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.

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  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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Alexandria’s Homegrown Restaurant Group is making an investment in the future.

That’s what “Mango” Mike Anderson says, now that he and co-owner Bill Blackburn have agreed to pay their 150 employees $15 an hour. Anderson says it’s about retaining good staff and thanking them for their hard work during the pandemic.

“Most of our business for the last year has been out of tents,” Anderson said. “Our staff have been out in the cold and rain and bad weather every day. My job behind the scenes was to apply for all these PPP loans and the Employee Retention Credit, and here we are at the end of this and we didn’t end up giving any Christmas bonuses this year. So, we all kind of got together and said, ‘Man, let’s try to make this $15 an hour deal happen.'”

Anderson also said that all COVID restrictions will be lifted Friday at Pork Barrel BBQHoly Cow Del RayThe Sushi BarWhisky & OysterSweet Fire Donna’s and Tequila & Taco.

Governor Ralph Northam was recently at Pacers Running in Old Town, where he met with Mayor Justin Wilson and spoke with employees about raising the minimum wage. Pacers has been paying its employees $15 an hour since last year.

Starting May 1, Virginia’s minimum wage increased to $9.50 per hour. It will go up again to $11 per hour on Jan. 1, 2022, to $12 in 2023 and then $15 per hour in January 2026.

Anderson said that tipped staff — bartenders and waitstaff — will not be paid $15 an hour, and estimates their income to be closer to $20 after tips.

“I think business is going to be strong this summer,” he said. “And we’re kind of betting on the future. Now’s the time to do it, show our appreciation and as a byproduct of this deal we’re also hoping it will attract a stronger caliber of staff to the restaurants.”

Anderson said that the company will be fine, despite an impact from increasing salaries.

“The dishwashers made like $10 or $11,” he said. “Now, with the online tip pool they’re going to make like $19 an hour. So, we’re gonna take a hit, but we’re trying to play the long game here, and the long game is to thank your customers and thank your staff.”

Photo via Holy Cow/Facebook

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The Alexandria Health Department on Friday, May 28, is launching a new accreditation program for businesses to make visitors feel safe.

That’s the day that Governor Ralph Northam is lifting all COVID-19 restrictions throughout Virginia.

The ALX Promise Gold program is the new version of the ALX Promise program, which launched in May 2020 and required business owners and staff to undergo health safety training. More than 450 businesses participated.

“The ALX Promise program really helped to reassure the community and people that were coming into our community that we were a safe place to come,” said Rachel Stradling, an environmental health manager with the AHD. “We really want to make sure that we continue that momentum this summer, while reassuring people that our businesses are still doing the right thing.”

Stradling continued, “Yes, we may be open at an increased capacity, but we want the community to have reassurance that these businesses still really care about the community’s health.”

The new program is being launched in a partnership with Visit Alexandria.

Nearly 70 businesses have already signed up to participate in the new 45-minute class, which updates business owners and staff on the latest updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Businesses must also pledge to report any new coronavirus cases, allow staff to get paid time off to get vaccinated, and maintain sanitation practices.

Some businesses, like fibre space in Old Town, are continuing to ask customers to wear face masks inside, while other big chain stores like Target and Wal-Mart have eliminated mask and distancing requirements.

“We obviously want every business to participate in the program,” Stradling said. “This really is the gold standard. It’s asking you to report every case, it’s asking you to give people paid time off to get vaccinated and we understand that that may be challenging to some businesses. But we really want to encourage as many businesses as possible to participate, and they will get an awesome new decal, which is a really pretty gold color and really stands out.”

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The Alexandria City Council on Saturday unanimously voted on Saturday to align the city’s face mask ordinance with the state’s guidance.

That means that Governor Ralph Northam’s recent lifting of the mask mandate applies to vaccinated city residents, and that any additional changes his office makes will not need local approval.

Any executive order issued by the governor regarding face coverings is the requirement that needs to be followed in Alexandria,” City Attorney Joanna Anderson said on Saturday.

Local businesses can determine whether they want to continue mask requirements, and masks will continue to be mandatory in K-12 schools.

“The state of emergency in Virginia will remain in place at least through June 30 to provide flexibility for local government and support ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts,” according to the governor’s office.

According to the city:

There are some instances when fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks indoors, including on public transit, in health care facilities, and in congregate settings. Since vaccine clinics are considered health care settings, masks will be required by all patients, guests, volunteers, and staff, while inside and outside of vaccine sites. Businesses retain the ability to require masks in their establishments. Employees who work in certain business sectors–including restaurants, retail, fitness, personal care, and entertainment–must continue to wear masks unless they are fully vaccinated, per CDC guidance. The order also states that all K-12 students, teachers, staff and visitors must wear a mask over their nose and mouth while on school property, regardless of vaccination status.

There have been 11,799 cases of COVID-19, and the death toll is 135 in Alexandria. Approximately 40% of eligible Alexandrians have been fully vaccinated, according to the City.

