Alexandria, VA

What a week in Alexandria.

With the region still reeling from the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol, Alexandria Police are mobilized and prepared to respond to security threats in the run up to the inauguration in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20. At this time it is not likely that a 6 p.m. curfew will be imposed on the city.

On the coronavirus front, the death toll in Alexandria now stands at 94, and the number of cases is 8,448 as of today, according to the Virginia Department of Health. This week, Governor Ralph Northam expanded eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 65 years of age and older, in addition to anyone 16 and older with preexisting conditions.

Northam was in town on Tuesday in a vaccination event for Alexandria City Public Schools staff, and many called the event a turning point against the virus.

ACPS also postponed its partial reopening on Jan. 19 due to the virus, and School Board member Margaret Lorber took heat from the community (and later apologized) for supporting a cautious reopening by asking in a board meeting whether parents wanted their children alive or educated.

There was also a COVID-19 outbreak at the office of the Alexandria Clerk of the Court, leaving just four out of 22 employees working at the office.

Below are our top stories of the week in Alexandria:

  1. Alexandria Police Ask ATF to Help Stem 49% Surge in Gunfire Incidents
  2. American Physical Therapy Association to Open Next Week at Potomac Yard
  3. Alexandrians with Joe Biden Yard Signs Get Anonymous Letters Saying Biden is a Pedophile
  4. St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub Opens in North Old Town
  5. St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School Submits Plans for New Expansion
  6. Superintendent Says Reopening Plan Uncertain, School Board Member Lorber Takes Fire for Comments
  7. New Boarding House Planned Over Old Town Barber Shop
  8. Police Investigating Carjacking and Shooting
  9. Alexandria City Councilman Seifeldein Calls for Closure of Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center
  10. Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker Announces Candidacy for 45th District Seat
  11. “Lipstick on a Pig” Heritage Development in Old Town Headed to Planning Commission

Have a safe weekend!

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Virginia Lieutenant Governor candidate Del. Mark Levine has joined legislators in calling for the resignation of Republican State Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) over her involvement with the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol.

“She should resign,” Levine told ALXnow. “She is saying things that aren’t true and she’s inciting violence. She’s basically attacking the foundations of our democracy, and it really disappoints me because we work together. We had a good personal relationship. I’m just very disappointed in what she’s done.”

Chase attended the rally that preceded the riot but did not participate in the attack on the Capitol building.

Chase, who is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, is accused of committing insurrection by the Senate Democratic Caucus and faces multiple calls for her resignation. Her Facebook account was briefly shut down after she said publicly in a video that the incident at the Capitol was the fault of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protestors, a claim that has since been disproven.

Levine, 54, announced his intent to run for Lieutenant Governor last month, and if he loses the democratic primary says that he will run for reelection for the 45th District seat that he has held since 2015. His only opponent for the 45th is Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, who announced this week that she is running for the seat.

Levine said that Bennett-Parker did not call him about her entering the race for the 45th District.

“It’s not like the vice mayor called me and told me she was running. She didn’t,” Levine said. “I’m gonna run for lieutenant governor, because I think, frankly, what I’ve done for the 45th has been so positive that I think I can deliver for the entire state, the whole Commonwealth of Virginia, including Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax. But should I not prevail in the governor’s race, I think I’ve got a very good record to run for reelection as delegate, and obviously I hope to prevail.”

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Less than a week before the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden on Jan. 20, Alexandria’s Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker is asking hotels in the city to cancel reservations for the Proud Boys.

In a letter to the Holiday Inn Alexandria-Carlyle, Bennett-Parker said that it rented rooms to members of the Proud Boys before the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol.

“It is my understanding that members of the Proud Boys, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, stayed at your hotel during their insurrection attempt earlier this month,” Bennett-Parker wrote. “These anti-democratic groups are inciting violence and must not be welcome in our city.”

On Jan. 4, a protest at the Holiday Inn was canceled for security concerns after a notification was posted on the pro-Trump site thedonald.win and a commenter said that if any Trump supporters arrived early to the hotel that “it’s time to give them a show of force.”

Bennett-Parker asked that Alexandria hotels cancel reservations with anyone associated with the group. The hotel is located one block from the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station, and reservations can be made online.

