We’ve all learned to read body language since the first presidential and vice presidential debates this fall, and one thing was clear Monday night at Alexandria’s George Washington Middle School: Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille (D) and challenger Andrew Macdonald (I) don’t seem to like each other much.
They were properly polite throughout the candidates’ forum, but both uncharacteristically were unsmiling and stiff throughout the 35-minute interaction. When debate moderator Drew Hansen mentioned that the two Alexandria natives played basketball together as boys, neither grinned or joked, as friendlier politicians might have.
Euille later said he favored basketball but Macdonald was more of a tennis and soccer player. Given the chance to critique the leadership abilities of his electoral rival, the three-term mayor asked Macdonald, who served one term as a council member and quit part way through his term as vice mayor, whether he could be a team player as mayor.
“My recollection of working with him... I don’t think you did that when you were on council,” Euille said.
“From a leadership perspective, I think it’s a little hard to say I wasn’t a team player,” Macdonald said. “I would argue that the team was certain members of City Council who had a rigid and strict agenda that they were working on, particularly with developers on all sorts of things. I didn’t agree with it. In that sense I wasn’t a team player. But in other ways I was. ... I would argue I wasn't given much of a chance to be a team player.”
Macdonald is basing his race on what he considers the city’s failure to plan properly for schools, parks and transit, and failure to include the community in discussions.
Euille, who served on the School Board for 10 years and City Council for nine years before his nine-year tenure as mayor, argued that that the city has “done an awful lot together. Is there room for improvement? You bet there is and we’re going to continue to work together.”
He points to completion of a new T.C. Williams High School, the Charles Houston Recreation Center and Public Safety Center, a triple A bond rating on city finances and the lowest crime rate in 63 years.
Macdonald, who was leader of the group that opposed the city’s waterfront plan last year, said in his opening statement, “A lot of the problems ... have grown worse on his watch and not better.”
Arguing that the city has serious infrastructure problems, and lacks parks, schools and affordable housing, Macdonald said, “Problems are piling up and liabilities are getting greater... We let developers dictate a lot of our public policy. The waterfront plan was a mess, the Beauregard plan has been a disaster. We’ve had big planning project after big planning projects are generating enormous political liabilities. We need to be much more thoughtful about it.”
This was the second time the two mayoral candidates met. They were preceded by a forum for the 12 City Council candidates seeking six open seats. The forum was sponsored by ACTion Alexandria, the Alexandria Chapter of the NAACP and the three Alexandria Patch.com sites. A final faceoff before the election is planned for Oct. 24.