 

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Morning Notes

State of emergency declared in Virginia over gasoline shortages — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency Tuesday afternoon to address gasoline supply disruptions across the state due to a cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline.” [Patch]

Potomac Riverkeepers disavow Silberberg mailer — “Potomac Riverkeeper Network learned today that Allison Silberberg’s campaign to be the next Mayor of Alexandria recently distributed a flyer that included an apparent endorsement by Dean Naujoks, the Potomac Riverkeeper and a member of our staff… Potomac Riverkeeper is neutral and does not endorse Alison Silberberg’s candidacy for Mayor of Alexandria. Potomac Riverkeeper Network supports clean water, not individual candidates.” [Twitter]

Virginia ABC stores returning to pre-pandemic hours starting Friday — “After more than a year of reduced operating hours in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) stores will return to pre-pandemic operating hours on May 14, 2021.” [Zebra]

Fairfax County seeks public input on the former Mount Vernon Athletic Club — “The former Mount Vernon Athletic Club at 7950 and 7960 Audobon Ave. in Fairfax County’s Lee District is undergoing a transformation.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy (during the day). High 67F. Winds NNW at 10 to 15 mph… Mostly clear skies (in the evening). Low 46F. Winds N at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Assistant camp director — “The YMCA of Metropolitan Washington is one of the largest charities in the DC area. The Y serves as an anchor in the community offering programs and services encompassing youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility.” [Indeed]

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What a week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

The Alexandria City Council on Wednesday approved its Fiscal Year 2022 $770.7 million budget on Wednesday, and it includes a 2 cent real estate tax reduction. It’s the first time that’s happened in 15 years, and the budget also fully funds Alexandria City Public Schools’ request and includes a 1% raise for city and state employees.

But perhaps the biggest news of the week came with City Councilman Mo Seifeldein’s proposal to eliminate School Resource Officer funding from the budget. The effort was supported along by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman Canek Aguirre and Councilman John Taylor Chapman, who voted along with the group after failing to save the program in a last-minute effort.

Crime stories dominated many headlines, and Police Chief Michael Brown spoke with us this week about his department’s efforts to reduce destructive elements throughout the city. More from that interview will be published next week.

In this week’s poll, we asked about the importance of political endorsements for local candidates. Out of 222 responses, 48% (107 votes) don’t consider endorsements while voting; 39% (86 votes) said endorsements influence their decision; and 14% (29 votes) feel that endorsements hold a lot of sway.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Parking issues plague Potomac Yard, city looks to create residential parking district
  2. Knife pulled on woman who chases would-be thieves in Old Town
  3. D.C. man arrested after 130 mph chase leads to crash on Interstate 495
  4. Police: Armed robberies occur minutes apart in Del Ray and Arlandria
  5. Two injured in hit-and-run in Old Town, driver leaves car and flees on foot
  6. Too noisy? City Council is considering revising Alexandria’s noise ordinance
  7. Alexandria City Council to end School Resource Officer program at Alexandria City Public Schools
  8. Alexandria man arrested for firing gun at 7-Eleven door near Braddock Road Metro station
  9. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  10. JUST IN: Power outages across Alexandria as strong winds hit the city
  11. What’s next for GenOn and the rest of Old Town North?

Have a safe weekend!

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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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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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Morning Notes

Virginia Governor Proposes Legalizing Marijuana This Summer — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam proposed Wednesday moving up the legalization of simple possession of marijuana to July 1, nearly three years sooner than previously planned.” [Patch]

Lena’s Pizza opens spring dining experience — “Walking in, customers will also see green grass and butterflies.” [Zebra]

Made in ALX, Blue Room Studio launch Del Ray restaurant matchbook art competition — “Local artist Laurel Prucha Moran has created a watercolor painting of a matchbook from every independent restaurant in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood — more than 30 in all. Now, Moran will put 12 of the most popular matchbook watercolor paintings, as determined by resident’s votes, on an art print that will be available for purchase only through Made in ALX.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy skies, with gusty winds developing during the afternoon. High 49F. Winds NW at 20 to 30 mph. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph… A few clouds. Low 29F. Winds NW at 15 to 25 mph. Higher wind gusts possible.” [Weather.com]

New job: Plant obsessed cashier — “Speedy Cashier needed for our busy and bustling garden center in the heart of Alexandria. Excellent people skills and proficient computer skills a must. This is a part time to full time position including weekends, with full time during peak seasons. Plant knowledge a big plus! Come grow with us!” [Indeed]

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Governor Ralph Northam was in Alexandria Monday to sign into law a $72.5 million initiative making tuition free for low and middle-income students who pursue high-demand jobs.

Northam was flanked by democratic legislators today when h announced at Northern Virginia Community College that funding for his “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” initiative (G3) has been approved. The legislation was initially announced in 2019 but funding was held up doe to the pandemic.

“It’s almost like if our children don’t go to a four year college or university they’re not going to be successful,” Northam said. “But I’m here to tell you today there are thousands of jobs out there and they don’t necessarily require a four year college education.”

The G3 program, which goes into effect on July 1, allows students who quality for full Pell Grants to get $1,000 grants per semester and $500 during the summer to receive a certificate for studying health care, information technology, manufacturing and skilled trades, early childhood education and public safety. Participants will be required to give back two hours of community service, public service, or work experience for each credit hour in which they are enrolled.

Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said that the initiative is important for vulnerable populations.

“This initiative of G3 is really important for the Commonwealth,” he said. “This is really transformative because it is addressing wraparound services for the most students who are most vulnerable and have high needs, and financial fragility issues.”

Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy said that the effort will help students compete in a changing marketplace.

“It’s really about making sure that we can fill our jobs, making sure that we can wrap our arms around the students and make sure they can complete,” she said.

Glenn Dubois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, said that the impact of the day could not be understated.

“This is a really big day,” Dubois said. “It’s the biggest day in my career. It’s probably the biggest day since we were established (more than 50 years ago).”

Photo via Northern Virginia Community College/Twitter

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