“There is another planned armed militia insurgence from January 17, 2021, through January 20, 2021,” she wrote. “Please join me in condemning these right-wing terrorists by denying them lodging at your hotel. Your actions will send a message that there is no place for hate in Alexandria. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.”

Photo via Grassroots Alexandria/Facebook

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Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker will not seek reelection and is running for the 45th District seat currently held by Del. Mark Levine as he runs for Virginia Lieutenant Governor.

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.

“I am excited to announce my candidacy for the Virginia House of Delegates today,” Bennett-Parker announced Tuesday morning. “I want to be a part of the solution by ensuring all Northern Virginians have access to good jobs with worker protections, helping small businesses thrive, making sure families have access to quality care and education for their children from early childhood onwards, and taking urgent action to protect our environment and build an infrastructure to respond to climate change.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said he was disappointed to lose Bennett-Parker. There are now two open seats for city council, as longtime Council member Del Pepper recently announced her retirement.

“I am disappointed to lose Elizabeth’s leadership on City Council, but I wish her well in her next pursuit,” Wilson told ALXnow. “Every three years, the voters of our City have the opportunity to shape the future of our community. I am confident that we will have an experienced and qualified crop of candidates offering themselves in service to our community.”

Bennett-Parker grew up in Alexandria and lives with her husband and grandmother in the city’s Rosemont neighborhood, is also the co-director of the nonprofit Together We Bake.

“As the caregiver for my grandmother during this pandemic, I also know firsthand the challenges so many around Northern Virginia have been facing when it comes to caring for our seniors,” she said. “Families, workers, educators, and students continue to struggle with the pandemic’s impact, and they deserve an advocate in Richmond.”

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.

The primary for the race is on June 8, and election day is Tuesday, Nov. 2.

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As the city continues to adapt to primarily virtual meetings, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker is spearheading an effort to open up new ways for the public to provide input on city affairs.

While the move coincides with the extended online-only year of city governance, Bennett-Parker said the issue also taps into earlier lack of online access for city residents.

“While residents can watch our meetings on channel 70, stream our meetings online, and access recordings afterwards, they did not have a way to truly participate online until we moved our meetings to Zoom in response to COVID-19,” Bennett-Parker said in a message to the City Council. “This memo seeks to build upon this experience and sustain it once we return to in-person meetings, recognizing that requiring in-person attendance creates barriers to participation.”

Bennett-Parker noted in the memo that in some ways, the city is restricted by the Code of Virginia. Section 2.2-3708.2 outlines specific requirements for virtual engagement, but Bennett-Parker noted in her memo that the code section specifically states that the section should not be construed to “prohibit use of interactive audio or video means to expand public participation.”

“Our ability to expand options for public comment via the use of video and audio means is thus a question of policy and resources.,” Bennett-Parker said. “With the agreement of my colleagues, I would like to ask staff to return to Council with information regarding what resources would be needed to expand our ability to receive public comment at Council meetings…”

Bennett-Parker requested that the staff look into accepting the following forms of public input:

  • Submission of video or audio files sent directly via email or through a link to YouTube or a cloud service such as Dropbox, to a designated email address;
  • Calling a telephone number established for this purpose and leaving a message; and
  • Providing live remote comments via Zoom, Skype, or similar platform once we return to in-person meetings and are no longer in a state of emergency.

Eventually, Bennett-Parker said other boards and commissions could adopt a similar standard.

“While this initiative, if ultimately approved, would start with Council, it would be my hope that it could be expanded to the Planning Commission and other Boards and Commissions that receive public comment,” Bennett-Parker said.

Bennett-Parker’s memo is scheduled for review by the City Council at the meeting tonight.

Staff photo (pre-pandemic) by James Cullum

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Morning Notes

Beyer to Introduce Legislation for Law Enforcement to Wear Identifying Badges — “We don’t do secret police in the United States of America. I will introduce House legislation in the next few days to require uniformed federal officers to identify themselves by wearing badges. Next step will be working for broad support in the House. More soon.” [Twitter]

Tenants and Workers United Gives Food and Supplies to 400 Families — “Today we gave food, needs, and diapers to almost 400 families!! This was possible by Arlington Calvary United Methodist Church. Our community greatly appreciates this support during these difficult times!” [Facebook]

