Alexandria, VA

The ribbon was cut at the Inova Cares Clinic for Women on Saturday, providing the West End with obstetrics and gynecological services.

The ribbon cutting was attended by a number of local politicians, including members of the General Assembly and Mayor Justin Wilson. Also unveiled was a new Inova Ewing Forensic Assessment and Consultation Teams department (FACT) to support domestic violence and assault victims.

“I think we know that on the West End of our city we are underserved, certainly, for obstetrics and gynecology services,” Wilson said. “I’m also excited about bringing this FACT program back to our city, getting these services back here.”

Both clinics will be located next to the current Inova Cares Clinic for Families and Inova Transitional Services at 4700 King Street.

“The Inova community is serving everyone regardless of their need, regardless of their ability to pay for their health care,” said Dr. J. Stephen Jones, CEO of the Inova health system. “These new facilities will provide access and a better relationship between our providers and our communities.”

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Stark differences were on full display Saturday night, as Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg sparred in a contentious debate on local issues.

Wilson defended his record since taking the mayorship from Silberberg in 2018. Silberberg, however, said she wants to restore the public trust, and that the city is at an inflection point.

“We’ve seen in the last couple of years certain decisions and policies that have been decided that really put our city at risk in many ways,” Silberberg said. “Our visions for the city are different. And our city is at an inflection point… It saddens me to hear so many residents express a profound loss of confidence and trust in our local government. As your mayor, I would certainly be very focused on transparency, and rebuilding the public trust.”

The hour-long debate was hosted by the Alexandria Democratic Committee, and moderated by Robert McCartney, a senior regional correspondent for The Washington Post. Wilson currently leads in fundraising and endorsements, and the debate comes on the heels of Wilsons’ endorsement by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

Silberberg presented herself as an environmentalist in favor of “smart growth,” while Wilson said that the city needs to match growth with transportation infrastructure.

“I’m inspired to turn what I’ve learned about our city’s resilience over the last year into a mission for our city’s future,” Wilson said. “I know that by investing in our kids, investing in our basic infrastructure, and making sure that we have an economy that can support the services that our residents expect and demand, Alexandria cannot only survive in the aftermath of this pandemic, but we can thrive.”

Silberberg’s tenure as mayor was plagued by lone 6-1 votes, and Wilson said that she voted against a number of important issues, including a controversial 5.7 cent tax hike in 2017 that resulted in significant capital improvement funding.

“I speak out for the people and I listen to our residents,” Silberberg said. “I’m certainly in favor of transit oriented development, that has been what we’ve all supported across the many years. But what I’m really for is smart growth. And what that means really, is that you don’t have unabashed out of scale overbuilding on every square inch, that you do keep some open space, which helps with the flooding.”

Silberberg criticized Wilson’s handling of COVID-19, and said that the city’s face mask ordinance needed to be passed sooner that the fall of 2020.

“It’s been a harrowing year for all of us,” she said. “I know a number of folks who have had COVID, and I’ve lost some friends. I don’t think we should have waited till October 1 with the outdoor mask order. Cities all across the country were helping restaurants, but the restaurants in the Bradley Center in the middle of the city and on the West End weren’t helped as much as other places, so we need to look at that across the board.”

Wilson said that the mask ordinance was the first adopted in Virginia, and was replicated by Northam in his statewide executive order. He also said that the city’s vaccination rate for Latinos is higher than for white residents, a result of “aggressive outreach” to the city’s nonprofits.

“I’m very proud of that ordinance,” he said. “Alexandria led the way in providing new small business flexibility using outdoor spaces, sidewalks, closing streets, parking lots and everything to help keep our businesses afloat. I worked with the mayor of Richmond to go down to the General Assembly and ultimately get the governor to include an executive order that allowed carry-out cocktails, which has helped keep our restaurants a floating all around our city. We spent millions of dollars a small business assistance again leading the way in the region, and helping our small businesses providing grants to small businesses all around our city.”

Silberberg also said that she would reverse the Seminary Road Diet, which she said is a transparency issue.

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Old Hat Bar to open soon in Old Town — “Gastropub opening May 21 in Old Town may teach some new dogs in the hospitality industry some old tricks.” [Alexandria Living]

ACPS opens summer/fall learning choice form on Tuesday — “The decision you make now is important to our comprehensive planning. The Learning Choice Form will be sent to families by email on May 11, 2021. May 24, 2021 is the last day for families to inform ACPS of your selection for the 2021-22 school year. If a family does not make a selection before the deadline, then their child will automatically be enrolled in in-person learning for the first quarter of the school year.” [ACPS]

American Rescue Plan meeting tonight — “The City of Alexandria is seeking community input as we prepare for the upcoming receipt of federal funding as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP). This meeting will provide an opportunity for staff to answer questions and to hear from the community about proposed spending opportunities to help with COVID-19 recovery efforts.” [City of Alexandria]

