Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Not Your Grandfather's Neighborhood Anymore

The results are in: Democrat Justin Wilson, as expected, defeated Republican Bill Cleveland yesterday and was elected to the City Council seat vacated by Andrew Macdonald.

But not by much. Mr. Wilson garnered 4,737 votes or 51.5% of the vote while Mr. Cleveland drew 4,390 or 48.5% -- a difference of only 347. Mr. Wilson himself was quoted in this morning's Washington Post saying "It wasn't an overwhelming victory, but it was a victory."

The turnout of 9,190 was mortifyingly light, equalling only 11.5% of all registered voters in Alexandria. When considered as a percentage of the City's population as a whole, the election involved only 6% of all residents. And the results turned on .0025 or one quarter of one percent of the population.

It appears that Mr. Wilson's stronghold around Mt. Vernon School delivered the election for him. Surprisingly the residents in the Republican fiefdom around George Mason did not help Mr. Cleveland.

But most interesting and relevant to us in Parker-Gray are the results for our precinct, long a Democratic bastion. The records for Durant Center show Parker-Gray split almost evenly but leaning slightly Republican, with Mr. Cleveland drawing 178 votes or 9 more than Mr. Wilson. That's a big change from how this precinct voted in the past.

Is it statistically significant? The Growler doesn't know, but the Democrats should take heed. More than a few of those 178 Cleveland votes were protests not just by Republicans but by dissident Democrats raging against the machine and its plans for the Braddock Road neighborhood.

What does the election tell us about our strategy for the next few months regarding the Braddock Road Metro plan?

Just because Mr. Wilson was elected doesn't mean the plan is a done deal and that things are hopeless. There's still a place for citizen pressure and politicians will still think twice about actions that draw a large contingent of angry residents to City Hall.

As for Mr. Wilson, he's already announced publicly his support for re-routing BRT on Patrick and Henry to Powhatan and Washington Street. That's good, but we must keep in mind that the other Council members have not committed to this change; in fact the Transportation Task Force report isn't even finalized yet. Mr. Wilson may have supported a different BRT route to gain the election; even if he abides by his pledge and votes to change the route at Council hearing, his six colleagues could already be primed to ensure the original route remains in place. No loss of face would be involved for Mr. Wilson, so the issue would be a throwaway.

Next steps:

What this neighborhood must now do is to continue to turn out in force again and again at public meetings and ultimately at the Planning Commission and City Council hearings on the Braddock Road plan. Electronic complaints here don't cut it without a body count behind it, which is still the old-fashioned measure by which politicians still weigh local support.

There also need to be letters to the editors of the Washington Post Alexandria/Arlington section, the Gazette and the Times. No rants please, just reasoned observation that has a chance of being published. So far readers are more willing to spill ink here than to convey their thoughts to a larger audience. That's got to change.

And the Growler will say this one more time: those who are concerned about public housing need to get themselves organized and start pressuring the City at every opportunity. The financial woes of ARHA offer an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the issue and open it up to scrutiny, debate, and reform. But this won't happen without citizen pushback ... in person. And the Growler isn't going to carry people's water for them much longer.

Let the Growler conclude this posting by asking readers this question: if the Democrats currently own the town based on their solid base of aging liberal baby boombers (like the creaky old Growler), are Gen X and Gen Y residents going to take Alexandria in a different direction in the next few years? Are the young ones more inherently conservative, less guilt-driven?