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Mayor Euille, Challenger Macdonald Debate in Del Ray

Candidates critiqued each other’s performance on council.

Overcrowding in Alexandria City Public Schools and each candidate’s performance on Alexandria City Council took center stage Monday during a debate between Democratic Mayor Bill Euille and independent challenger Andrew Macdonald, who previously served on the council.

The forum at the George Washington Middle School auditorium was sponsored by ACTion Alexandria, the Alexandria Chapter of the NAACP and the three Alexandria Patch sites. Each candidate was asked how he would work with the school board to address overcrowding in city schools, provoking disagreement between the two men.

Euille said increasing enrollment in the school system is a good thing but that the city needs to expand pre-kindergarten programs. The council is working with the school board to analyze enrollment projections and making sure they are valid before deciding how many new schools to build and where they should be located.

“The real fear I have is that we don’t want to build the schools and not have the population to fill them, and then we have underutilized facilities,” Euille said.

Macdonald countered, “We’re several thousand students beyond the point where we should be thinking about this. … I would argue that there has been a real lack of planning right from the beginning.”

Development projects have not paid off in terms of providing schools or infrastructure for schools, he said. “Obviously we need to work much more closely with the school board, the planning department, with the community, to look ahead.”

Euille responded that the city has had budget discussions for years related to schools and a planning process.

“The planning process, it’s not something that you just wake up today and say, ‘We need a new school there and bonds to pay for it,’ ” Euille said. “It’s a long process, it has to be carefully planned, one, because you have to have confidence in the enrollment projections, but then, secondly, in terms of where you build the schools and then you look at where future development is, where it’s needed, before you actually move forward."

Macdonald reminded the audience that public schools are a huge part of the city budget. “We’ve been developing helter-skelter without thinking about this,” he said. “…We have not been thinking ahead carefully, and now we really have some very serious infrastructure problems, schools are just one of many.”

The debate moderators, noting the two men have previously worked on council together, asked them to critique each other’s leadership skills and decision-making processes.

Euille, noting that Macdonald has branded himself as an independent voice for council, questioned whether he’d be a “team player.”  

“But to be mayor of a city, you can’t be independent,” he said. “You have to be a person that is a team player that facilitates the collaboration partnership. … You have to be able to provide that leadership and bring people together, and I don’t think you did that when you were on the council.”

Macdonald said it was hard to say he was not a team player on council. Instead, he said fellow city council members had strict agendas involving developers. In other areas, including environmental issues and parking permits, healthcare workers and services for the elderly, he worked as part of a team, he said.

“I would argue that I wasn’t really given much of a chance to be a team player,” he said.

The candidates were asked how the city’s budget can do more with less following the reduction of state and federal funding.

Euille said the city doesn’t rely as much on some government funding as other municipalities but added he is concerned about the effects of the looming federal sequestration measure, which the city must be prepared to face. Macdonald said the city needs to be more careful in planning from the onset and not expect future development to pay for city needs.

Another question asked the candidates why many minority groups feel excluded from city government and asked each one to rate their “cultural competency” on a scale of 1 to 10. Macdonald said city residents often feel left out of the decision-making process and that city officials hold many meetings while gathering little input.

“Everything that we do, all the key things that we do as a community to provide a social net, a safety net for the community, revolves around community input,” Macdonald said. “In other words, it involves us working effectively.” He rated himself as an eight on the cultural competency question.

Euille noted he has worked with nonprofits that advocate for minorities. He stressed the need for a unified community, involving all races and ethnicities, houses of worship, nonprofits and businesses, to address problems.

“It’s not so much just about talking about bringing people together as it is being engaged and part of the process, which I’ve been doing for many, many years,” he said. He rated himself as a 10 on the cultural competency question.

The men also had a back-and-forth exchange on affordable housing. Macdonald said although a housing master plan has been in preparation since 2002, the city has been losing affordable housing for last 10 years.

“We have lots of ideas, but no cohesive plan for affordable housing in this city,” he said. “And it’s lacking. It’s been lacking for a good, long time.”

Euille acknowledged that the city does have affordable housing challenges. The city needs to engage in public-private partnerships, he said, and he noted 77 units of affordable housing are coming to Del Ray.

“The challenge we face in this community, first of all, affordable housing should not just be for low-income people. There should be affordability for people at all income levels," Euille said. "But the challenge we really face is not unique to Alexandria. It’s a national phenomenon.” Euille also called on state government to impose rent controls.

Del Ray Patch editor Drew Hansen served as a moderator alongside NAACP member Alexis Stackhouse. John Porter of ACTion Alexandria served as emcee.