Mayoral debate on Wednesday — “The Del Ray Business Association will host an Alexandria Mayoral Democratic Primary Debate on Wed., May 12, moderated by NBC News 4 Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey. The debate will take place from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. via Zoom. Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and former Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg have both confirmed that they will participate.” [Visit Del Ray]

Today’s weather — “Intervals of clouds and sunshine (during the day). Slight chance of a rain shower. High 67F. Winds NNW at 10 to 20 mph… Clear skies with a few passing clouds (in the evening). Low 48F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Right-uppercut associate — “The Right-Uppercut Associate is a key position and must be filled with a high-energy, passionate, and creative person who will continue to fuel the trajectory of this brand toward being the premier fitness franchise in the world.” [Indeed]

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A group of city residents are asking that City Council members and candidates pledge themselves to a document they are calling the Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights.

Rachel Sheedy and Stafford Ward are spokespeople for the group, For Better Alexandria Government, although they declined to answer many of ALXnow’s questions, including who drafted the document and what a rejection of the document means. Their group launched its website tracking candidates who pledge themselves to it on May 1.

The document asks that City Council members focus on ethics by disclose campaign donations, recuse themselves from legislation that have potential conflicts of interest, make public all government communication, ensure that city staff respond to constituent complaints within 48 hours and “Strictly adhere to Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution of Virginia to recognize that constituents are the source of their elected power.”

“The goal of For Better Alexandria Government is simple — our group represents City of Alexandria constituents who strongly believe that ethics, transparency and accountability need to be a part of the election discussion,” Sheedy and Ward said in a joint statement. “Whether running for reelection, or running for the first time, candidates should be questioned as to how they will incorporate these values if they are elected to serve the City’s constituents.”

Ward is a member of the Citizens Association of the Southwest Quadrant group, which is against the city’s development of the Heritage affordable apartment project in Old Town. He and Sheedy would also not comment on the CASWQ or its potential connection to the document.

Mayor Justin Wilson said he will not sign it.

“I don’t sign pledges,” Wilson told ALXnow. “I take an oath to uphold the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions.”

City Councilwoman Amy Jackson, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Canek Aguirre also did not sign the pledge, and neither did candidates Bill Campbell, Alyia Gaskins, Kirk McPike, Patrick Moran, Meronne Teklu, Kevin Harris and Sarah Bagley.

Moran told Ward that he appreciated his “initiative and leadership” in crafting the document, but asked that it include language to make City Council full time.

“We have full-time expectations of our leaders and this Bill reflects this,” Moran wrote on the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook page. “If we can flush this out to bring professional expectations with professional pay, remove mailing notices and add conditions around the 48 hr response time that accounts for weekends, vacancies, etc, I’d support it.”

Jackson said that she declined because she signed the City’s Ethics Pledge with the mayor and her Council colleagues after being elected.

Those who signed it are Democratic mayoral candidate former Mayor Allison Silberberg, Republican mayoral candidate Annetta Catchings, Democratic Council candidates Bill Rossello, Mark Shiffer, James Lewis and Independent candidate Florence King.

“I believe in full disclosure and transparency,” King wrote on the Facebook page. “Our citizens have every right to know before the fact not afterwards.”

The entire document is presented below the jump.

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Governor Ralph Northam on Friday endorsed Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson for reelection.

“Local government is where the policy rubber meets the road, and we need effective leaders like Justin there to implement policies and innovate solutions to the problems of everyday Virginians,” Northam said in a statement. “Under Mayor Wilson’s leadership, Alexandria has consistently created a model for the entire Commonwealth. From COVID response to affordable housing coalitions to equitable transit, Justin has led on the issues most important to Virginians.”

The endorsement comes after Northam also backed a number of other candidates, including former Governor Terry McAuliffe in his bid to retake the governorship, Delegate Hala Ayala for lieutenant governor, and Del. Jay Jones for attorney general.

Wilson is running against former Mayor Allison Silberberg in the June 8 primary, and then  the winner of that contest will go against Republican Annetta Catchings in November.

“I am honored to have Governor Northam’s support,” Wilson said in a statement. “Partnerships with our statewide leaders have allowed us to weather the current pandemic and preserve our local economy. Because of the coordinated effort between Alexandria and Governor Northam’s administration, we are in a place to rebuild stronger than when this pandemic started.”

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The Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted its $770.7 million fiscal year 2022 budget on Wednesday night, and it includes the first tax real estate tax reduction in 15 years.

Retiring Councilwoman Del Pepper made the motion to pass the budget, her last after 35 years on Council.

“This budget is filled with some good things that will be helpful to our citizens, and for me that is what counts,” Pepper said. “It is an opportunity to really move the city forward, and that’s really what’s important. I’m very pleased with the things that are in this budget, and I know that the staff has worked very hard.”

