In a crowded City Council election, the Alexandria Democratic Committee split the candidates into two groups for moderated debates, which posted Tuesday night.

Alexandria journalist Michael Lee Pope moderated the discussion, which touched on critical talking issues in city races over the last few years, from parking to broadband to — of course — Seminary Road. Interestingly, the coronavirus pandemic was not a main topic of discussion.

ALXnow featured the first debate on Wednesday.

This debate featured candidates John Taylor Chapman, Sarah Bagley, Amy Jackson, Kevin Harris, Patrick Moran, Bill Campbell and Kirk McPike. Answers are summarized.

The Democratic primary is June 8.

Seminary Road

A number of candidates support reversing the  Seminary Road diet, which has been a controversial issue for years.

Chapman voted against the proposal in 2019, and said he would vote to reverse it.

Moran — “I think a lot of the framework in which these conversations are made are so permanent,” Moran said. “I would spend the money to undo it.”

Campbell — “I absolutely would not spend any additional money to change that unless there was some new information that came up with regards to safety,” Campbell said. “And then you have to be responsible to take a look at that.”

Jackson would also vote to undo it, although she said that future road diets would have to be considered on a case by case basis.

“This became a ‘he said, she said’ in a lot of ways that I don’t think anyone on council was prepared for when city staff brought it to us,” Jackson said. “That just means that we have to do our own sleuthing and know the questions to ask after we’ve done our homework.”

McPike said he would not undo the road diet.

“I would not initially in this next council session, vote to revert the road back to what it was,” McPike said. “The intersection at Howard and Seminary is going to change in the near future when Inova Hospital relocates to Landmark Mall, and we don’t know what the needs are going to be along that stretch of road once that has occurred.”

Harris — “It’s one of those things that we ought to wait and see how it plays out before we try to change anything,” Harris said. “Because we’ve already wasted too much money creating the road diet. I think that we could use this money in other places.”

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Former Mayor Allison Silberberg very publicly didn’t plan on running against Mayor Justin Wilson in the Democratic primary, but as weeks slipped by and no other challenger came forward — and Council Member Mo Seifeldein dropped out — Silberberg said she felt she needed to step up.

Three years after Silberberg lost her reelection bid to Wilson, she’s back to reclaim the position.

“I couldn’t just stand by and watch our city put at risk by destructive policies of our current mayor,” Silberberg said.

Wilson has racked up several endorsements from current and former members of city leadership, including other City Council members and state legislators, but Silberberg said she isn’t particularly worried by that. Silberberg said in the last week, her campaign has raised over $64,000, while Wilson recently announced that he raised $90,000.

“I’m not concerned,” Silberberg said. “In many cases, that’s the old guard. I’m honored to have support form people across our city. We’re at a crossroads in our city. I’m a person who gets things done and I listen to people.”

Silberberg’s list of objections to Wilson is, beyond a “greatest hits” of concerns that have emerged from local advocacy groups like Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria, an extension of many of the same battles Silberberg fought with Wilson on when the two were locked in opposition during her tenure as mayor.

Silberberg said some of the biggest issues fueling her campaign are:

  • Reverting Seminary Road Changes — “Wilson took away vital travel lanes on Seminary Road,” Silberberg said. “I would restore them. It’s a major arterial road to our only hospital. It was one of the safest streets in the city, the data showed that, but in a distorted kind of way he said this is a vote about public safety. Thirteen civic associations banded together and said do not do this, it affects every resident in the city.”
  • Opposition to City Stream Restoration Projects — “I’m fighting to save Taylor Run… saving the forest there, and Strawberry Run,” she said. “I would listen to environmentalists, scientists and experts who have come forward on their own to say that this is a disaster in the making, to destroy the forest. This is some of the last remaining forests in our city, you can’t just replant and wait 30 years, because it’s not just the trees but the environment around it.”
  • School-Affordable Housing Colocation — “I’m committed to protecting limited school properties from housing,” Silberberg said.
  • Opposition to Eisenhower Slaughterhouse — “He pushed through the slaughterhouse where the existing businesses a football throw away banded together and banded the Mayor not to do that,” Silberberg said. “There are no other slaughterhouses within the beltway, and not one in our city. The impact on environmental waste is really upsetting — not to mention the smell. It was dismissive of the fact that the business owner has had numerous code violations in other states. I would not have supported that.”

Some of the reversals could be a challenge. City staff recently laid out the costs to alternatives to the Taylor Run Stream Restoration the city could be required to pursue to keep up with its Chesapeake Bay Watershed credit requirements.

Silberberg  is dubious of staff’s claims.

“Staff, with all due respect, seems to be inflating or misrepresenting the costs for alternatives,” she said. “We need to have all that vetted openly and discussed.”

