Housing and economic issues have emerged as two central themes in the contest this fall for the new House of Delegates seat from eastern Alexandria.
The campaign pits incumbent Democrat Marian Van Landingham against Republican newcomer Linda H. Michael. Both are seeking the seat from the new 45th District, which covers that part of the city east of Quaker Lane except for the MacArthur precinct.
Both candidates have been long-time members of the Alexandria business community. Van Landingham, 45, owns a publications-public relations firm that handles a variety of commercial and community projects. Michael, also 45, is vice president of an architectural firm, Michael & Michael, founded by her and her husband.
Although Michael has long been active in GOP politics, this is her first campaign for elective office.
Van Landingham is running for reelection after only one year in the General Assembly, the result of a complex redistricting battle in Virginia that was finally resolved by a special General Assembly session last year. Before her election last fall, her first bid for a delegate's seat, Van Landingham had unsuccessfully sought a seat on the Alexandria City Council.
In last winter's General Assembly session, Van Landingham lobbied hard for a law to give apartment owners some property tax relief. The law, which was approved by the Assembly and goes into effect in 1984, prohibits assessment of apartment buildings at their "best and highest use," which in the current housing market translates to condominiums.
The bill has become a point of dispute between Van Landingham and Michael, with Michael contending that other landowners will be forced to bear the burden of the resulting loss in tax revenues--estimated at $2.5 million by city officials--through higher property taxes.
Van Landingham, however, says the law protects tenants, particularly those of low and moderate income, by making it less attractive for landlords to convert their buildings to condominiums.
Michael contends renters get few benefits from the law and she plans to urge its repeal if she is elected. The new law, she said, "sets up a preferential class of landowners for special assessments and privileges."
"It's of no value to renters because the rents will have already gone up," she said, "and I can't imagine the landlords . . . are going to give them a rebate."
In a city where rental units account for 51 percent of the housing stock, Michael believes it is crucial to provide more protection for renters, a point she and Van Landingham agree on.
Housing, Van Landingham said, "is probably still close to being the No. 1 concern in Northern Virginia . . . and the ramifications of the housing issues are immense" as condominium conversions continue and the supply of low- and moderate-cost housing shrinks.
Van Landingham calls Michael's proposal to repeal the assessment law ridiculous, however, and said she would support a bill that would retroactively require apartment owners who convert to condominiums to pay taxes at the higher rate for the five years prior to conversion.
Van Landingham said she also hopes to focus on legislation that would provide relocation assistance for people displaced by cooperative conversions, demolitions and conversions to other commercial uses. State law now provides relocation assistance only for those affected by condo conversions. Van Landingham also wants a requirement in state law that tenants must receive a copy of their lease.
Although Michael says she is concerned about housing issues, she has few specific proposals. She says money issues, particularly when it comes to Northern Virginia's share of state funds, are one of her primary concerns.
Michael complains that Northern Virginia rarely gets its fair share of the state budget, a complaint that often has been echoed by other Northern Virginia legislators.
"Northern Virginia largely subsidizes the rest of the state," Michael said. "For every dollar we send down to Richmond we get 30 cents back. Where we really get short-changed is in the areas where they use (repayment) formulas, like on schools and roads. So one of my chief goals is to see we get back a little more of what we send down there because our real estate taxes in the city are so high (as a result of) making up the differences in meeting the needs of the people."
Van Landingham believes the major issue facing the Assembly will be how to maintain services in the face of large federal cutbacks.
"We're going to feel the cuts even more next year," she said, "so we have to address these issues and decide which ones are important to maintain and at what levels. Because we have to have a balanced budget in Virginia, priorities are simply going to have to be set and the people interested in these issues are going to have to help us in validating the need."
Among programs Van Landingham believes should be considered priorities are students loans, health care for the elderly, housing and child care.
Both Michael and Van Landingham are Old Town residents. Michael's architectural firm has been heavily involved in several housing developments in the Old Town area, including Brockett's Crossing, Whale's Tail and Tannery Yard. The firms also designed the Flora Krause Casey Health Center at Alexandria Hospital.
Van Landingham founded the popular Torpedo Factory Arts Center and served as its director for several years.
Both candidates have modest campaign chests. Van Landingham hopes to raise about $14,000, while Michael's campaign goal is $16,500.