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Douglass Cemetery has been damaged in recent flooding, photo courtesy Michael Johnson

Alexandria has had a few promising starts so far in the 2022 legislative session, with preliminary funding and authority granted on some key issues.

In a legislative update to the City Council last night (Tuesday), Legislative Director Sarah Graham Taylor outlined some of the early successes.

Taylor said Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker has been spearheading legislation that would allow localities to continue with greater virtual representation in public meetings even after the pandemic.

“[A bill to] increase opportunities for electronic participation in public meetings… passed out of the general laws subcommittee today unopposed,” Taylor said. “We’re eally excited to see that bill move forward. It’s something the city has been really focused on both as vice mayor and now as a delegate. [We’re] really pleased to be a part of that and see that move forward. It’s something that will be incredibly valuable to our boards and commissions; to be able to operate in a virtual environment even outside of a declared emergency or pandemic.”

Taylor said the pandemic has been a sort of pilot for virtual engagement.

“It’s really been an opportunity for us to learn how best to not only put our public engagement out into the universe but to create opportunities to create two-way engagement with our public bodies,” Taylor said. “This bill goes a long way to creating more opportunities.”

Another preliminary success has been funding to restore the Douglass Memorial Cemetery, a historic Black cemetery in Alexandria under threat of being washed away by recent flooding. The outgoing governor’s budget includes $500,000 for the restoration of the cemetery, and State Senator Adam Ebbin has put in a request for an additional $500,000.

“[The project cost is] estimated at $2 million, would put state investment at 50%,” Taylor said. “[We’re] discussing it not only as preservation of a historic African-American cemetery but also a flooding issue, which is something very front and center in the discussion this session.”

The outgoing budget also includes $40 million for the city’s combined sewer overhaul (CSO) project, but Taylor said there’s some concern that CSO funding could get more scarce as Richmond is pushed to move up its CSO timeline.

“The city’s name has come up quite a bit this week in relation to Richmond’s CSO project, and while it’s always lovely to hear Alexandria as an example of what a city can do when its feet are held to the fire, it’s been brought up in relation to Richmond’s CSO deadline,” Taylor said. “You might see Alexandria used as an example of why to push Richmond on their CSO deadline.”

But Taylor said the city’s concern is that if Richmond’s CSO timetable is moved up, it could put the two cities in a battle royale for a limited annual pot of funding.

“If Richmond is accelerated, that puts us in competition for resources,” Taylor said. “We want to a timeline [where] everyone can have access to resources, not all competing for a limited pot.”

Crossover, the last day for the legislative houses to act on legislation, is on Tuesday, Feb. 15. The last day for bill approval is March 10 and the Governor is required to take action on bills by April 11.

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It was election week in Alexandria, so congratulations and/or condolences.

Alexandria Democrats managed to hold onto all of the City Council seats. Mayor Justin Wilson won reelection and Elizabeth Bennett-Parker was elected to the 45th District House of Delegates seat. But any local Democrat euphoria was dampened by statewide losses that Wilson warned could reverse recent local wins on some issues.

Here were the most-read stories around ALXnow this week:

  1. Developer reopens abandoned Alexandria power plant for tours later this month
  2. Cut-through traffic protections along Duke Street could go into effect early next year
  3. Man arrested for DWI, smashing cars and leaving scene while parking in Old Town
  4. BREAKING: Alexandria School Board election results
  5. Georgetown tearoom relocating to Alexandria waterfront
  6. Retail, residential, and music venue could replace North Old Town office park
  7. City Council to step up fight against Comcast internet monopoly next week
  8. BREAKING: Bennett-Parker declares victory in 45th District seat in Virginia House of Delegates
  9. Alexandria man arrested for stealing packages outside homes in Old Town
  10. Silver Parrot Jewelry permanently closing at end of year in Old Town
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(Updated at 4:45 on Nov. 3) Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker declared victory in her bid for Virginia’s 45th District House seat on Tuesday, defeating Republican opponent Justin “J.D.” Maddox.

“I’m honored to be the Delegate-elect for the 45th District,” Bennett-Parker told ALXnow. “Thank you to every voter who put their faith in me. I got into this race to continue delivering for our community.”