Sean Holihan October 16, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Quick question for Andrew Macdonald: Is there a time in which he intends to lay out what he would do as mayor to advance his agenda for the City? We're less than 30 days out and I'm not sure if I've ever heard anything other than finger pointing and the call for more talks. Is Alexandria perfect? No, no city is. However, this is a fantastic place to live and, unfortunately or not, our housing prices reflect the demand of folks wanting to live here. Mayor Euille has done an admirable job keeping Alexandria on the right course through difficult economic times, especially for a locality that depends heavily upon the wellbeing of the federal government. He clearly deserves reelection.
Katy Cannady October 16, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Being a "team player" on City Council has been carried to an unhealthy extreme under Mayor Euille. The previous Council consisting entirely of Democrats allowed an assistant city manager to invite the BRAC facility to any site in Alexandria, promising that both sites would work just well and could accomodate any new traffic. Every Councilmember was copied on this letter to the Defense Department. Not one alerted the people of Alexandria that this letter was being sent. However having the BRAC site on Beauregard Street works out over time, this was nothing short of a scandal. Alexandrians had a right to know what their Council and Mayor were doing regarding such a major development project. Just last Saturday, a citizen came to the Council public comment period and read aloud from a Memorandum of Understanding between the developers of the Potomac Yard Shopping and the City of Alexandria, dated in 2010, saying that the developers will not make a contribution to financing a Metro unless the city chooses option B and the city agreed to this. The Mayor and Council are behaving as if no site has been chosen and that the Alexandria public will have a say in the location of the Metro. Well, not so much. These examples show why we need Andrew Macdonald as Mayor, as well as some completely new faces on City Council
Jon Rosenbaum October 16, 2012 at 04:36 PM
So which "new faces" are you endorsing ? I assume you are favoring the reelection of the current Republican Council members. And Andrew may say he is an independent but would be governing with the Republicans. He is an independent in name only. He is an Alicia Hughes independent. And we saw what that produced. We don't need more pandering. We need strong leadership.
Robert Kraus October 16, 2012 at 06:28 PM
I have been saying in the recent City Council Candidate Forums, including last night’s PATCH sponsored forum, that I want “affordable living” for all Alexandrians! A CATO research report http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa274.pdf showed that “as controls hold down rents for some units, costs for all other rental housing skyrockets.” It concludes that “that the advertised rents of available apartments in rent-regulated cities are dramatically higher than they are in cities without rent control.” Mayor Euille is part of the “group think” city government that doesn’t listen to voters, created much of the mess we are in now with BRAC – Mark Center fiasco, added over $100M in both spending and debt to the city’s books since 2007, and “rubber stamps” whatever the city staff and developers want. The Mayor is just plain wrong when he says he wants more “team players” on the City Council – no sir - that’s exactly what we do not need. What we need are more independent thinkers, like Libertarian Robert Kraus, who will put the voters first!
John Arbuckle October 16, 2012 at 07:15 PM
It may just be me but I don't like either one of them for Mayor. Might leave that one blank on the ballot.
oldtowner October 16, 2012 at 08:24 PM
I don't see how Andrew Macdonald can talk about being a "team player," when he quit in the middle of his last term on Council.
NoBS October 16, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Mr. Kraus, any rent control in Alexandria comes from units having been built 30 or more years ago with HUD mortgages under a program back then. As those buildings pay off their mortgages, the rent control units cease to exist. Alexandria is not a "rent regulated city." Some developers took advantage of favorable loan terms many years ago and therefore we have some rent control units.
Robert Kraus October 16, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Gail, Yes, I do understand that. The part I was referring to was "Euille also called on state government to impose rent controls." We do not need this nor should we even want this. It's counter-productive. I want to get low income families into home ownership and take advantage of programs like Manna/Wells Fargo grants. I also want to see a return of the Affordable Homeownership Preservation Grant Program that the city cancelled in 2009. I find it laughable that the city appears to be concerned with “affordable housing” and yet does everything possible to make living in Alexandria less affordable!
Mark Williams October 16, 2012 at 09:47 PM
In 2003, Mr. Macdonald ran for Council. He never said exactly what it was he was going to do. During 2006-7, he was Vice Mayor until he quit; he never said exactly what it was he was going to do. He is now running for Mayor. He has told us that, in sum and substance, he likes relatively little about anything or anyone associated with Alexandria. And he still has not said exactly what it is he intends to do. I don't get it. This is an awfully expensive hobby to take up, especially if you have no reason or interest.
oldtowner October 16, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Mr. Kraus: As a Libertarian, I am not surprised that you cite the Cato Institute. Let's get real here...there is no chance in hell that the Virginia General Assembly will ever vote to allow "rent control" in any locality. As you know, rents are driven by the market, and we live in a relatively high-income area, ergo housing is expensive. The only way the City can reasonably provide "affordable housing" would cost the City money. I doubt you are willing to do that, as you want to cut the City budget.