Alexandria Back to Business Grant Application Deadline at 5 p.m. — “Applications for the ALX B2B Grant are open (as of Thursday, June 4th at 8:00AM EDT), and will close Monday, June 8th at 5:00 PM (EDT).” [AEDP]

Del. Herring Thanks Inova Alexandria Hospital Workers — “Thank you @InovaHealth Alexandria for this display of unity & caring for our community. #WhiteCoatsforBlackLives” [Twitter]

Vice Mayor Sends Message of Solidarity With Black Leaders — “I have a responsibility to use my platform to speak up about these issues. The best way to do that is to amplify the voices of black leaders in our community. If you haven’t already done so, please listen to and read their words. And then take action.” [Elizabeth Bennett-Parker]

ACPS Announces Collection and Return of School Materials — “The school closures related to COVID-19 and the Governor’s stay-at-home order have forced us to make a new plan of how we collect students’ school materials and also allow our students to get personal belongings from their lockers or classrooms.” [ACPS]

Alexandrian Named National Eagle Scout Runner-Up — “Noah Ventura, an Alexandria resident and rising senior at Gonzaga College High School, has been named the American Legion’s Eagle Scout of the Year Runner-Up for 2020. As a recipient of the award, he is receiving a $2,500 college scholarship.” [Zebra]

Local Filmmakers Selected for Alexandria Symphony Series — “The films will accompany music by American composers performed “live to picture” by the orchestra as part of ASO’s 2020-2021 season on November 7 and 8, 2020. The works will also be screened as part of the Alexandria Film Festival on November 12-15.” [Zebra]

Reminder: Here’s a List of ACPS Free Food Distributions — “ACPS has multiple distribution meal site locations throughout Alexandria for all ACPS students and children over the age of two.” [ACPS]

New Job: Contact Tracer — “The Contact Tracer is an entry level public health professional responsible for identifying and contacting individuals who may have come in contact with persons recently diagnosed with an infectious disease associated with an outbreak or pandemic.” [Indeed]

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(Updated on May 21 at 2:30 p.m.) A majority of the Alexandria City Council wants to know more about a month-long police teleworking initiative during the pandemic, and one member wants to see a full internal report.

Between April 6 and May 2, the Alexandria Police Department reduced its enlarged patrol presence (with added school resource officers, K-9 officers, traffic safety section officers and community relations officers), and on any given day had one-third of assigned patrol officers (18-24 officers) teleworking at home.

City Manager Mark Jinks and Police Chief Michael Brown declined to comment on the subject, and the city will not release information on how many officers were on vacation during that period.

City spokesman Craig Fifer said that the teleworking provided a “less stressful time for officers and their families.”

“Having an unnecessary level of patrol staffing would have needlessly exhausted limited supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), increased risk to officers and their vehicles from potential exposure to the virus, and failed to model the stay-at-home guidance everyone in the community is expected to follow,” Fifer said.

Last week, Jinks said there was “significant telework,” and that police were made available to respond to a “much worse situation.” Officers were paid full-time to turn on their work laptops and answer a handful of daily calls for service, according to sources inside the department. The impact on crime is debatable, since crime was down in April from the previous month, although increased by 10% when compared against the same four week period last year.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that he expects the city to evaluate this practice, in addition to many other government decisions during the COVID-19 crisis for years to come.

“Some we will likely get right and some we will likely get wrong,” Wilson told ALXnow. “We just hope we make more good ones than bad ones.”

The city, which says APD maintained minimum staffing levels, said it was an “innovative” solution.

Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker did not agree with the decision, but said sending 911 operators home to take calls was “innovative.” In Arlington, for instance, the 911 call center was shut down because of a suspected coronavirus case.

“It’s clear that as we move forward, public safety is one of many areas we will have to continually evaluate as to how to maintain the balance with public health until there’s adequate testing and a vaccine,” she said.

Last month also saw more than 700 positive COVID-19 cases in Alexandria.

City Councilman John Taylor Chapman wants to engage with the city manager on Alexandria’s teleworking philosophy.

“I know that is something beat officers should not be doing,” Chapman said. “I think it doesn’t pass the smell test for the public, so a conversation about why that was used, even in light of coronavirus, needs to be discussed.”

A source familiar with the situation, but who remains anonymous for fear of reprisal, said the rationale behind the decision is flawed.

