexandria School Board’s induction ceremony will be virtual-only at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday (Jan. 4).
According to Alexandria City Public Schools:
The Alexandria City School Board Induction Ceremony and Organizational Meeting on Tues., Jan. 4, 2022, has been moved to the School Board Meeting Room located at 1340 Braddock Place, at 6:30 p.m., in order to limit the number of people in Alexandria City Public School
s(ACPS) buildings. We will follow the current COVID-19 health and safety protocols in place in the School Board Meeting Room which include occupancy limit s.
The new Board will be made up of Chair Meagan Alderton, Tammy S. Ignacio, Chris Harris, Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi, Willie F. Bailey, Ashley Simpson Baird, Kelly Carmichael Booz and incumbents Jacinta Greene and Michelle Rief.
With packed boxes by the door, retiring Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne gets a little emotional in his office. After all, he’s been wearing a uniform for 43 years.
There’s a large framed poster of the classic 1950 film “Harvey” on the wall next to his desk — a gift from his deputies who share a fondness for nostalgic movies. In the film, Jimmy Stewart’s good-natured character is pressured against his philosophy of being “Oh, so pleasant,” rather than “Oh, so smart,” in life.
It takes plenty of smarts to be the sheriff for four consecutive terms, but the 64-year-old Lawhorne’s connection to the character of Elwood P. Dowd is more about an ability to empathize with people — a strength he honed from a rough childhood and for decades as an Alexandria Police officer.
“I’m not a degree snob,” Lawhorne said in a recent interview with ALXnow. “That’s always been my Kryptonite. I am not proud of this, but I stopped learning in the seventh grade. The wheels fell off in my life.”
Lawhorne was born in Fredericksburg, and moved to Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood when he was two years old. Lawhorne and his wife, Linda, have been married for more than 35 years. They have three children and two grandchildren.
His parents were raging alcoholics, and he spent much of his youth dealing with the police to handle his mother. He became a police officer when he turned 21, and spent the next 27 years as a cop. Lawhorne’s everyman style has come in handy on multiple occasions, as he founded the police department’s hostage negotiation team in the 1980s. He’s the officer they’d put on the front lines during emergency situations, like talking to jumpers on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
It’s expected that Lawhorne isn’t going quietly. He hasn’t shied from expressing his disapproval with city leadership throughout his tenure, most recently lambasting the city manager for Alexandria’s flooding issues.
Lawhorne says that a years-long effort to increase stoplight timing at King Street and Russell Road (changing to 30 seconds last year) is a prime example of his disapproval.
“A 22-second green light backs up Russell Road,” Lawhorne says. “We all suffered years of asking the city to change it. Why couldn’t we have a 30-second light like everybody else? One time I went to see a dear friend of mine who was dying. Her last few days on this earth and her sister said she couldn’t go pick her up some prescription drugs because of the traffic backup on Russell. I mean, come on.”
Lawhorne’s not going away anytime soon. He just started a new firm, Dana Lawhorne and Associates, with a focus on helping businesses, private citizens and neighborhoods cut through some of the red tape at City Hall.
ALXnow: How are you feeling these days? Forty-three years is a long time.
Lawhorne: It is. I have mixed emotions. I definitely feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. Sixteen years ago, I ran for sheriff to do five things. I did that and more, which I feel really good about. I just feel sad that I won’t be doing something that I’ve dreamed about since I was 14 years old.
ALXnow: Are you going to miss the uniform?
Lawhorne: Yes. It fills me with pride. It’s like armor. It’s the number one symbol of who we are and what we are about, which is protecting and serving everyone. I always have a uniform on in my mind, because it seems like I can never separate myself from a duty that I took an oath for and still believe in. I never feel like I’m not wearing the uniform, even when I’m not working, no matter where I am or what I’m doing.
ALXnow: Why did you start the police department’s hostage negotiations team?
Lawhorne: I did that about 22 years. It’s all about finding what’s missing. I could look at something or you could tell me a story and I would figure out, “Okay, there’s something missing from that story.” That came in very handy as a detective, and in 1984 our hostage negotiations team really didn’t exist. That’s what was missing. They didn’t train. They weren’t organized.
ALXnow: Can you talk a little bit about your philosophy toward emotional engagement with people in your staff, in the jail, even at City Council?
Lawhorne: I can only trace it back to growing up and being a troublemaker understanding troublemakers and growing up in a household where my parents were alcoholics. My father was a nice man. When he drank he became nicer and very passive. My mom was a nice person, but when she drank it was a total opposite. It was Jekyll and Hyde. And you never knew what you were going to get on any given day. It was bad physically, emotionally and psychologically. My mom would tear up the house, throw what we had in the yard, run up and down the street in a bathrobe and bang on the neighbor’s door.
