Week in Alexandria

Limited Choices

Alexandria will head to the polls next week. But they won’t have a lot of choices.

In fact, the vast majority of Alexandria voters who show up on Election Day will be facing a ballot with three races and no opposition. Neither of the city’s two members of the House of Delegates have any opposition, and the Democratic candidate for clerk of court has no opposition. At the top of the ticket are three state Senate races, two of which have no opposition.

That leaves only one race where voters have any kind of choice at all: seven precincts on the West End, where incumbent state Sen. George Barker (D-39) will be facing Republican challenger Dutch Hillenburg.

So, how many voters will show up? Registrar Anna Leider says looking to past elections is always a good place to start, although there’s never been an election quite like this. Eight years ago, all three of Alexandria’s Senate seats were contested. Then four years ago city voters had a hotly contested race for mayor and City Council. But, she adds, interest in voting his higher now than in previous years.

“Based on our absentee numbers, it looks like turnout is going to be somewhere between 2011 levels and 2013 levels,” says Leider. “That puts it just under 30 percent citywide.”

Quiet Revolution

Librarians are not known to be noisy. Perhaps that’s why you didn’t hear the quiet outrage over British bookseller Macmillan’s recent decision to prohibit libraries from purchasing more than one copy of an e-book to lend after the first eight weeks of its release. That’s a decision that will limit e-book readers in Alexandria and expand the bottom line for the international publishing company.

“It’s interesting to note that the cost of an e-book for a library is $50 to $60,” says Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, a member of the Library Board, “It’s not $10 or $15 that a consumer might pay.”

The American Library Association is denouncing Macmillan’s decision, and the vice mayor noted it has launched a petition to oppose the plan. Bennett-Parker says e-book readers who would be put out by the decision to sign on to the quiet revolution against British gluttony.

Larger Loan

Sometimes a historic building is in the eye of the beholder. That’s one of the reasons why the debate about saving Ramsay Homes became so dramatic back in 2016. The run-down townhouses were prominently displayed along traffic-clogged Route One, which is the only part of Alexandria many people ever see. The buildings were constructed in the early 1940s by the federal government for African-American defense workers. Ultimately, council members decided they weren’t historic enough to save, and so the buildings were demolished.

Now, city officials are coming back hat in hand to City Council asking for more money. Last week, council members approved a new $1.4 million increase in the city loan to the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority. That would increase the total loan from $3.6 million to $5 million.

“Ramsay has been a challenging project,” acknowledges Housing Director Helen McIlvaine.

The biggest challenge, she says, is organizational change at the public-housing authority, which now has a new executive director and a new leadership team. They inherited a plan from 2016, she says, and now they are trying to make it work. In the meantime, she adds, the cost of steel and lumber has gone up as the project has experienced a series of weather-related delays.

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