Silberberg said she was also surprised and frustrated that staff hadn’t tested the soil at Taylor Run before committing the city to funding the overhaul.

“Nobody on the city staff, and they admitted this, that they hadn’t tested the soils at Taylor Run,” Silberberg said. “Someone on their own volition hired a highly regarded laboratory, tested the soils, and it came back with negligible amounts of phosphorous, that’s one of the driving forces. So basically the city admitted that they were basing their analysis and conclusions on a generic version of soil samples in a whole other region. That’s not how we want to do analysis when it comes to a treasured spot in the city.”

Taylor Run, along with some of the other issues, go back to what Silberberg sees as a recurring problem with transparency and ethics in city leadership. Silberberg and Wilson have clashed over issues about ethics for nearly a decade, including a protracted battle over a proposed ethics pledge in 2016.

“We must restore integrity and transparency and adopt meaningful ethics reform,” Silberberg said. “That is certainly a top ethics reform, and we need a leader with demonstrated record of truth, transparency and ethics, and I am that leader. I led with an ethics initiative, and the person who led the effort to water that down was then Vice-Mayor Wilson. We did accomplish some goals, but didn’t go nearly as far as what I wanted.”

Silberberg argued that information that came to light from public Freedom of Information Act requests, and later printed by the Alexandria Times, not only showed that there were behind-the-scenes discussions on issues like Seminary Road and the Potomac Yard southern entrance that the public should know about, but also that there was too much information in those that was redacted.

“Some of the lines that weren’t redacted, which wasn’t very much, showed that he distorted the truth or lied and misled the public,” Silberberg said. Read More

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Three men were tied up and robbed last Friday (March 19) evening in the West End.

Alexandria Police reported to the 5000 block of Seminary Road in response to a robbery at gunpoint, and found three men tied up. The men had been robbed, one of their cars was stolen and one of them suffered a non-life-threatening injury.

“There is no indication there is any threat to the public,” according to Alexandria Police. “The investigation is active and ongoing.”

Police did not answer ALXnow’s questions on the incident.

Anyone with information about this incident is urged to call the police non-emergency line at 703-746-4444.

Map via Google Maps

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(Updated at 12:15 p.m. on 2/25/21) Bill Rossello, one of the early members and administrators of the 2,200-member-strong Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook group, has announced that he will be running for City Council in the June 8 Democratic primary.

Rossello, who works as principal at Greenhouse Consulting LLC according to his LinkedIn profile, has been active in neighborhood advocacy for a few years, but said in earlier interviews that the Seminary Road debate was when he really threw himself into it.

The Facebook group Rossello was an early member of began in opposition to the city’s work on adding a road diet and bike lane to Seminary Road, but the group since expanded as a hub of neighborhood opposition, including the proposed Taylor Run Stream restoration.

Over the last year the page has regularly posted FOIA’d information revealing behind-the-scenes debates and disagreements within the city over projects. The group has also developed detractors who say it’s a NIMBY group — an acronym of “not in my back yard” generally meant derisively towards those opposed to density and development. The group has also featured back and forth debates and discussions with city leaders in the comments.

In a post on the Facebook page, Rossello pledged to follow up on many goals expressed by the group in the last year:

• Shake up City Hall to be more transparent, be better at taking the pulse of the community, and more responsive to the community – all of it, not just pockets of it
• Protect Neighborhoods from Density, Flooding and Cut-Through Traffic
• Accelerate School Investment Without Colocation
• Keep Everyone Moving Safely – Cars, Bikes and Pedestrians
• Live Up to Our Eco-City Pledge – Protect our parks, trees, streams and the Potomac

All of this while never forgetting that the 11% of our neighbors that live in poverty will continue to need our help!

Rossello joins an increasingly crowded race for City Council that will be at least half new faces with three current members not running for reelection. All City Council seats are up for election, including those of incumbents Canek Aguirre, John Taylor Chapman and Amy Jackson.

There are three guaranteed new spots on the council. After serving on the City Council since 1985, City Council member Del Pepper announced this year she won’t run for reelection. Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker is running for the 45th district House of Delegates seat. Councilman Mo Seifeldein announced that he would be running for Mayor against Justin Wilson, but just weeks later announced that he wasn’t running for Mayor or for another Council term.

Other Council candidates include:

  • Abdel-Rahman Elnoubi — an Engineering Project Manager at WMATA and Alexandria Democrats Vice Chair/Precinct Captain, according to his Twitter bio.
  • Alyia Gaskins — a member of the Alexandria Transportation Commission and Agenda Alexandria, among other non-profits and organizations.
  • James Lewis — vice chair of the city’s Traffic and Parking Board and former president of the Virginia Young Democrats from 2017 to 2018.
  • Richard Kirk McPike — chief of staff to Congressman Mark Takano and a member of the Budget And Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee.
  • Sarah Bagley — executive director of the Chisom Housing Group nonprofit in D.C., also volunteers for the Alexandria Democratic Committee and the local chapter of Moms Demand Action.

