Alexandria, VA

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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Morning Notes

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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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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(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Only three sitting members of the Alexandria School Board have filed to run for reelection, and four newcomers have entered the race.

The last three years have been a contentious period, and the school system has been under intense scrutiny throughout the pandemic.

So far, only Board Chair Meagan Alderton (District C), Member Michelle Rief and Member Jacinta Greene (both in District A) have filed to run.

“It’s important to have ACPS parents like myself on the School Board because our families are the ones directly impacted by the board’s decisions,” Rief told ALXnow. “We need to return students to full in-person learning, fix old schools and build new ones to solve overcrowding, and provide consistent academic and mental health supports for students.”

Greene said that those incumbents who are running are resilient.

“It is extremely important to have continuity and experience on our school board,” she said. “We owe it to school system to continue to execute our strategic plan centered around providing an equitable education for all students.  I will continue to work tirelessly to make this happen.”

Board member Heather Thornton is on the fence.

“I have not yet made or announced a decision regarding running for reelection,” Thornton told ALXnow.

Board Member Margaret Lorber is not running for reelection.

“Just wanted to confirm that I’m not running for reelection to the school board,” Lorber said. “I had always planned to step down after two terms.”

Member Ramee Gentry is also not running.

“I am not running for reelection. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve Alexandria for six years,” Gentry said. “I’m pleased that some of my colleagues are running again. I believe that the most effective elected bodies are made up of returning and new members, because it ensures a mix of continuity and new perspectives.”

School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan and Board Members Cindy Anderson and Christopher Suarez have also not filed and did not respond to ALXnow’s questions. Suarez announced last month on Facebook that he is not seeking another term.

The nine-member body is made up of three members from three districts, and the new candidates include Deborah Ash, former ACPS Principal of the Year Preenann Johnson and Open ACPS! member Bridget Shea Westfall in District B, as well as Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi in District C.

That still leaves two open slots, and candidates have until June 8 to file. If not enough candidates file by the deadline, voters will have the option to write-in up to three candidates on election day in November.

Last month, Board members and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. participated in a retreat where institutional continuity was presented as a major issue. A majority of Board members want staggered terms, since all nine seats are up for grabs every three years, setting up the potential to push back the public school system for an extended period if a newly elected body is made up of new members.

The last election brought five new members to the Board — Suarez, Thornton, Greene, Rief and Alderton.

Mayor Justin Wilson says that institutional instability is a concern.

“Institutional instability is always a concern, whether for the City Council or the School Board,” Wilson said. “It takes a while to learn your role as an elected official and understand how to be effective. Hopefully we have good folks in the community willing to step up to serve. Our students need a strong, committed School Board.”

City Councilman John Taylor Chapman agreed.

“It takes time for everyone to get up to speed,” Chapman said. “It takes a couple years to understand who the players are and the nuts and bolts of the budget process.”

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A new group of Alexandria businesses has launched an effort to support local teachers with discounts, perks and donations in recognition of National Teacher Appreciation Week.

From May 3-8, discounts will be posted on the new ALX Business Gives Back Facebook page.

The group launched on Monday, May 3, and the following businesses in Old Town and Del Ray are participating:

Additionally, 165 people have bought gift cards for teachers at T.C. Williams High School.

Photo via ACPS

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The Alexandria City Council will finalize their additions and deletions to the fiscal year 2022 budget tonight (May 3), and the future of school resource officers at Alexandria City Public Schools remains in question.

Last week, a majority of City Council was in favor of discontinuing the SRO program and diverting nearly $800,000 to “add mental health resources for school aged children, support staff to the Teen Wellness Center, an additional Behavioral Health Specialist to the ACORP (Alexandria Crisis Intervention Co-Responding Program) 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 Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman Mo Seifeldein, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Canek Aguirre.

ACPS, however, is asking that Council respect its November 2020 memorandum of understanding with police.

The school system released the following statement to ALXnow:

In November 2020, the Alexandria City School Board approved a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Alexandria Police Department (APD) which clarified and refined the scope of the relationship between ACPS and the APD. In developing the new MOU, ACPS conducted an extensive review that incorporated concerns about the presence of armed school resource officers in some of our school buildings. The new MOU aims to increase accountability and equity while safeguarding the safety and security of our students and staff. The School Board is committed to following through on the adjustments in this agreement that require the collection of data and stronger monitoring and reporting on incidents of administrative discipline and law enforcement action in our schools.

In March, 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.

“My request and hope would be that out of respect for the discussions that we have had as a School Board, and for the process that we went through, even as a matter of trust to give us time to do what we said we would like to do, that you would not take away that resource at this time,” said School Board Chair Meagan Alderton. “I don’t think it would be a productive way to address the issue that I think we all want to address.”