“The stories don’t add up and people are scratching their heads,” the source said. “Chief Brown claims he started teleworking in order to protect his officers by reducing their exposure to coronavirus. If it was such a great idea then why did he stop doing it?”

Councilman Canek Aguirre wants to know more.

“At this point I don’t have sufficient information to comment but will be inquiring further of staff,” Aguirre said.

Councilman Mo Seifeldein wants a full review on police teleworking.

“The most I know about this matter is from the media,” Seifeldein said. “I will wait for a full internal report. Public health and safety are the foundations of a healthy government, which makes inquiries about them important.”

City Councilwoman Amy Jackson is against the teleworking move.

“We need to be responsible about this virus,” Jackson said. “This pandemic will hold us accountable. If this decision wasn’t a mistake in April, it most certainly would be in May and the coming months.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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The following Letter to the Editor was written by Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker.

As I write this, I sit in the Alexandria Medical Reserve Corps call center in-between calls.

As yet another testament to the commitment and compassion of our residents, we’ve had an additional 500 volunteers join since this crisis began. However, our need for volunteers may continue to grow and if you are able, I would encourage you to sign-up to register and join us. Volunteers are practicing physical distancing and hand hygiene to protect each other during this important work.

It has been almost eight weeks since the City declared a local state of emergency in response to COVID-19. While this is a time of hardship, fear and uncertainty, I’ve seen so many heartwarming actions by our residents coming together as a community in response.

Last month’s Spring2ACTion fundraiser on April 15 — Alexandria’s annual giving day — raised more money from more donors than ever before, securing $2.45 million from 8,450 donors and benefitting 156 local nonprofits who are stepping up to meet the increased need for their services.

Our residents and businesses continue to respond in creative and inspiring ways.

Additionally, the Facebook group Alexandrians Supporting Alexandrians During COVID is connecting residents who need help with groceries and other supplies with others who can provide them. Residents across the city are making masks for grocery store workers, senior living facilities, and nonprofit organizations. And neighborhoods are spreading cheer through inspiring signs, stuffed animal safari hunts, and physically distant birthday celebrations.

There are other actions we can all do to continue to help our neighbors, friends and loved ones:

  • Take a few minutes to create or update a Smart911 profile for you and your loved ones. This provides first responders with valuable information when responding during an emergency.
  • Create positive signs or art to thank essential workers and share messages of gratitude, hope, and solidarity and post photos on social media with the hashtag #SpreadCheerALX.
  • Make sure you’re taking care of yourself during this stressful time. A variety of mental health and wellness resources are available here. Additionally, local fitness studios like Ease Yoga and Sculp’d are offering free online workouts.
  • Support local businesses through the many offerings at ALX at Home.
  • If you’re healthy and able, sign-up to volunteer through Volunteer Alexandria.
  • If you can, donate to one of the efforts listed above or the ACT Now Covid Response Fund to support those in need.

Most importantly, follow the Six Steps to Stop the Spread:

  1. Please stay home as much as possible – it is the most effective thing we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19.
  2. Wash your hands frequently by rubbing them together with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  3. If you must leave your home, do your best to stay at least six feet away from anyone who is not part of your household. Six feet is farther than it feels – it’s about the width of a car or the length of a mattress.
  4. Cough or sneeze into your elbow, rather than your hands.
  5. Disinfect any high-touch surfaces like door handles, phones, and remote controls.
  6. If you must leave your house, wear a cloth face covering if you can’t stay six feet apart from other people. However, wearing a mask is not a substitute for staying home whenever you can, and staying six feet apart from others in public.

Above you will see a photo I took in March while on a long run in the Cameron Station area. I thought that this was an inspiring message, and I appreciate who wrote it. It exemplifies the struggle that we are all experiencing at this time, and also how we will find ourselves on the other side of this crisis.

We’re all in this together, but six feet apart.

ALXnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity, at our discretion.

Photo via Elizabeth Bennett-Parker

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Together We Bake, the local nonprofit dedicated to providing comprehensive workforce training and personal development for women in need, just reopened its kitchen just in time for Mother’s Day.

“We figured that we could resume operations in our kitchen and maintain six feet of distance,” Together We Bake Co-Director Elizabeth Bennett-Parker told ALXnow. “The deadline for Mother’s Day orders is this Sunday.”