Photo via BIBA/Facebook

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Morning Notes

WMATA Considers Closing Two Alexandria Metro Stations — “The 19 stations that could face closure include those that are within one mile of other stations and those that are seeing the lowest usage. In Alexandria, that means the Eisenhower Station and Van Dorn Street station are on the list.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Local Program Supports Artists With Disabilities — “Coletta Collections, an artisan program for people with disabilities, is helping Alexandrians celebrate the holidays safely and sincerely.” [Zebra]

City Looking for Firefighters — “If you’re interested in working for the vibrant City of Alexandria, we invite qualified candidates to apply for our Firefighter I position.” [City of Alexandria]

Watchdog Group FOIA Shows Internal Disagreement in City Over Seminary Road — “[Yon Lambert] said roads for ‘all users’ were more important than roads that met fire department response needs. More to come.” [Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Seminary Road Sidewalk to Remain Incomplete — “VDOT denies Alexandria’s grant request for the $1 million sidewalk.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria Now Has 4,077 Cases of COVID-19 — “The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in Alexandria is now 4,077, including 73 fatalities. Detailed data, including data on age, race and ethnicity, is available through links at alexandriava.gov/Coronavirus.” [City of Alexandria]

WWII Army Nurse Marian Elcano Dies at 99 — “Elcano spent more than 40 years as a resident of Alexandria, settling in the city with her husband, Michael P. Elcano, and their five children after moving all over the world in military service.” [Alex Times]

Alexandria Commission on Persons with Disabilities Announces Award Winners — “The Alexandria Commission on Persons with Disabilities (ACPD), in conjunction with the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, have announced the winners of their annual awards, which will be presented via prerecorded video on October 22.” [City of Alexandria]

Police Chief Reads Kids Story — “Need something to make you smile? Here is a great storytime, made for our friends at @CommunityLdgngs, and featuring our very own Chief Brown. Enjoy!” [Twitter]

Today’s Weather — “Rain early…then remaining cloudy with showers in the afternoon. High 59F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 80%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch. Locally heavy rainfall possible. Cloudy skies early (in the evening), then partly cloudy after midnight. Low around 40F. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Region Manager — “The Region Manager is responsible for overall growth, financial wellbeing, and development of the centers within their assigned area.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Beyer Supports Justice In Policing Act — “George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and too many others should still be alive today, and the fact that they are not is a deep injustice that should outrage us all. We need reform now. I’m an original cosponsor of the #JusticeInPolicing Act, and look forward to helping pass it soon.” [Twitter]

Mayors and Chairs in Northern Virginia Decry Systemic Racism — “As the Mayors and Chairs of Northern Virginia, we raise our collective voices on behalf of the more than 2.5 million residents of our region to express our sorrow for the decades of injustices that have befallen the African American community in America.” [Gazette]

With Pools Closed, City Advises Against Swimming in Natural Waters — “As temperatures climb and many pools remain closed, a dip in a river, lake, or stream may be tempting, but risky, as shown by the recent drowning of a Loudoun County teen in a local creek. In addition to the potential for drowning, natural waterways may contain harmful bacteria and organisms, particularly after heavy rains or storms. Avoid swimming in natural waters for a few days after a heavy rain event; avoid swimming in muddy water of lakes, ponds and rivers; and avoid swimming in unfamiliar ponds, streams, creeks, ditches and canals.” [City of Alexandria]

City Provides Resources for Coping with Coronavirus and Social Change — “The City’s Coping with Uncertainty and Fear and Multicultural Resources: Race Based Trauma and Support in Times of Civil Strife web pages provide information and resources to help during this difficult time.” [City of Alexandria]

Former Police Chief Cook Opines on Race Relations — “We have not progressed to the point where we’ve changed our institutions. They are exactly at the place they were when I was a teenager.” [WJLA]

Trinity United Methodist Church Thanks Community for Donations — “On behalf of Trinity Church, we want to extend our gratitude to all of you who contribute to the Rising Hope Mission Church food drive!  We started this food drive shortly after COVID-19 hit to try to meet some of the growing needs for food and personal hygiene items for our friends at Rising Hope Mission Church, a mission that serves communities living in poverty south of Alexandria, along the Route 1 Corridor… As of last week, we have donated 2,869 lbs. of food and donated over $1,500 of community contributions! …We will continue this food drive each Wednesday from 4-7 PM through the end of the July.” [Trinity UMC]

Board of Zoning Appeals Denies Seminary Road Sign Appeal — The BZA voted 5-1 on Monday to order the removal of the “Take Back Seminary Road #JustinsTrafficJam” sign. [City of Alexandria]

New Job: Event and Promotions Assistant — “Local event firm is currently seeking an Event & Promotions Assistant to join a rapidly growing team! This firm identifies and develops new streams of revenue for clients through on-site promotions, innovative marketing strategies and advertising campaigns with a personal touch. This is an entry-level position with fully paid training and the opportunity for growth into an executive management role after completion of training program.”
[Indeed]

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(Updated 4:55 p.m.) With coronavirus, national outrage over police violence against black Americans, and a host of other issues taking center stage in 2020, the debate over Seminary Road that dominated discussions last year got pushed to the back burner, but the issue is making a small comeback at a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting next week.