We had to call the police all the time. My other siblings moved out as soon as they could, and it was just my younger sister and me, sometimes holding her bedroom door shut to keep her from coming out and inflicting harm on us. Because of that I grew up totally disengaged, battling depression in school, full of insecurities and all the problems that come with growing up in that type of environment.
Where does the empathy come from? I’ve always put myself in that other person’s shoes because I’ve seen all walks of life, from the millionaire to the homeless person, and I’ve experienced the generosity of both. I just never ever taken myself out of being that kid who was calling the police and looking for somebody to step up and help. I feel like if I was ever in position to make things better for someone to try to take away a little bit of their pain, then I was going to do that.
ALXnow: How do you deal with depression? Do you still?
Lawhorne: One word — Linda. Since I met her in 1977, she has been the person who has kept me focused and helps navigate the things that keep me down. I am lucky to have married the perfect partner. It’s important to have that when you lead with your heart.
ALXnow: Do you lead with your heart?
Lawhorne: Yes. It’s a lot harder than leading with your brain.
ALXnow: What do you mean?
Lawhorne: If you lead with your brain you’re a very linear thinker. You know, if you goof up once you’re out. That sort of thing. I’m more tolerant of my staff than most in my position. I believe in second and third chances, when warranted. I believe in giving people opportunities, proper training, and development coaching to make them successful, and even that process can be very painful.
I like to give people a chance, but if they don’t take the opportunity and do something again, they’re out. But that’s hard to do. One of the hardest things that I’ve had to do over the last 16 years is balance the person and who they are and what’s going on with them, especially on a personal level, with the responsibilities of their offices.
ALXnow: What’s the plan after you leave office?
Lawhorne: I actually formed an LLC. It’s called Dana Lawhorne and Associates. You like that?
ALXnow: What are you going to be doing?
Lawhorne: Just helping people and businesses navigate problems at City Hall. It can be a small business or a neighborhood that can’t quite figure out how to get something done because they’re caught up in red tape. You know, folks pay attorney lots of money for the services I’m going to be offering. I can do it for way less, for, let’s say a cheeseburger.
ALXnow: Don’t you want to get paid for your work?
Lawhorne: To me, making money is not my goal. I do not need to do that. I worked 43 years with the city government, and if I can’t retire comfortably then I’ve done something wrong.
ALXnow: How does the incoming city leadership look to you?
Lawhorne: I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen so far, and I believe that with the new city manager and the energy from this new council is going to get us results. This status quo philosophy must change, and I believe now we’re going to move in a different direction, because the the priorities the residents, the priorities of our community will focused on, ahead of the priorities of others.
ALXnow: Would you be more effective as a problem solver outside of power?
Lawhorne: Yes. The biggest promise city hall has is loving to put labels on people. Dana is a troublemaker.
I go to the meetings and I listen to the community. Why does it take me 40 minutes to go from the 600 block of Russell Road to King Street, to go six blocks? It’s just the most frustrating thing I’ve ever seen in my life. In my office, I try to help people, not turn them away. I don’t get this. We’ll spend more time trying to figure out how not to do something.
A 22-second green light backed up Russell Road for years. We all suffered years of asking the city to change it, and nobody would put it up for discussion. I tried with the Traffic and Parking Board three times. Why couldn’t we have a 30-second light like everybody else? One time I went to see a dear friend of mine who was dying. Her last few days on this earth and her sister said she couldn’t go pick her up some prescription drugs because of the traffic backup on Russell. I mean, come on.
ALXnow: Are you going to miss the inmates of the jail?
Lawhorne: Yes. I grew up understanding what sobriety can do for an individual and their families. I always told them that crime isn’t just about them and their victims, it’s about their families. Their families are suffering as much as they are for their mistake.
I never had a foundation of education. That’s always been my Kryptonite. I am not proud of this, but I stopped learning in the seventh grade. The wheels fell off in my life. I’ve tried to teach them the importance of sobriety, education and transitioning to a better place.
(Updated at 3:15 p.m.) Three outgoing members of the Alexandria City Council were honored by their colleagues for their service at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilwoman Del Pepper and Councilman Mo Seifeldein were presented with proclamations thanking them for their service by Mayor Justin Wilson on Tuesday night.
“We are going to be saying goodbye to three members who sit on this dais tonight,” Wilson said. “This is kind of a bittersweet night for us at the City Council, because this is our last legislative meeting of the year, and the last legislative meeting of this Council term.”
Bennett-Parker and Seifeldein were both elected in 2018. Bennett-Parker was elected to the 45th District in the Virginia House of Delegates in November.
“I hope to have an advocate in Richmond that understands us understands, what we go through,” City Councilman John Taylor Chapman told Bennett-Parker. “And I’m super excited to have you in that position and can’t wait to drive down to Richmond, knock on your door and bug you for all kinds of little things.”
