Mayor William D. Euille often points to the completion of several public-works projects in Alexandria, including a new high school, recreation center and public safety center, as well as the city’s low crime rate and its double Triple-A bond rating.
Potomac Yard is being transformed from a former rail yard into a mixed-use development, the three-term Democrat is prone to remind voters. The GenOn coal-fired plant has been closed, and while property owners have raised rents on existing and new apartments,city officials have bargained with developers to set aside nearly 1,000 new affordable housing units.
“We’re a city that has a lot to be proud of,” Euille said at one of the fall’s candidate debates. “Is there room for improvement? You bet there is, and we’re going to continue to work together.”
Independent challenger Andrew Macdonald, however, sees too much power going to developers, lack of planning for infrastructure and open-space needs, and little attention being paid to the wants of ordinary citizens.
“A lot of the problems . . . have grown worse on his watch and not better,” Macdonald said. “We’ve let developers basically dictate a lot of the public policy.”
One major issue, although not the only one, that illustrates the difference between these two Alexandria natives is the fight over what to do about the city’s Potomac River waterfront.
Under Euille’s leadership, city officials held community meetings over two years, negotiated with landowners (including a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co.), and unveiled a major redevelopment project in spring 2011.
Macdonald led a grass-roots uprising that contended the city’s plan had allowed too much density and commerce and not enough parks or other public amenities. The first version of the waterfront plan was amended, and then Euille set up a citizens’ advisory group to find areas of agreement.
In the end, the City Council’s 5 to 2 vote in favor of the plan led to multiple lawsuits, almost all of which have been decided in the city’s favor so far. Macdonald, once the Democratic vice mayor, resigned from the grass-roots group, quit the Democratic Party and launched his campaign.
With each major redevelopment proposal that has come up for city approval this year, some residents have argued that officials are more inclined to side with developers than residents.
In the West End, where many residents don’t care as much about the waterfront fight, the redevelopment of the Beauregard area produces similar anger.
Once again, the city convened numerous citizen gatherings, talked with the owners and developers and presented a plan to the community. Residents, still seething from the introduction of 6,400 new employees at Mark Center by the Defense Department and the city’s futile effort to stop it, say they are being disregarded. Euille noted that the landowners have the right to raze and rebuild on their land and that the city negotiated many new benefits. Macdonald and others say it wasn’t enough.
Both candidates have raised substantial amounts of money, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. As of Sept. 30, Macdonald had $40,661 in receipts, including $3,164 in non-cash contributions this year. Euille in 2012 raised $29,459, including $1,475 in-kind donations. But his campaign committee began collecting donations in 2010, so his campaign fund has $43,480.
The Democratic primary in June saw the rejection of all but one of the City Council candidates who opposed the waterfront project. While Alexandria is predominantly Democratic, the local ballot does not list party affiliation. For the first time, Alexandrians will be voting for local offices during the November general election rather than in a low-turnout, city-only election in the spring.
At least 13,000 voters are new to Alexandria this year, said Tom Parkins, registrar of elections. Such turnover is pretty typical of a town where half of the residents are renters, but it means candidates need to make a significant effort to introduce themselves to newcomers.
Euille, the city’s first African-American mayor, previously served on the council for nine years and the school board for 10 years. He works as a business consultant.
He said Macdonald represents a small number of people who are “raising Cain” over what most Alexandrians support.
“My recollection of working with him . . . is he wants to be an independent voice, and that’s fine. But to be mayor of this city, you have to be a person who is a team player who collaborates” with the council, staff and residents, Euille said at a candidates’ forum last week, “and I don’t think you did that while you were on council.”
Macdonald, a self-employed geologist and expedition guide, said he left the council to care for his sick mother. He points to a history of civic engagement on the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association, the library board and numerous environmental committees.
“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.”