Psst! Have you heard the latest in Alexandria?
In an effort to bring a civic tranquility to what has been a tumultous era at City Hall, Mayor-elect James Moran is trying to convince city leaders that gossip and government don't mix.
"Gossip is something he feels is hurting the city," an aide said. "He will address the issue in his first council meeting on Tuesday night."
Moran, who was enjoying one last weekend at the beach before assuming office, could not be reached for comment late last week. But rumors swirled throughout City Hall that half-truths and innuendo may soon go the way of the dinosaur.
For some, the new call to circumspection seems like a pipe dream.
"Its a bit like being a minister," said lawyer Robert L. Calhoun, one of the City Council members Moran has approached on the subject. "You know in your heart people will keep on sinning, but you still have to climb into the pulpit and tell them it's wrong."
Moran has often said that Alexandria's penchant for gossip has hurt its image as a city and caused bitterness within government. In his acceptance speech on May 7, after he cruised to a surprisingly easy victory over incumbent Charles E. Beatley, Moran put the news media on notice that the days of controversy and bickering would come to an end when he became mayor.
"I guess I should give my apologies to the media in advance," he said before hundreds of cheering supporters. "Because there aren't going to be many stories coming out of here in the next three years."
For more than a year, turmoil in Alexandria's city government -- a special grand jury investigation that turned up no foul play, a series of acrimonious disputes between public officials, and a spate of suits among city residents -- has divided the city.
In its annual assessment of the best and worst in the Washington area just published, Washingtonian magazine stung many Alexandrians by noting that the best thing about their city was "its small-town charm," and the biggest liability, its "small-town government."
Many people attributed Moran's large victory in part to a desire among city residents for a new beginning. Some, including Acting City Manager Vola Lawson, who says the city has been treated badly by the media, look forward to an end to gossip.
"I can't believe you would even write a story about this," Lawson said when asked to comment on the future of gossip in Alexandria. "You cover this city like it's a circus.
"Local government is an important, substantive thing," she said. "We are too busy in this city to be in the business of idle gossip. I want Alexandria back on an even keel."
Other officials questioned the usefulness of taking gossip out of government. And some even took offense at the suggestion that a politician could find gossip to be "idle."
"He's got to be kidding, right?" asked one city official who asked not to be identified. "Taking the gossip out of politics is like taking the yeast from bread. You wouldn't even want to bother with what is left."
In a city often propelled by word of mouth, by Friday it seemed like everybody was talking about gossip. Most of the talk suggested that if Moran wants to put a halt to some of the mudslinging that has become routine in Alexandria, he is welcome to try.
"Gossip isn't going anywhere in our lifetime," said Republican state Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell Jr., a longtime force in Alexandria politics. "But if he wants to get distortion, lies and unfounded allegations out of local politics, he has my total support."
Some elected officials appear to have signed up for the code of silence already.
Asked how he felt about Moran's first initiative, council member Carlyle C. Ring Jr. replied:
"He has discussed it with me and that's all I am willing to say. I have no comment at all. I appreciate talking to you. Thank you for calling. Goodbye.