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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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An annual mailer from Del. Mark Levine to Democratic voters in the 45th District has his opponent, Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, raising concerns of an ethical breach of conduct.

Levine is running for lieutenant governor and his seat in the 45th District. The 17-page annual update is written on Commonwealth of Virginia letterhead, and asks for support in the upcoming June 8 Democratic primary. The letter also includes his campaign websites markfordelegate.com and levineforvirginia.com, but not a disclaimer stating that it was paid for by his campaign.

“I’m deeply disappointed in Del. Levine, and his decision to use taxpayer resources to campaign for two offices,” Bennett-Parker said. “The voters of this district deserve better. They deserve a delegate committed to a high ethical standard, and they deserve a delegate focused solely on this community – not someone who views our district as a backup plan. I look forward to getting to work in Richmond to expand access to health care, build our economy back better for all, provide equitable educational opportunities for all students, and fight the impacts of climate change.”

In the letter, Levine mentions both races he’s running for and asks for support.

“Early voting in the Democratic primary began on April 23rd and Primary Election Day is June 8th,” Levine wrote in the letter. “As noted, I am running for Lieutenant Governor and will be on the Democratic primary ballot for both the Lieutenant Governor position and the 45th District Delegate nominations. I’d appreciate your support.”

Levine continues, “Thank you for believing in me and supporting me. I hope you are as pleased as I am about the results of the historic 2020 and 2021 legisla(tive) sessions, even if you didn’t agree with every vote I cast and even if you, like me, wish we had gone a bit farther. I know who my boss is. It’s you. And that’s why my team and I work so hard.”

The Virginia Department of Elections has not yet received any complaints concerning constituent mailers from Levine. The VDOE said that suspected campaign violations should be reported to local authorities and commonwealth attorneys, and that ethics violations should be reported to the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Council.

“It’s not a campaign mailer at all,” Levine told ALXnow. “It’s about my delegate work, it’s about my bills. If you want to read my 20 page letter from last year, it also mentions my website. My website has a lot of information on it. It’s got coronavirus information, and, yeah, it also has a donate button on it. I think every delegate mentioned their website, and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t in their (annual constituent) letter.”

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th), who has endorsed Bennett-Parker, said that Levine’s mailer crosses an ethical boundary. He also said that he’s inquiring about a potential ethics breach with the legal counsel on the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, a body on which he is a member.

“If it’s not illegal, it should be,” Ebbin said. “It just doesn’t look right. It doesn’t feel right to be putting on official state letterhead, a message that says that you’re on the ballot twice and that you’re appreciating people’s votes for two offices, you know, even though he put on that first page it says this is not a political mailer and then he says, You can vote for me twice and explains why he wants people to vote for him twice in the circumstances that came to be. That’s just not appropriate.

Delegates receive $750 for constituent postage every year, and Levine said that he paid for the mailing and that many delegates include their campaign websites in annual letters to constituents. The House Clerk has invoiced Levine for the mailer.

“No taxpayers paid for it and I sent it to the same number I sent last year,” he said. “A lot of people in the 45th.”

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At a debate Monday night, Delegate Mark Levine couldn’t think of any policy differences between his opponent, Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker.

“I’m not sure there are any,” Levine told Alexandria and Arlington Democrats in a Zoom debate.

Levine wants voters to check his name twice on the ballot on June 8, as he runs in the Democratic primary for both lieutenant governor and his 45th District seat in the House of Delegates.

“It’s a weird situation,” he said. “If I win both races, obviously I’ll resign my delegate seat in time to make sure that we have a full election prior to the ’22 session, because I want to make sure that seat is filled by a strong progressive Democrat.”

Bennett-Parker said Levine’s plan, if successful, would end up costing the region more than $100,000 in election costs, including the printing of new ballots, and paying staff and election officers and postage for ballots in the three jurisdictions that fall within the 45th District.

“Local taxpayers and local governments have special elections, and those costs are increasing because of COVID,” she said. “Culpepper County held a special election earlier this year and it cost them about $86,000. Their population is smaller than this district. This district encompasses three different jurisdictions, so I think it’s safe to assume that the cost might be a little bit more here.”

As for their differences, Bennett-Parker said they were more about “perspective, experience, style and focus.”

“I think my style is very collaborative and I work effectively with officials, not only on my own Council but across the region,” Bennett-Parker said, without commenting on whether Levine’s style is also collaborative.

It’s no secret that Levine is louder and more aggressive, while Bennett-Parker is more quiet and calculating.

Levine said that his work ethic has resulted in an important endorsement from House Speaker Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, and that his office is strong in constituent services.

“I have the perspective of an outsider,” Levine said. “I fought for marriage equality for 20 years. I know the pain of being left out and I fight really hard, but I also have the experience of an insider… I get into the details of legislating, and I get those details right.”

Bennett-Parker also said that Virginia’s funding formula for public schools needs revamping. Levine agreed.

“This is a flawed system that needs to be fixed because it only exacerbates existing inequities,” Bennett-Parker said. “We need to fix this formula, because education funding is the largest single portion of our budget in both Alexandria and Arlington.”

Both candidates also support repealing Virginia’s right-to-work law, and ending the Medicaid waiver waitlist, which had more than 13,000 Virginians waiting for coverage in 2020.

Levine touted his record of bills passed, and said that he’s not a “go along guy.”

“I’m not a newcomer, and you know how hard I’ve worked,” he said. “I’m the guy who pushes the ball forward and makes us more progressive, that’s the reason why I’ve been rated the second most progressive legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates, I’d appreciate your vote twice for me.”