The motion was seconded by Councilman John Taylor Chapman.

It has been a tough past fiscal year for all of us across the city and for businesses,” Chapman said. “I look forward to the future, to the growth that we can start to achieve.”

The upcoming fiscal year (an election year) will see real estate tax bills decrease from $1.13 to $1.11 per $100 of assessed value. At the same time, there is a $24.22 increase in the residential refuse collection fee, from $460 to $484.22.

All city and state employees will also get a 1% raise, and City Manager Mark Jinks said that $12 million, or a 2.3% reduction from last year’s budget, was made without impacting programs or services.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that city staff prepared a high quality budget during a period of incredible uncertainty. That uncertainty is eased, however, since the city will be getting approximately $59.4 million American Rescue Plan funds.

“We have only been successful this last year in getting through this moment because of our incredibly dedicated staff, in many cases doing jobs at physical risk to themselves and physical risk to their families,” Wilson said. “While we can never completely repay folks for that commitment and dedication, I think we were doing what we can in this in this environment.”

Councilwoman Amy Jackson thanked Jinks and staff for including the tax reduction into the budget.

“This is the year that is most needed,” Jackson said.When our residents are looking at other avenues of how they are going to save money, how they’re going to pay their bills, how they’re going to feed their families and continue their jobs.”

Council also unanimously approved the 10-year $2.7 billion Capital Improvement Program, which includes $293 million in investments for schools, transportation, sewers, stormwater management, public buildings and facilities, and information technology.

“We are making some very significant investments in our infrastructure,” Wilson said. “I’m pleased to see that in this in this budget.”

Additionally, nearly $800,000 in Alexandria Police Department funding for School Resource Officers at Alexandria City Public Schools was “temporarily reallocated” to contingent reserves until the school system presents a proposal this summer on using the funds to provide mental health resources for school-age children, the Teen Wellness Center, and the hiring of an additional Behavioral Health Specialist for the Alexandria Crisis Intervention and Co-responding Program (ACORP). The proposal will have to be presented to City Council before their summer recess.

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was in Alexandria Wednesday, and with Mayor Justin Wilson welcomed U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School.

Northam stopped by Pacers Running at 1301 King Street before the event with Cardona, where he met Wilson and spoke with employees about raising the minimum wage. Pacers has been paying its employees $15 an hour since last year.

“The $15 an hour is definitely better for morale,” Pacers manager Victoria Sanchez said. “We want to have our employees want to stay and to want to come to work every day and be able to afford, living in the area as well.”

Starting May 1, Virginia’s minimum wage will increase to $9.50 per hour, and then to $11 per hour starting Jan. 1, 2022, to $12 in 2023 and then $15 per hour in January 2026.

Northam then met with Cardona, Wilson, National Education Association of the United States President Becky Pringle and Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane at Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School.

Cardona was at the school as part of his “Help is Here” school reopening tour. Also in attendance were Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. and School Board Chair Meagan Alderton.

“It was an honor to welcome Secretary Cardona, the Governor, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the President of the NEA and more to Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School,” Wilson said. “Secretary Cardona pledged continuing support from the Administration as we continue efforts to return students to in-classroom instruction and provide supports for our kids during this time.”

As part of the tour, which launched in March, Cardona has visited schools around the country that have successfully reopened, as well as schools facing reopening challenges.

Images via Jason Taylor and ACPS/Twitter

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Alexandria City Councilors seemed surprised by Police Chief Michael Brown on Tuesday night, when he presented an alternate plan to Council Mo Seifeldein’s proposal to reappropriate nearly $800,000 in School Resource Officer funding for mental health resources for school aged children.

“The proposal is to cut the funding and redirect it,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “It sounds like the Chief is talking about something that involves retaining the funding, and making changes to the way the folks are operating.”

Per the proposal, $789,909 for SRO funding would be reallocated to “add mental health resources for school aged children, support staff to the Teen Wellness Center, an additional Behavioral Health Specialist to the ACORP Pilot, and other similar needs identified by staff.”

If passed, the proposal would require an implementation plan from police and ACPS, and be presented to Council by July. It currently has the support of Seifeldein, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Canek Aguirre — just enough to pass.

Brown asked that Council not cut the six officers from the budget, but instead transition them to a new community engagement program that he recently unveiled to the city manager. As part of that program, police are increasing a community presence in areas of the city with increased crime, such as Old Town North and Arlandria.

“But the key is we need staffing to do it, and with these people if we ended up having to move out of the SRO program as a council policy decision, we would recommend that we keep those assets because we’re going to need them for that,” Brown said.

Seifeldein said that Brown’s proposal was news to him.