Nate McKenzie October 17, 2012 at 01:44 PM
I would like to know more about this MOU. I am a supporter of the Potomac Yard Metro project but certainly don't like to hear that decisions have been made and yet sham analyses are still being conducted. I dug in the dockets and the testimony can be found at (http://alexandria.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=M&ID=204023&GUID=F9E5921C-7859-45AB-AA2A-BFBB7C2EB31B) A couple questions for the city: 1 - is the MOU real? 2 - if so, please post it or provide a link 3 - is it being correctly characterized? 4 - Where has this information been disclosed publicly before and why do the public site decision documents not have this overwhelming data point included in their criteria.
Patrick Smith October 17, 2012 at 02:51 PM
So Robert Kraus endorses Robert Kraus. Bold.
OT insider October 18, 2012 at 01:08 AM
“But to be mayor of a city, you can’t be independent. You have to be a person that is a team player that facilitates the collaboration partnership...You have to be able to provide that leadership and bring people together” This is the biggest concern I have with Mr. Macdonald. It's OK to be independent, do your own thing, and even walk away when you're just one of seven. But how would that work as mayor? I just don't see Mr. Macdonald as a leader (other than of his own special interest groups where everyone agrees with him).
Doug October 18, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Sean - You say on your website that "While working to keep Alexandria a place for all of us, we have to make sure that everyone has a place to call their home no matter how much money they earn. " So which is it? Does Euille get credit for "our housing prices reflect(ing) the demand of the folks wanting to live here" or that he is he fighting to "make sure that everyone has a place to call their home no matter how much money they earn"? You can't have both.
Sean Holihan October 18, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Doug - You can snap your fingers and get what you want if you're playing Sim City. Doesn't really work that way in the real world. Nice try, however. Mayor Euille and the City have worked towards providing programs that can house folks while also acquiring developer contributions. While there is always more to be done, they should be applauded for their efforts.
Doug October 19, 2012 at 11:29 AM
You missed my point, Sean. What I was saying is that out of one side of your mouth you're stating that market demand dictates whether one can live in our city: "our housing prices reflect the demand of the folks wanting to live here." Out of the other side, via your website, you say that the City Council and Mayor should be artificially dictating the market demand by "(Making) sure that everyone has a place to call their home no matter how much money they earn." Those are conflicting statements. And again I say that you can't have both. So do you want a fantastic place to live per the supply and demand that exists or do you hope that this remains a fantastic place to live when the mayor/council are able to dictate the terms in which one is able to live her by? I just don't see how you can support both ideologies. And just so no assumptions need to be made I will throw out there that I support the free market ideology. Thank you.
Sean Holihan October 19, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I'm glad you're looking at my website - I haven't even looked at it since I lost. It must feel lonely. You leave out a pretty important piece after that selected quote you decided to copy and paste here: "We have a good history of maintaining affordable housing and we need to continue in that tradition." Again, we live in the real world. So while market demand does decide who can afford to live here, we also have housing set aside, both by the city and by developers, so that those who don't make around the estimated household income of over 75K can still live in this city. I don't believe Alexandria should have policies that drive people to move to Prince William or Stafford because they can't afford to live here. However, I also understand that we'll never have enough money to provide housing for everyone who needs it. Which is why we work with developers for contributions. I believe that Alexandria should build more densely in areas that can sustain it because studies show that when you provide more housing, prices go down. This is something that every urban area of America is going through. I'm not sure where the confusion is coming from. However, if you want to have a debate with a guy who already lost, I'm sure we could set it up - maybe Drew will moderate again.
Doug October 19, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Hah! I doubt that we'd get anyone to show up to a debate between two guys who aren't running for anything! It's funny you say this though because my whole interest in responding to your original comment stemmed from the fact that I was at the debate on Monday night and almost every candidate for council mentioned "Affordable Housing" as one of the their 2 thoughts on what is most needed in Alexandria. So the subject had been on my mind.
Jon Rosenbaum October 19, 2012 at 02:42 PM
We already have done more to preserve and build affordable housing than any suburb of DC. We are doing more than our fair share. Poor folks seem to "afford" to live here or 60% of our students would not be eligible for federally funded meals.
Andrew Wilson October 24, 2012 at 06:16 AM
Gail, the rent control units are scheduled to be torn down this year. Please read up on this and leave another useless comment.

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