“I’m delighted to have served these last three years with you, Elizabeth,” Pepper said. “You’re a very special person. You were the youngest and I guess I was the oldest.”
Pepper was first elected to City Council in 1985, is retiring, and was honored for her years on Council in a presentation earlier this year. In a surprise announcement at the meeting, Council unanimously voted to name the city’s new Department of Community and Human Services building in her honor. The official name recommendations for the building will be presented to Council next year.
As Pepper approached Wilson to receive her proclamation, she joked to him, “It’s a pleasure to meet you. What did you say your name was again?”
Seifeldein chose not to run for reelection as an Independent, since he would have had to do so after being hired as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor during his term.
“It’s been a great privilege to be able to work with my colleague, Councilman Seifeldein,” Councilman Canek Aguirre said. “I will miss his passion and I know that I always tell people, philosophically, (he) and I are most aligned here on this council and so you will be dearly missed, but I appreciate everything that you brought to the Council the last three years.”
On Jan. 3, The new Alexandria City Council will be sworn in, with City Councilwoman Amy Jackson as the new vice mayor, as well as Councilors-elect Aalyia Gaskins, Kirk McPike and Sarah Bagley.
(Updated on Dec. 23) Florence King, a 2018 Alexandria Living Legend and 2021 City Council candidate, has died.
King, who was in her early 70s, died at her Alexandria home on Thursday morning, Dec. 9, after a brief illness, according to friends. The news was a surprise to many city leaders, activists and friends.
“Very shocked to hear that news,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “She was such a vibrant presence in our City. Constantly showing up and giving back to our community in so many ways.”
King, who descended from a freed slave from George Washington’s plantation, lived in Alexandria for more than 30 years.
Notes of shock and support have poured in through Facebook.
“What an unthinkable and shocking loss,” wrote former Mayor Allison Silberberg. “I’m so saddened. Florence has made a phenomenal difference here in countless ways, and she was a friend to all. My deepest sympathies to all who knew and loved her, especially her family. Her life was a blessing and she will be sorely missed.”
A native of Fairfax County, she received a major degree in sociology and a minor degree in business administration from George Mason University, after which she worked for 17 years with the federal government. She later founded financial literacy company FMK Credit Education Center and donated her spare time to community causes. She was chair of the regional council of the United Way, chair of the Alexandria Employment Commission, sat on the Board of Trustees for the Alexandria Symphony, and was vice chair on the board of Agenda Alexandria.
Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker said that King was a stalwart of the community.
“I served with her on three boards & she was a constant source of kindness and positivity,” Bennett-Parker said. “Her positive impact on our community will live on for generations.”
In 2018, King was honored as a Living Legend of Alexandria. In April, she announced her Independent candidacy for City Council.
King is survived by a brother, three sisters, a son and two daughters. Her memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15, at McLean Bible Church, 8925 Leesburg Pike in Vienna.
(Updated 12/2/21) The City of Alexandria is going through a mandatory review of voting districts in Alexandria and City Manager Mark Jinks is recommending that the Carlyle neighborhood — called the Alexandria Renew district — have its representation on the School Board changed from District A to B.
The issue comes out of a review of the 2020 census. While the City Council seats are at-large, the School Board seats are voted by district. District A encompasses Old Town, Carlyle, Del Ray, Arlandria and Potomac Yard. District C is the western fringe of the city, from the Landmark/Van Dorn corridor up to the Bailey’s Crossroads area. District B is more-or-less everything in between.
District A is the city’s most populous, with 56,160 residents, followed by District C with 53,800. District B has a significantly smaller population: around 49,507. With new residential development anticipated at Landmark and Potomac Yard, it’s a disparity that’s only likely to increase in coming years.
“An initial review of the 2020 census data indicates that City Council will need to adjust School Board Districts before the next election in 2023 to maintain compliance with voting laws,” a memo from Jinks said. “Based on this data, District A has a population larger than is acceptable to provide equitable access, and District B has too few voters represented.”
The memo indicated that the easiest way to balance the districts would be to move the Carlyle neighborhood to District B, taking its 3,819 residents and boosting the city up to 53,326 residents — roughly on par with the other two districts.
The city will have to balance the districts in one way or another before the next election, the memo said. There is also a pending lawsuit, the memo said, arguing that all elected seats must be re-contested in 2022 because the 2021 elections were not based on the most recent census data. The memo says that no ruling has been made in the lawsuit.
“This question will come to the City Council sometime in the new year,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in a newsletter. “Let me know your thoughts!”
After a few years of somewhat jubilant legislative sessions, the City Council is moving into preparation for a legislative package with a more grim outlook.
The legislative package is an annual list of asks and recommendations from the city to the state government. These sorts of legislative packages are particularly important in Virginia where, as a Dillon Rule state, the authority of the city is limited to only those areas explicitly granted by the state. With Republicans winning control of much of the state government in last week’s election, the all-Democrat City Council’s days of “playing with house money” could be coming to an end.