She continued, “I will always strive to ensure that our Commonwealth is an equitable and inclusive place for all.”

Bennett-Parker said that she did not speak with Maddox, who conceded via an email to supporters on Tuesday night. She won a resounding victory, garnering 73% (25,787 votes) of the votes in the District versus Maddox’s 27% (9,489 votes), with 26 of 32 districts reporting.

“While I am let down by the results of this election, I am encouraged by the strong signal of support for the moderate position that I championed throughout the campaign,” Maddox wrote. “It has become clear to me that voters in District 45, and much more widely, are eager for movement toward the center, and are disheartened by the extreme partisanship they’re hearing from both sides.”

According to city records, there were 24,207 absentee votes filed before election day, or around 25% of the 96,302 active registered voters in Alexandria.

Bennett-Parker defeated incumbent Democrat Mark Levine in the June primary. She began her political career three years ago, winning Alexandria’s vice mayorship in her first-ever campaign for office.

She will be sworn into office in January.

James Cullum and Vernon Miles contributed to this story.

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Morning Notes

Metro running at 40% today — “As part of the investigation into the Blue Line derailment, Metro is holding out of service all of its 7000-series railcars, which is about 60% of its rail fleet. Without these rail cars, Metro will operate about 40 trains tomorrow.” [Metro]

Alexandria’s Communications Director Appointed To New Position With Governor’s Office — “The city’s longtime Director of Communications and Public Information, Craig Fifer, has been appointed to a new position. He has been selected by Gov. Northam to serve as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the Commonwealth of Virginia, effective Oct. 25.” [Zebra]

3rd Annual Taste of Ethiopia Festival celebrated in Old Town — “After hitting the doors, here enjoying the 3rd Annual Taste of Ethiopia Festival at Oronoco Bay Park.” [Twitter]

Bennett-Parker and Maddox face off in race to House of Delegates — “With the Nov. 2 general election only a few weeks away, the race for the 45th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates is heating up between Democrat Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Republican Justin David Maddox.” [Alexandria Times]

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Delegate Mark Levine says a recent letter to a constituent has been taken out of context, and that his office is still helping 45th District residents deal with unemployment and other issues with state agencies.

In the June letter, Levine apologized to a constituent and said his recent election loss limited his ability to help with issues related to the Virginia Employment Commission.

“Unfortunately, due to my loss in the June 8, 2021 primary, our office will be unable to help you much,” Levine wrote. “Fortunately, your State Senator Adam Ebbin is in a strong position to help you.”

Levine continued, “I sincerely regret that our office will be unable to help you further. I’ve tried hard to reform the VEC, but the voters chose another representative to do future work on this.”

A portion of the note was tweeted out on Wednesday night by Ben Tribbett, the writer of the Not Larry Sabato blog. In the post, Tribbett noted that Levine is still in office until January, despite losing both the Democratic primary for the lieutenant governorship and his seat, which he lost to Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker.

Levine told ALXnow that he was working without staff when he wrote the letter, and that Ebbin, whose 30th Senate District includes the 45th House District, is better situated to help. He also said he worked with the constituent for a long time without getting a resulting answer from VEC.

Ebbin, who is also vice chair of the Commission on Virginia Employment Commission, said he was surprised to see the tweet.

“I think the VEC is equally responsive to legislators, but we try and help all our constituents, regardless of the agency and continue to do so,” Ebbin said. “I think that all legislators ought to be helpful in delivering constituent service. I’m happy to help any my constituents and his constituents happen to live in my district, so we’re not going to pass the buck. We’re just going to help people.”

Levine said VEC is a dysfunctional mess, and that he has since hired a staffer to help with constituent matters.

“This was while I was without staff to have people continue to get the help they need, and I was passing them to Adam,” Levine said. “I was simply telling constituents where they can get the most influence.”

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Delegate Mark Levine isn’t out of the politics game yet, but he’s keeping his cards close and still hasn’t made up his mind about next moves.

It’s been weeks since Levine lost the Democratic nomination for both seats he sought in the June 8 primary, as Del. Hala Ayala won the lieutenant governor’s primary race and Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker won the nomination for his Delegate seat for the 45th District.

“I’m not gonna rush into doing anything,” Levine told ALXnow. “I don’t think that’s the right thing to do, I’m gonna take some time and figure out what my next steps are.”

