The wounds over the 2008 decision by the Department of Defense to move more than 6,000 workers to the Mark Center at Interstate 395 and Seminary Road are still fresh for many nearby residents, and they insisted on answers from candidates for Alexandria’s City Council Wednesday night.
“We got rolled,” said Tim Lovain, a former Democratic council member who is seeking to return to the job. The city, he said, advocated ”vociferously” for an Eisenhower Avenue site near to public transit as the Army mulled how to handle the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) demands.
Based on assurances from city staff and federal negotiators, “we thought we had it in the bag,” Lovain said. Then the Mark Center bid came in $200 million less and the federal government chose the cheaper property, even though it is far from Metro.
Voters, especially those who live near the intersection, are now dealing with traffic jams. Five of their neighborhood civic associations sponsored the Wednesday night forum and provided the questions that fueled the discussion.
Challengers, and two current council members who were not on the board at the time of the decision, attacked the previous council for being “asleep at the switch,” as incumbent Frank Fannon (R) said. Fellow Republican Bob Wood called the decision “an abdication of leadership... People responsible for that decision need to be held accountable.” Democratic challenger Allison Silberberg added that it was “an unmitigated disaster.”
Incumbent Del Pepper (D) argued that no one but the property owner wanted the Defense Department there and incumbent Paul Smedberg noted that the city worked closely with state and federal legislators throughout the process.
“If there’s anything we can be criticized for, it’s that we had all those discussions in executive session,” Smedberg said. That failure to have open discussions was a mistake, he said, a statement that others agreed with.
And although Democrat Justin Wilson, who like Lovain was on the council at the time of the decision, lost a reelection attempt and is now trying to return, said no one had a good answer for avoiding the Mark Center fiasco in the future, the three Republicans and the Libertarian had an answer: Elect us.
“When you have seven people in a room that think alike, six don’t need to be there,” said Fannon, who’s been on the council for a single term. “If you have a one-party system, don’t even bother to show up, because decisions are made in the back room.”
The two-hour forum drew about 200 residents and a range of issues. A handful of audience members tweeted the responses and their points of view (under the Twitter hashtag #Alex2012). This is the first time in memory that Alexandria’s local election will be in November, and candidates expect a wider range of voters than normal. At least three more candidates forums are planned before the Nov. 6 election.