A sign saying “Take Back Seminary Road #JustinsTrafficJam” was prominently displayed at 1420 Key Drive but has been cited by the city as being in violation of zoning ordinances. An appeal of that citation is scheduled for review at the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting on Monday, June 8.

“Zoning Ordinance limits temporary signs on residential properties to a total area of no more than ten square feet, provided that no single sign is larger than four square feet,” the city said in a staff report. “The sign subject to this appeal is 32 square feet, which exceeds the maximum total temporary signage allowed on residential property by 22 square feed and exceeds the maximum individual sign size by 28 square feet.”

The owner of the sign, in an appeal, said he had never had problems from the city putting similar signs on the fences before and believed the sign was targeted for political reasons.

“I believe that I have been specifically singled out for my sign because it makes a political statement,” the owner said. “I have reached this conclusion for several reasons, including that during the previous times I have put a sign on my fence, no one in the city government has ever had a problem.”

When the homeowner pointed to other signs nearby of similar size, he was told that the ordinance was selectively enforced based on complaints.

“There are numerous other signs around the city that have been up for months and sometimes over a year that flagrantly violate the city’s sign regulations, but only mine has been singled out as violating the regulation,” the owner said. “This type of selective enforcement for purely political purposes is not only a violation of my free speech, but is just wrong.”

Photo via City of Alexandria

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Morning Notes

Fire Officials Deny Seminary Road Political Pressure — “The AFD representatives… pushed back on allegations that the city had strong-armed the fire department into supporting a certain stance. ‘No one is going to force me… to put people in harm’s way – the first responders or the people that we’re charged to protect,’ Smedley said. ‘That’s my number one goal, and that goal can be accomplished with however many lanes are on the roadway, as long as certain measures are in place. If that is being jeopardized, I will dig in hard.'” [Alexandria Times]

Resident: New Seminary Road is an Improvement — “As someone who lives on a small cul-de-sac off of Seminary Road, I am a daily user of Seminary Road. I use the road several times every day as either a driver, walker, cyclist, or simply as a resident. The new Seminary Road is beneficial to me and to my neighborhood. We are able to live with greater safety no matter how we use the road. We are people who live here — not just drive through to some other location.” [Gazette Packet]

Rent in Alexandria Lower Than Neighbors — “The District and Arlington County are virtually tied for average apartment rent, at $2,233 and $2,236 respectively. Rents in D.C. and Arlington County are both up 4.3% in the last year. The average rent in Alexandria is currently $1,746, up 2.8% from a year ago.” [WTOP]

Details About New Restaurant at Bradlee — “Rotisserie chicken, ceviche, lomo saltado and much more are on the menu at El Saltado, a new Peruvian restaurant that recently opened at Bradlee Shopping Center in Alexandria. The star of the menu is likely the charcoal-broiled chicken served with a house salad plus a choice of French fries, fried yuca, rice or Peruvian-style potato salad.” [Alexandria Living]

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Morning Notes

Old Town Theater Sign May Be Removed — “The Board of Architectural Review is set to consider allowing the removal and relocation of the Old Town Theater sign and other exterior changes as the space is set to become a Patagonia retail store. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chamber at Alexandria City Hall.” [Patch]

APD Investigates Gunshots in Landmark — “The Alexandria Police Department is investigating a ‘shots fired’ call for service in the 200 block of South Whiting Street. Expect police activity in the area.” [Twitter]

‘Normal Weekday’ on Seminary Road — Has the Seminary Road Diet produced a rush hour traffic nightmare, as some insist? Or is it just producing modest peak period delays, as data seems to show? Video posted by a local cycling advocate, shot shortly after 8 a.m. on a recent weekday, shows free-flowing traffic and no delays, though photos posted by road diet critics show backups at intersections. [Twitter, YouTube]

Students Write, Perform Play at Kennedy Center — “Two talented eighth grade students from George Washington Middle School had the experience of a lifetime when they wrote and performed in a play at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts earlier this month. Yahney-Marie Sangare and Sydney Payne were part of a team of young playwrights and actors who produced The Day Nothing Happened, a play about the desegregation of Stratford Middle School in Arlington.” [ACPS]

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