Levine left a message recently with his House opponent Alexandria Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker, and says he has offered her information on constituent services and congratulated her for the win.

Levine says he still plans to watch the City’s birthday celebration from his home near the waterfront in Old Town, but that unlike years past this time will not be a fundraiser.

“I’m not done doing whatever I can to help improve this world, that’s for sure,” he said. “Which path I will take remains to be seen.”

Alexandria is planning on spending a portion of its American Rescue Plan Act funding on supporting a childcare wellness program, commercial business districts around the city, flooding mitigation and hiring bilingual city staffers to help residents facing eviction.

Those are just four of nine prioritized recommendations that the Alexandria City Council received Wednesday night on how to spend its first tranche of funding. After getting more than 1,300 recommendations from the community, spending has been categorized into tiers, with projects scored by staff. The Tier 1 and 2 projects would be handled with the first allocation, followed by the Tiers 3 and 4 with the second.

“This is a fast-moving but very, very significant effort that the City has been undertaking the last several months,” said Mayor Justin Wilson, who tweeted the list of prioritized projects.

The U.S. Treasury transferred $29.8 million to the City on May 17, according to a staff presentation. Alexandria was approved for $59.6 million, and got double ARPA funding after being recognized as both a city and a county. There are 37 independent cities in the U.S., and 34 of them are in Virginia. The extra designation for cities to receive dual funding resulted in more than $450 million additional funds distributed around the country.

The exact cost of the projects is not listed. Instead, they are accompanied by dollar signs — one $ indicating little expense and $$$$ being very expensive. The list includes “shovel-ready” projects.

“I know, it looks a little bit like how you choose which restaurant to go to, but as I said many of them are scalable,” said Dana Wedeles, special assistant to the city manager.

The Out of School Time Program would employs vendors or teachers for project-based and social/emotional learning programs.

“These enrichments will assist with learning loss and will increase academic and social supports to vulnerable children in addition to traditional recreational activities that maintain physical and mental health and wellness,” the staff report said. “The programs will be held at five locations across the City in FY2022 and FY2023. Children considered most vulnerable will be provided with financial assistance funds to attend OSTP programs free of charge.”

The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership is also planning to provide matching grants to a number of existing business organizations that represent geographic areas in the city, including the Old Town Business Association, Del Ray Business Association, West End Business Association, the Eisenhower Partnership and “any group that would form in the Arlandria area,” said AEDP CEO Stephanie Landrum.

“The idea is that each group could potentially qualify, depending on how much money ended up being allocated, for $50,000 to $100,000 twice,” Landrum said. “Over the course of two years… they would start to do things that would prove their value, and would eventually then allow for those groups to exist more on membership or voluntary contributions… It’s also a recognition that many of these groups do rely on membership dues, and a lot of businesses have struggled to pay those membership dues.”

Funded projects in those business districts include trial street closures, and coordinated design services for commercial and public access parklets. It could also mean more Virginia ABC-licensed special events.

Additionally, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker said that support for the hospitality industry needs to be moved up from a Tier 3 project to Tier 1.

“I would support moving that up,” she said. “I think we need that sooner rather than later.”

Staff also prioritized the maintenance of existing stream channels with debris removal.

“Specific projects include Four Mile Run Control sediment removal/maintenance and Holmes Run Stream and Channel maintenance,” staff wrote in the recommendation.

The city is limited in how can spend the money.

“As stated in the law, there are several uses for this ARPA funding,” Wedeles Said. “The first is to respond to the public health emergency and its negative impacts; The second is to respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers; Third is for the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID-19 public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year prior to the emergency; and then fourth is to make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.”

The second allotment will be transferred next year, and the spending deadline for the first chunk is December 31, 2024. Additionally, the Alexandria City Public Schools system has also received its own allocation of $35,407,000.

City Council will make its final decision in July.

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Months of campaigning came to a head last night as Mayor Justin Wilson and three City Council incumbents held onto their seats despite opposition and the three new members of the City Council were among those most closely aligned with the incumbents.

The city also had relatively high levels of voter turnout for a non-Presidential election year, with 23% of registered voters showing up to the polls.

