On Tuesday, May 5, Alexandrians will elect a mayor, six City Council members and nine members of the Alexandria School Board.
Mayor and City Council
Mayor Bill Euille is running unopposed for the second time in six years. He has worked tirelessly for the city and all of its citizens. Though the past three years have not been flawless, he has done a commendable job. He certainly deserves to be re-elected.
The race for City Council pits five Democrat incumbents and one Democrat, who served as a Council member and mayor, against two Republicans and two Independents. We have spoken many times of the need to end one-party rule in Alexandria. Is this the year to do it?
While the Republicans and Independents have their strengths, they do not seem to rise, on balance, to the level of experience or perception of the Democrats. This has weighed heavily on our choices.
Paul Smedberg and Rob Krupicka are obvious choices. They have experience and have worked hard to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of City government. Krupicka has promoted many innovative ideas and Smedberg has pushed hard for policies to promote sustainable economic activity and growth. Along the way they have antagonized a few citizens, but that is the price paid for innovation and change. They both deserve re-election.
Tim Lovaine and Justin Wilson are newcomers finishing out their first terms. Both have worked hard and have fit right in. They are good with budgets and transit, a critical issue for Alexandria. Wilson has been a great communicator and Lovain has proposed many attainable, common sense solutions. Both deserve re-election.
Vice Mayor Del Pepper has long experience with Council. This term, we have noticed that she has not been the free spirit and citizen advocate we have come to know. Pepper has also had to contend with difficult issues in her West End back yard, such as the Ethanol Transloading Facility and the Army’s move to the former Winkler property at Mark Center. We continue to support Pepper’s re-election. She is a positive force and her long experience can not be overlooked.
Among the newcomers, Kerry Donley clearly stands out. He has vast experience and served on Council through significant economic downturns. He has a command of budgets, and is another obvious choice in these times of economic stress.
The other three newcomers have merited serious consideration. Republican Phil Cefaratti is familiar with Alexandria, has served as a civic leader and has exhibited considerable leadership skills. He scores points with his straightforward approach and is able to articulate positions and defend them well, even if they are not popular. We are concerned with his attempts to bring a “business approach” to City government. Running a city is not like running a business and political history is replete with politicians who tried this approach and failed. This is not to say that the City should not be run efficiently and effectively and some elements from business can help a great deal, but we believe the balance in Cefaratti’s case needs to be improved. We hope he will stay involved, get more Citywide experience and return to the fray in three years.
Republican Frank Fannon is a wonderful person with generations of ties to the community. He has widespread connections and interests and has served on many bodies that have provided him with experience. When Fannon speaks, however, he often reverts to 40 or 50 years ago when society in Alexandria and the United States was simpler, and perhaps, more stable. His solutions will not necessarily work now. Fannon’s comments on subsidized child -care, which was a major part of the bargain of welfare reform in the 1990′s, and on immigration, are at odds with where the City should be going. Again, we hope Fannon will stay involved, study some of these issues more and run again. He seems to have a great heart and could serve well on Council.
Independent Alicia Hughes has also captivated us with her excellent mind and devotion to education and early childhood issues. As a newcomer to the City, she has jumped right into community involvement in these areas. We believe, however, that Hughes needs a little more experience on the civic side where most of Council business is done. We hope she will become involved with a civic association and gain that experience that would make her be an effective candidate at the next election.
We appreciate the efforts of Independent Rich Williamson, who clearly won the award for the most innovative campaign signs. Williamson has not been as involved in the community as the other candidates, and we can not judge his effectiveness based on what we have seen. We believe the other choices are better.
There is only one contested race for seats on the Alexandria School Board and that is in District A. In districts B and C, the incumbents are running unopposed. Perhaps this is evidence of general satisfaction with the actions of the Board over the past three years such as hiring a new superintendent and adopting a strategic plan.
Collective bodies, such as school boards, require continuity. Fortunately Alexandria’s Board should have stability for the next 3 years.
Two incumbents and three newcomers are running in District A. From our perspective three candidates have emerged as clear choices and we recommend Scott Newsham, Sheryl Gorsuch and Helen Morris as deserving of your vote.
We recommend incumbent Scott Newsham’s re-election. Newsham, a retired Coast Guard Commander, understands the School Board is a collective body. He works quietly behind the scenes on many issues and builds consensus among Board members. Newsham’s knowledge of ACPS budget, long-range planning and facilities are essential in this time of enrollment growth and revenue constraints. Newsham has advocated for green buildings, system-wide recycling programs and moving toward an ecological transportation system. Newsham is a proponent of open and transparent government and has posted responses to interest group questionnaires on his web site.
With some reservation, we also endorse the other incumbent, Sheryl Gorsuch, who is running for re-election in District A. Gorsuch is a business owner and current Vice Chairman of the Board. She was Vice Chair of the Board Strategic Planning Committee, has an excellent knowledge of early childhood issues and works well with the new Superintendent, Dr. Morton Sherman. While Gorsuch is generally quite conservative in her approach to new programs, we believe she will respond appropriately to the need for swift action to improve the on-time graduation and drop-out rate at T.C. Williams.
Among the remaining candidates, we believe that Helen Morris is the best choice. Morris has two decades of experience in educational policy, working for such organizations as the National School Boards Association. More recently, she has joined a group of concerned parents who live in the Jefferson-Houston Elementary School area to improve that school’s performance. Morris has been instrumental in moving the diverse Jefferson-Houston group forward in looking for innovative solutions to difficult problems. She understands how school boards function and will be an excellent addition.
We applaud the other two candidates for running.
Bill Campbell has raised valid issues, but his delinquent real estate taxes, no matter what the cause, would cause difficulty for the Board as members wrestle with fiscal challenges. Board members need financial credibility and we hope Campbell will resolve his financial issues before running again.
Mimi Carter is a well- known PTA officer and volunteer. Her views on such issues as the implementation of the Primary Years Program at Jefferson-Houston, the Middle Years Program and the two middle schools, and the International Baccalaureate Curriculum at T.C. Williams have been inconsistent throughout her campaign. Carter has also made promises about programs she will implement, seeming not to understand that she needs the agreement of a majority of the Board to accomplish anything.
Many Alexandria citizens without children in the school system do not vote for school board candidates. This is a mistake. The Board spends one third of the city budget or about $200 million per year. We all have a responsibility to ensure that money is well managed. We encourage everyone to vote on May 5.