The biggest project involving state funding in Alexandria is the combined sewer overhaul, a $400 million project mandated by the state that comes with $45 in state funding. The top item on the 2022 legislative priorities list is maintaining funding for that project and offering more flexibility in how the city finances its infrastructure projects.
“The City supports a technical amendment to the budget to ensure funds already appropriated for the [combined sewer] project from the State’s American Rescue Plan Act funds are directed to AlexRenew/The Alexandria Sanitation Authority,” the legislative package draft said. “In addition, the City supports the General Assembly’s commitment to appropriating an additional $40 million in bonds in the next biennial budget to support Alexandria’s legislatively mandated combined sewer overflow project.”
Similarly, the legislative package also expresses support for:
- Legislation to authorize a comprehensive, statewide workgroup and/or master planning process to consider issues related to inland flooding and recommend actionable short-term and long-term strategies and funding opportunities to prepare for and adapt to inland flooding, including policy changes, priority resiliency projects, funding and financing strategies, and a plan for coordination among state, federal, and local governments.
- Budget language to direct [Department of Environmental Quality] to convene a work group to review and recommend modifications to current law regarding the limitations on local authority to regulate additions/modifications to single family detached residential structures where land disturbance is less than 2,500 square feet in order to review the land disturbing activity for potential stormwater impacts. (T&ES)
Following up on an area where Mayor Justin Wilson said the city shares some commonalities with Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, the city is also pushing for more transparency from Dominion Power.
“The City supports legislation to require electric utilities in Virginia, including Dominion Power, to report and publish, on an annual basis, industry-standard electric reliability metrics to the State
Corporation Commission for its system and for individual localities, including Alexandria,” the package said.
Other items included in the legislative package include:
- Increased funding for childcare support programs, along with adequate support for legal representation in child welfare cases
- Support for universal and affordable broadband access
- Stricter high-rise building safety regulations — a topic that became particularly relevant after the condominium collapse in Florida
- The ability to locally regulate gas-powered leaf blowers
- Expanded authority to implement automated traffic enforcement solutions, like red-light cameras
- Reinstated authority for local law enforcement to regulate noise from vehicle exhaust
- Support for low-to-no fare public transit programs, such as the one Alexandria recently implemented
- Continued support for and funding to the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Fund
The legislative package also includes a series of requests, submitted by the Office of housing. for more protections against eviction at a state level, including:
- Legislation requiring evictions be for cause;
- Legislation allowing localities to establish a landlord registry;
- Legislation limiting the percentage of annual rent increases for existing tenants;
- Legislation requiring landlord notices and communications in languages other than English;
- Legislation allowing a ten-day appeal period for all evictions even if the tenant is not present;
- Legislation to allow tenants to file a tenant’s assertion to schedule a hearing on landlord violations of the lease without having to pay rent into court escrow;
- Legislation eliminating the appeal bond or allowing indigent waivers for low income tenants;
- Legislation establishing a tenant right to counsel.
The legislative package is scheduled for initial review at the upcoming Saturday, Nov. 13, City Council meeting.
Bryan Porter says he must be doing something right.
Porter, the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Alexandria, just won an uncontested reelection as a Democrat for his third term.
“I must be doing something right,” Porter said of the election. “Hopefully it shows that I’ve got the right blend of forward-thinking policies, and that I help keep the community safe.”
A lifelong Alexandrian, Porter took office in 2014, and spent his first two years in office consumed with prosecuting Alexandria serial killer Charles Severance. Porter later wrote a book about the experience.
“When I first got elected, an elected politician who will remain nameless told me, ‘Hey, you just got just got elected. Don’t screw this up,'” Porter told ALXnow. “That was his mantra. I like to think that eight years in I haven’t screwed it up, and my goal is to leave the office with its reputation intact, so I can hand it off successfully to whoever comes after me.”
Porter continued, “Remember that I’m just one small drop of water in the ocean of Commonwealth’s Attorneys.”
Porter, who has tried 11 murder trials and more than 50 jury trials, would also go on to write a children’s book in 2019. He is credited with founding the Alexandria Mental Health Initiative and the Alexandria Treatment Court as alternatives to jail for people with mental health and substance abuse issues.
“I’m very humble about the whole thing,” Porter said of the election. “And the only reason I’ve done so well is because my predecessor, Randy Sengel, left me very good office without hardly any personnel issues or policy issues. I’ve got really good people working for me, we seem to do a pretty good job of recruiting and getting really good people to work.”
Porter lives with his wife in Old Town. He got a degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University, and briefly served as an Alexandria Police Officer. He went to night school at the George Mason University School of Law, and was hired as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in 2001.