The election isn’t over, however. While Alexandria voters tend to lean blue, City Council candidates will compete against Republican Darryl Nirenberg and Independent Florence King in November.

Mayor Justin Wilson will also face off against Republican Annetta Catchings, and for the 45th District, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker is running against Republican J.D. Maddox.

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Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker prevailed in her quest Tuesday night for the Democratic nomination for Virginia’s 45th District, defeating incumbent Del. Mark Levine, who as of this writing was also down in his race for lieutenant governor.

“I’m honored to be the Democratic nominee for the 45th District,” Bennett-Parker said in a statement. “Thank you for your votes; I look forward to working with all of the Democratic nominees to win in November, and to representing all of HD-45 in Richmond.”

Bennett-Parker did not receive a call from Levine, who could not be reached for comment. As of 9 p.m., she led 7,186 votes to Levine’s 5,148 votes, with 21 of 26 precincts reporting.

“Special thanks to our incredible team of volunteers who made phone calls, knocked on doors, talked to your neighbors, and handed out campaign literature,” Bennett-Parker said. “This is a grassroots campaign, and I could not have done this without you.”

With 2,354 of 2,584 precincts reporting, Levine also received just 11.11% of the vote for lieutenant governor, falling way behind the leader in that race Del. Hala Ayala (D-51).

Bennett-Parker’s campaign manager Alice Visocchi said that her candidate’s lead was insurmountable.

“With 21 of 26 precincts reporting, we’re up 58.26% to Mark Levine’s 41.74%,” Visocchi said. “I think it’s done.”

A political newcomer going into her election as vice mayor three years ago, Bennett-Parker said she is running to improve the environment and help area families struggling with the pandemic. A Democrat, she is the first person to announce a run for the seat.

Bennett-Parker grew up in Alexandria and lives with her husband and grandmother in the city’s Rosemont neighborhood. She is also the co-director of the nonprofit Together We Bake. Bennett-Parker has not been an outspoken member of council, and is known for heavily researching topics before coming to decisions. A Fulbright Fellow, she has a Master’s degree in anthropology from the University of London and a history degree from Cornell University.

James Cullum and Vernon Miles contributed to this report

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What a week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

Our top story was on President Joe Biden stopping by the Sportrock Climbing Center in Alexandria last Friday with First Lady Jill Biden and Governor Ralph Northam.

Seeing the president around town is getting to be a regular thing. The president, who also visited in April, discussed “the state’s progress against the coronavirus pandemic” and the celebration of “summer as Virginia lifts all COVID-19 distancing and capacity restrictions.”

This week, we also followed up on a New York Times report about the Virginia Theological Seminary making reparations payments to slavery descendants. The program was launched in 2019, and the school issued $2,100 in annual payments to 15 families in February.

On Wednesday, the Fire Department released its restructuring plan, which goes into effect June 12, and is intended to help emergency response times by shifting resources. AFD will conduct community conversations on the restructuring on Saturday, June 5, at 10 a.m.; Monday, June 7, at 2 p.m. and Thursday, June 10, at 7 p.m.

Closing the short workweek, on Friday Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown announced that his retirement. Brown’s last day is June 25, and the City Manager is soon expected to name an acting chief to lead the department while the city’s undergoes a national search for a permanent replacement.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. UPDATED: President Biden and Gov. Northam visited Alexandria this morning
  2. JUST IN: Virginia State Police chase U-Haul pickup truck through Alexandria
  3. Bennett-Parker says Levine mailer on Commonwealth of Virginia letterhead is ethics breach
  4. Goodie’s Frozen Custard & Treats opens in Old Town
  5. Hank & Mitzi’s Italian Kitchen closes for the foreseeable future in Old Town North
  6. Volunteers needed this weekend to help clear dangerous stretch of Mount Vernon Trail
  7. Wilson and Silberberg mayoral debate finale opens possibility of ‘tweaking’ Seminary Road Diet
  8. Homegrown Restaurant Group gives employees raise to $15 an hour, will ease COVID restrictions at 6 restaurants
  9. ‘Rock It Grill’ eyeing karaoke expansion, bringing back Halloween party
  10. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  11. Ownership of Landmark’s streets could make a big difference down the road

Photo via White House/Twitter

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