The final add/delete session for the fiscal year 2022 budget is at 7 p.m.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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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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Morning Notes

Sheriff’s Office warns of phone scammers — “If you receive a call from someone saying they are from the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office (or any other law enforcement agency) and that you have to pay them money, hang up. Scammers will try a variety of approaches to intimidate and coerce people into giving them money. But actual sheriffs’ offices in Virginia will never call you and demand money.” [Twitter]

April 30 deadline for logo design contest for Alexandria City High School — “All ACPS currently enrolled students are invited to participate in a logo design contest to represent the new high school name Alexandria City High School. The deadline to submit an entry is April 30, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. See the complete competition guidelines and rules. Logo entries must be uploaded through the Logo Design Submission Form. Featured above are the previous logos used for T.C. Williams. More information about designs for Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School will be shared in the coming weeks.” [ACPS]

Bug appetit: These city residents are eating cicadas — “This year, you won’t find cicadas on the menu at restaurants in Alexandria — serving bugs is a health code violation and isn’t allowed in Virginia.  But for the adventurous, there are a lot of ways to cook cicadas at home. Brian Schwatken, who lives in Alexandria, cooked and ate a cicada a few years ago — and liked it.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy (during the day). High 88F. Winds SW at 10 to 20 mph… Cloudy (in the evening). Low 66F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Dog walker — “Walkers will be expected to pick up dogs from their owners and drive them to the dog park, play with them at the dog park, and then drive the dogs back to their homes. Pay ranges from $350 to $500 per week, depending on the number of dogs scheduled for that week.” [Indeed]

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The day has finally come for Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.

On Monday, members of the community and Alexandria City Public Schools leadership watched as a demolition crew started tearing down the World War II-era building.

Lisa Porter lives across the street from MacArthur, and watched the demolition from her front yard with a group of neighbors. Porter’s two children went through MacArthur, and she has been involved with the school for 15 years.

“We are thrilled to finally see this happen,” Porter said. “We started hearing about this when my son was in kindergarten, and now he’s in college.”

School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said she would never forget making the “emotional” decision on MacArthur’s fate.

“Man, oh man, was it worth it,” Alderton said. “Because we are moving forward, we are excited. And I can’t wait to have this brand new building and have our teachers and our staff and our families be allowed to have what they deserve. It’ll be amazing when this place is a memory and we have new building up here.”

ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said construction is on schedule to reopen the school in Jan. 2023. In the meantime, MacArthur students are using the old Patrick Henry Elementary School as swing space.

“I’m sorry that our students and our families were not able to be here because of the COVID restrictions,” Hutchings said. “But this was a wonderful occasion. It was a long time coming and we’re so excited for the next chapter of Douglas MacArthur.”

Design-wise, MacArthur’s three-level “Forest” plan was chosen last year. It is currently set back from Janneys Lane, putting classrooms at the rear of the building and providing a view of nearby Forest Park.

City Councilwoman Amy Jackson was also there. Last month, Jackson made an impassioned plea for movement on construction.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “The community engagement has been amazing. It’s going to be an exciting time for an exciting school.”

MacArthur Principal Penny Hairston said that the demolition was a long time coming.

“There is a rich legacy here, and this is very exciting,” Hairston said. “It’s a very emotional thing to see this happen.”

https://twitter.com/DMPrincipal/status/1386676161313378305?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet

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Morning Notes

Private School, The Linder Academy, to Open in Old Town — “The Linder Academy, a private K-8 school, submitted a special use permit application to open a location at 601, 607 and 609 S. Washington St. and 710 Gibbon St. According to the application, the school will serve up to 105 students and 14-16 teachers and staff. There is a proposed outdoor play area in the courtyard between 601 and 607 S. Washington St.” [Alexandria Living]

Homegrown Restaurant Group vaccinates 300+ restaurant workers — “HGR volunteering today at the Alexandria Restaurant Vaccination Drive! 330 workers from 29 different restaurants will be vaccinated by the end of day. Many thanks to all the volunteers and to Alexandria Restaurant Partners for donating space to make this happen.” [Facebook]

City seeking artwork for Old Town North storm drain covers — “The City will commission up to three (3) artists to create up to two (2) original, site specific designs with a budget of $2,000 to design their artworks. The designs will be cast on approximately 24 stormwater covers throughout Old Town North, with a focus on Fairfax Street.  Artists will be required to visit the area and create a design that is representative and inspired by Old Town North.” [Zebra]

Alexandria Wedding Showcase giving away a $15K elopement package — More info on the prizes page at alexandriaweddingshowcase.com. The showcase starts April 17!” [Facebook]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy skies (during the day). High around 70F. Winds ESE at 10 to 15 mph… Cloudy with light rain developing after midnight. Low 52F. Winds SE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 70%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Barca Pier offering $250 bonus for bussers, food runners and hosts — “Are you searching for a SEASONAL POSITION? We would love to have you on our team!! We are offering a $250-dollar WELCOME bonus along with the ability to make serious money, we have full and part time openings for HOSTS, SERVER ASSISTANTS and RUNNERS (PERFECT FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS!) to join a growing Restaurant Company. We would love to meet you this week!! Please come prepared to Interview with a resume A MASK is required for Entrance, we are hiring on the SPOT with Positions starting ASAP!” [Indeed]

Photo via Homegrown Restaurant Group/Facebook

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