Two program graduates are now working in the kitchen at the Old Town Community Church, and the nonprofit still has nine employees working at their full salaries with benefits.

Bennett-Parker, who is also the vice mayor of Alexandria, said that the Together We Bake training program has been canceled until the fall, and that the nonprofit is still in touch with the nine applicants who were accepted. Their annual Empowerment Breakfast next month has also been cancelled.

“We are attempting to figure out how we can continue training while also maintaining social distancing and following the governor’s orders, but we are still in touch currently with the graduates of our program,” she said.

Nearly 200 women have graduated and received ServSafe food handler certifications through the program, and the nonprofit was able to award certifications to its winter class on March 12 before shutting down for more than a month due to the coronavirus pandemic. Each graduate is paired with a job counselor who works one-on-one with them on resume writing, interview skills, and how to search and applying for jobs.

Revenue from the nonprofit is derived from grants, donations and product sales, and Together We Bake also just raised $56,918 from 204 donors in the Spring2ACTion fundraiser on April 15.

Bennett-Parker now anticipates that in-store sales of products like cookies, granola, trail mix and apple chips will be affected, since retailers like Whole Foods on Duke Street, The Old Town Shop and Stomping Ground are being challenged by the pandemic.

Our kitchen is open! We resumed production today and will begin shipping orders on Monday, May 4th. #MothersDay is…

Posted by Together We Bake on Monday, April 27, 2020

Photo via TWB/Facebook

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An Old Town mural has helped raise some $10,000 for a mix of local and national charities.

The mural of two butterfly wings on the side of lingerie shop Bloomers (924 King Street) was the center of a local social media fundraising campaign in August and September. Last week, organizers announced it helped to raise $10,200 for 111 nonprofits.

California-based artist Tasha Wahl painted and designed the mural, while an anonymous donor helped fund the project through ACT for Alexandria.

More from a press release:

The project was a result of a partnership between Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Tasha Wahl, ACT for Alexandria, Asana Partners, and Bloomers. More than 400 individuals participated in the campaign. Two nonprofits were honored with $1,200 in donations and prizes as a result of the generosity of the community. The Alexandria Police Foundation received the social media prize [for] the most posts on social media. The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria received the most photo submissions.

To participate, individuals were encouraged to take a photo in front of the butterfly wings mural located at 924 King Street, Alexandria, VA and select the charity of their choice from a list of almost 250 local and national 501c3 organizations to receive a $20 donation. Participants could also post their photo on social media tagging their favorite nonprofit, #inclusiveALX and #butterflyeffect for a chance to win an additional $500 for their favorite group.

“I’m thankful to Tasha Wahl for her vision in starting this global project and for choosing Alexandria; to Asana Partners and Bloomers for providing the space for the mural; and to the members of the community who brought it to life,” Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker said.

The awards were funded by Ms. Wahl and an anonymous donor through ACT for Alexandria, the community foundation. Working with Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker, Ms. Wahl customized the mural for our community to include the phrase, “Be the Change You Want to See in the World” in English, Spanish and Arabic.

“ACT for Alexandria believes the diversity of our community is one of Alexandria’s greatest assets; the vision of a vibrant community is core to our work. We are grateful to Elizabeth and Tasha for bringing the Butterfly Effect mural to Alexandria and honored to facilitate one of our donor’s philanthropic commitments to supporting the local nonprofit community,” said Brandi Yee, ACT for Alexandria’s Chief Program Officer.

Mayor Justin Wilson was among those who posed in front of the artwork in August.

The “Butterfly Effect” hashtag is a reference to a movement of mural-fundraisers started by Wahl in 2013 that combined her interpretation of Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of setting an example for change, and Edward Lorenz’s “Butterfly Effect” theory of small actions producing chain reactions to major changes.

Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker first saw the project via Instagram, per a post on her website, and applied to host one of Wahl’s murals but with multilingual translations of “Be the Change you Want to See In the World” and #InclusiveALX hashtag

“I’m excited to bring the Butterfly Effect to Alexandria because it will build community, promote vibrancy on upper King Street, and highlight nonprofits in a fun, interactive way,” Bennett-Parker told Alexandria Living Magazine when the mural launched last month.

In a statement last week, she thanked Wahl and Asana Partners and Bloomers, and those who voted and “brought it to life.”

Image via Twitter/Justin Wilson

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