Bennett-Parker said that her perspective as co-director of the nonprofit Together We Bake also sets her apart, in addition to serving on City Council the last three years.

“I’m proud of the work that I’ve done as Vice Mayor,” she said. “I will always roll up my sleeves and work collaboratively to solve issues and deliver results for our district.”

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The race for the 45th District House of Delegates seat is a weird one.

Delegate Mark Levine announced in December that he would be running for Lieutenant Governor. A month later, Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker announced that she would be running for Levine’s delegate seat. The wrinkle in all of this, however, is that Levine is also running for reelection in the 45th district as a precaution in case he doesn’t win the fairly crowded Lieutenant Governor primary.

He’s not alone in this — running for two seats is legal in Virginia — but it leaves the 45th district in an awkward Schrödinger’s cat-type race where Bennett-Parker is simultaneously running and not running against Levine.

“It’s a weird situation,” Levine admitted. “I never expected this to happen. [But] it’s legal under Virginia law. I think I’ve been a good delegate and the people should re-elect me. If I win both, I’ll resign from the 45th district and there will be a special election.”

(The 45th District itself is a bit odd, encompassing some of the residential neighborhoods around Pentagon City to the north; Shirlington and Fairlington to the west; Del Ray, Potomac Yard and Old Town Alexandria in the center; and a narrow corner of Fairfax County to the south.)

While much of Levine’s campaign finance has been focused on the statewide race, in the 45th District Bennett-Parker has raised twice as much as Levine’s campaign for delegate.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Bennett-Parker has raised $106,434 to Levine’s $45,573 — though Levine has raised $705,284 in the lieutenant governor race. Bennett-Parker’s top donors include attorney and Democratic financier Sonjia Smith, Levine’s 2015 opponent Julie Jakopic, and Alexandria School Board member Veronica Nolan.

In the delegate race, Levine’s top donors include the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and the Northern Virginia Labor Federation.

Levine, a former radio talk show host, was elected in 2015 and campaigned for stricter gun control regulations and expanding healthcare access, among other progressive goals. Levine, like many Democrats in the state legislature, has found it easier to make good on those campaign promises after Democrats took the majority in 2019.

“This year, the predominant gun regulations have been my bills and in all state-owned buildings and offices and polling places,” Levine said. “Introduced 47 bills and passed half of them… and it wasn’t my bill on marijuana legalization that passed, but I led the way.”

Bennett-Parker, co-director of the nonprofit Together We Bake, was elected to the Alexandria City Council in 2019 and said her experience working in local government would bring a unique perspective to the state legislature.

“First, having served as Vice Mayor, I understand the nuance of the role that local government plays in people’s lives and how the state is often an impediment to localities in serving their residents,” Bennett-Parker said. “Currently there are only 18 Delegates out of 100 who have served in city or county government and none of them are from Northern Virginia. Obviously, we face different issues than other parts of the Commonwealth. I hear from constituents all the time who want the City Council to do things that we can’t do because we don’t have the authority.”

Bennett-Parker also noted that she would be the minority in a government body that is still 70% male.

“Women have for too long been held back by governmental policies and programs designed by men,” Bennett-Parker said.

Together We Bake is an Alexandria-based workforce training program that helps women exiting the criminal justice system, experiencing homelessness, recovering from abuse or addiction, or facing unemployment.

Bennett-Parker has been reluctant to criticize Levine openly, saying instead that she aims to focus on campaign goals.

“When I decided to run, this race looked like it would be an open seat, as Delegate Levine had announced he was running for Lieutenant Governor,” Bennett-Parker said. “I am focused solely on this district and serving its residents. I have delivered results for the 45th district as Vice Mayor and on regional bodies, and I will keep doing so in Richmond.”

Levine, in contrast, has no qualms about saying that he doesn’t think Bennett-Parker is the right candidate to replace him as the 45th District delegate.

“No, I don’t think so,” Levine said when asked if he thought Bennett-Parker would make a good replacement.

Levine said that part of his role as delegate has been taking an active role in community meetings and discussions, something he says he hasn’t seen from Bennett-Parker.

“I absolutely have not neglected my community,” Levine said. “We had a shooting in Old Town on Monday night. I was at a community meeting with Police Chief Michael Brown. [Bennett-Parker] wasn’t there. It was a room full of concerned constituents and she wasn’t there… I was out at a COVID memorial. I was there. [Mayor Justin] Wilson was there. [City Council member Mo] Seifeldein and [City Council member Canek] Aguirre were there. You know who wasn’t there? Elizabeth Bennet-Parker. I’m more active in the community every day and I don’t see her.”

Some of Levine’s peers have disagreed with his assessment, however, with Bennett-Parker winning endorsements from state Senator Adam Ebbin and former delegates Marian Van Landingham and Rob Krupicka, among others.

The issues

For both Levine and Bennett-Parker, expanding healthcare and combatting the effects of climate change are two of the major priorities ahead for the state legislature.

“In terms of fights ahead: healthcare is the big one,” Levine said. “We need affordable healthcare. I think healthcare needs to be more transparent and we need to make sure people aren’t being bankrupted by healthcare costs.”

Bennett-Parker said the state should take the momentum from expanding Medicaid and keep moving forward.

“Expanding access to affordable health care,” Bennett-Parker said, when asked about her top priorities. “Expanding Medicaid was an important step in the right direction, but we need to do more to make healthcare, including mental healthcare, more accessible and affordable for all Virginians. We also need to find a way to lower prescription drug prices, especially for seniors.”

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