“I don’t know really what’s going on here,” Seifeldein said. “I have not heard of this till now. It is not my proposal and I certainly do not support it and does not fall in line within the parameters of the proposal which deals exclusively with mental health resources to school aged children.”

Seifeldein continued, “Am I hearing that you just kind of reworking your budget and looking potentially at your overhead and moving that to this, or are you talking about taking the money that I’m proposing for the mental health program to be reappropriated to what you just talked about?”

Last month, School Board members asked City Council to respect their decision on SROS after its bi-annual memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed with the police department.

The final add/delete session for the fiscal year 2022 budget is on Monday, May 3.

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Alexandria turned another corner in the fight against COVID-19 on Tuesday, as the city has moved into vaccination open scheduling.

“This is a big moment, as the days of long waiting lists for vaccinations are largely behind us,” Mayor Justin Wilson told ALXnow. “The next phase is a new challenge as we must work to bring doses to those who have not sought them and continue to spread the word that we have three very safe and effective vaccines that are available to Alexandria residents. This is how we get our residents and businesses back to normal.”

More than 108,000 residents have gotten shots — 42,094 fully vaccinated and 65,960 single doses administered, according to the Virginia Department of Health. It’s a far cry from the 25,000+ vaccine waitlist earlier this year, and means that residents can now choose vaccination appointment dates and locations to get inoculated without pre-registering.

“This milestone highlights the hard work by AHD and City staff, the dedication of Medical Reserve Corps and community volunteers, and the contribution of each Alexandrian who has received the vaccine to help end the pandemic,” AHD said in a release. “With the increase in COVID-19 variants and ongoing significant community transmission in Alexandria, streamlined vaccine appointment open scheduling will increase access to vaccination for all residents and essential workers.”

According to the Alexandria Health Department, residents and frontline essential workers who pre-registered for a vaccine with the city or the Virginia Department of Health, have been contacted for an appointment. The city also recently began re-administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was temporarily halted after reports of side effects.

The city has set a summer target of fully inoculating 80% of residents (106,000 people).

“COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, free and they can save your life,” AHD said. “When enough people get vaccinated, Alexandrians can get back to normal.”

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Morning Notes

T.C. Williams completes comeback to win school’s first volleyball state championship — “For a moment, T.C. Williams sophomore Milan Rex was scared. The Titans were trailing Kellam two sets to one in the Virginia Class 6 championship Friday in Alexandria, and the chance at a perfect season seemed to be fading. Coach A.J. DeSain reminded the Titans they belonged in this moment, enabling Rex to lock in. She then powered T.C. Williams to a 23-25, 25-19, 18-25, 25-19, 17-15 victory — the program’s first state title. [Washington Post]

Mayor Wilson defends donation from Planning Commission Chair — “Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek gave Wilson a donation the day after Wilson voted with the majority of council to reappoint Macek to his post. Macek’s employer, the engineering firm WSP, has played a leading role in numerous large projects in Alexandria, including the under-construction Potomac Yard Metro.” [Alex Times]

ACPS shifting to three-foot distancing in classrooms — “With our work to reconfigure our classrooms to three feet of physical distance between students, we will have all classrooms reconfigured and our strategy to accommodate lunch by April 26 which will allow us to transition more students after April 27. Read more about the planning and implementation process below.” [ACPS]

Alexandria Police hang out with ARHA residents — “We had a great time spending time with the Princess Square community this morning. Our officers had fun on the playground with the kids. Thank you ARHA for inviting us to stop by.” [Twitter]

Inova Landmark named ‘Deal of 2020’ by Washington Business Journal — “I constantly hear ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ … But the hard part is done. It was about assembling the right players and having the will to get it done.” [Washington Business Journal]

Wilson, Chapman, Aguirre, McPike and Gaskins gets rush of endorsements — “The decisions to be made are tough and require bold, consensus-building leadership. We are encouraged by the number of candidates stepping forward to run for City Council and Mayor this year. We think there are some in particular that stand out as ready to lead us through the recovery.” [Alexandria Forward]

Handgun and animal bones found in Potomac River cleanup — “There was an interesting discovery during an Earth Day river clean-up along the Alexandria waterfront today. A handgun and what were determined to be animal bones were found. The weapon was determined to be many years old. Thank you for calling APD!” [Facebook]

Today’s weather — “Sunny skies (during the day). High 67F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph… Clear to partly cloudy (in the evening). Low 47F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph.”  [Weather.com]

New job: Worship producer — “The Worship Producer supports the communications ministry at Aldersgate United Methodist Church (AUMC). As part of the staff team, the Producer will design and create video and media content for in-person and online worship (which may also be used for marketing and promotional purposes) and will be responsible for online streaming of Sunday morning worship. The Producer, assisted by other church leaders, will build a video ministry volunteer team to assist them in designing, creating, and sharing content video content for the church.” [Indeed]

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