Candidates Line Up for Alexandria City Council Seat

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2007

It's election time again in Alexandria, albeit a bit early.

Two weeks after former vice mayor Andrew H. Macdonald abruptly resigned, at least seven people have emerged to fill his City Council seat. They include longtime council member and former vice mayor William C. "Bill" Cleveland, former prosecutor James K. Lay, civic activist Justin Wilson and Boyd Walker, Macdonald's former campaign manager.

They will compete in a special election expected July 17. Both major political parties will choose their nominees in the coming weeks. Republicans will have a canvass May 29; the Democrats' caucus will be June 9.

Macdonald (D) was elected to the council in 2003 and reelected in 2006, emerging as the top vote-getter. An advocate for the environment and historic preservation, he focused on those issues, often clashing with fellow council members and gaining a reputation as something of an iconoclast. He resigned May 8, citing personal reasons.

"I think Andrew was really an independent voice, and that was very valuable on the council," said Wilson, a Del Ray resident who has been endorsed by the remaining council members and other Democratic elected officials.

In an interview last week, Macdonald declined to specify what triggered his resignation. "I just felt that I couldn't continue to serve in a really effective, enthusiastic matter," he said. "I'd always given 100 percent and more, and I just felt I couldn't do that any longer and that I needed to focus on other aspects of my life."

Macdonald, who owns an art gallery on Union Street, said he plans to focus on photography and writing. He is working on a book about Alexandria's riverfront.

Under the city charter, the remaining two years of Macdonald's three-year term must be filled by special election. The election will be only for his council seat; the vice mayor, largely a ceremonial post, is chosen by the council and is traditionally the candidate who gets the most votes.

On Tuesday, the City Council was expected to approve a resolution officially certifying the vacancy and asking the Alexandria Circuit Court to set the election for July 17. Although the court, in consultation with the city's electoral board, makes the final decision, the election is "very likely" to be July 17, said Tom Parkins, the city's general registrar of voters.

Democrats have an advantage in left-leaning Alexandria and have controlled the seven-member council, including the mayor's seat, since 2003.

Their caucus will be open to any Alexandria registered voter willing to sign a pledge saying that they are a Democrat, adhere to the principles of the Democratic Party, will not oppose the Democratic nominee for council and will not participate in the nominating process of any other party.

"Basically, that means if your candidate loses and you can't support the winner, you have to sit the election out," said Susan B. Kellom, chairwoman of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. Democrats have no way of enforcing the pledge, but Kellom called it "a matter of honor."

As of Monday, three Democrats had filed statements of organization, which enables them to raise and spend campaign money. They are Wilson, Lay and Mark S. Feldheim. Feldheim, 59, is a lawyer and Old Town resident who ran for council in 2003 and has been a member of the city's Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee for several years.

"I'm just absolutely in love with the city, dedicated to it, and I really want to see it prosper," said Feldheim, who wants to focus on neighborhood preservation, particularly in Old Town and other historic areas, and economic development.

Wilson, 28, is a senior information technology systems engineer for Amtrak. He is chairman of the board of directors of the Alexandria Transit Co., which operates the city's DASH bus service. He has served on numerous city and state boards and commissions and is a past president of the Del Ray Citizens Association.

"I think I have a set of experiences and a history of accomplishment that allows me to hit the ground running," said Wilson, who called for expanding mass transit, protecting the city's strong bond ratings and finding more soccer fields and other open spaces to give teenagers "alternatives to poor choices."

Lay, 41, is a former Alexandria assistant commonwealth's attorney who is now a lawyer in private practice in the city. He ran for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2005 and is legal counsel to the Alexandria Democratic Committee.

"I think the city is at a crossroads. There are some fantastically exciting things going on," Lay said, indicating he would focus on such issues as improving education, revitalizing the Landmark Mall area and getting the most possible benefit from the National Harbor project soon to open across the river in Maryland.

Walker, 38, also has said he intends to run. He is a real estate investor and Del Ray resident who is planning to open a coffee shop on King Street in Old Town.

Walker said he plans to be an "independent voice on the council who will listen to the people." He cited as priorities the Landmark redevelopment, historic preservation and "creating a lively, vibrant waterfront.''

As with Democrats, any registered voter who signs a statement of accord with Republican Party principles and commits to support the party's candidate can participate in its canvass, said Chris Marston, chairman of the Alexandria Republican City Committee.

By all accounts, the leading Republican candidate is Cleveland, a retired Capitol Hill police officer who served on the council for 15 years, including as vice mayor, before leaving his seat to run for mayor in 2003. Cleveland said he is running again because he loves "serving the people of Alexandria."

Marston acknowledged that "there are more Democrats than Republicans in Alexandria" but said, "It's important that we have independent voices on the council, and having a Republican is key to that. Bill has effectively done that in the past."

Others expected to run include Old Town restaurateur Pat Troy, who ran for council in 2003 and 2006.

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