Saturday, June 06, 2009

Dear Brutus

As Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

It's been more than a month since the Council election, and Democratic Party loyalists are still seething about the stunning loss of two seats.

The party's June newsletter states "We can and should engage in a frank dialogue to make sure that we learn as much as we can from this election and to make sure that we put the lessons learned to good use in future campaigns."

But it looks like the Dems are still elbow deep in astrology rather than self-knowledge. So here's a couple of frank thoughts from the Cranky One, a lifelong Democrat, that Susan Kellom can chew on:

Under the Microscope

A closer look at the election results precinct-by-precinct provides some insight into what really happened. Clearly, as the Alexandria Times revealed, the Republicans' plunking strategy worked. But if you look at the Democrats' performance on a micro level, things get interesting.

Some observers have noted that losing incumbents Tim Lovain and Justin Wilson were the newest members of Council and had the least amount of the magical mojo associated with incumbency and name recognition. That's undoubtedly true.

However, the results indicate that while Mr. Lovain won several precincts in his base area of Northridge, he did poorly in Old Town precincts despite his last-minute conversion to budget conservatism, which one could reasonably assume would resonate with Republicans residents who now dominate that area of the City.

One guess hazarded by a few Alexandrians is that Mr. Lovain appeared too single-mindedly focused on transportation issues, which is also his professional bread and butter.

Another related factor might be an an endorsement letter in the Gazette Packet from former Council member Lois Walker. Ms. Walker, the City's big advocate for light rail, was essentially booted off Council by her Old Town neighbors in 1997 when she threw her support behind the ultra-wide Wilson Bridge alternative. Could Mr. Lovain have suffered by proxy for her backing?

As for Mr. Wilson, the most surprising fact is that as a former president of the Del Ray Citizens Association he didn't do as well as might have been expected in his own backyard of Del Ray/Arlandria.

Rob Krupicka placed first in those precincts, but instead of landing in the second place Mr. Wilson was beaten by Kerry Donley at Mt. Vernon Rec Center, by Mr. Donley and Del Pepper at Cora Kelly School, and by Paul Smedberg at George Washington Middle School. Unlike Mr. Lovain, Mr. Wilson didn't place first or second in any other precincts in the City.

A footnote: most reports stated Mayor William D. Euille, who ran unopposed, won 93% of the vote. Look again: Mr. Euille won 92.4% of the votes actually cast, with the remaining 7.6% consisting of write-ins. But out of a total turnout of 14,419, some 4,322 or a third of the voters who bothered to turn out declined to vote for mayor at all.

And this tidbit: our Durant Center polling place had more write-ins for mayor than any other precinct in town.


The Dems are pressing hard on every front to try to recapture one seat immediately and the successful candidate in their gunsights is independent Alicia Hughes.

By now, the slow drip of revelations off (later picked up by the Washington Post) reveal a candidate with significant financial baggage, which might have sunk her earlier if the information had been disclosed before the election.

With Ms. Hughes slated to take office July 1, the Dems are now focusing on two courses of action: first, to challenge her residency status and eligibility to run for City office based on her homestead exemption and voter registration in Maryland, and the second to file a Hatch Act complaint.

(A word to the wise: the Growler doesn't take kindly to Democratic operatives posing as Alexandria Gazette Packet reporter Michael Lee Pope on this blog. This manipulation occurred a day or two after the election. Appearing and then disappearing Facebook pages and walls tell an interesting tale about the identity of some of the individuals behind the anti-Hughes initiative and the Growler has a long memory.)

Anyway, we'll have to sit back and see where this leads. If Ms. Hughes is disqualified, would a special election be required or would the runner-up Tim Lovain automatically be entitled to fill her place? The Growler doesn't know. Do any legal-eagle readers have a take on this?

With all the brouhaha about Ms. Hughes' situation, two significant facts are virtually going unnoticed.

First, no-one looked into her background before the election because quite frankly no-one (including the Dems) expected her to be a strong challenger. Clearly Ms. Hughes has had a meteoric rise; we'll have to see if she has an equally rapid fall.

Second, Ms. Hughes is a newcomer with less than two years' experience in Alexandria but before these revelations was preferred by many voters in the West End over well-known incumbents and neighborhood champions like Kerry Donley and Del Pepper. Ouch!

Although Ms. Hughes did well in a variety of precincts, including not just low-income areas but Cameron Station and the West End, the question is whether the Dems would have lost this seat if they hadn't pushed Ludwig Gaines off the ticket.

Remember November

A few years ago the Council convened a bipartisan committee consisting of five Democrats and four Republicans to look at various electoral reform issues, including the feasibility of moving elections from the spring to the fall. In June 2007 the committee recommended by a vote of 7 to 2 that the City stick with the long-standing spring schedule.

However, last Saturday the City Council approved moving Alexandria elections from May to November. The next election will be held in November 2012 with successful candidates taking office January 1, 2013.

The alleged motivation for this change is that voter turnout has been falling for decades, and that moving the elections would stimulate better citizen participation.

But many in town are skeptical about lame duck Democrats pushing this measure through at this point in time. After all, it is known that Democratic voters are more likely to turn out in November for Presidential and Congressional races. Is the assumption that they will naturally vote a straight ticket down the line?

This isn't one of the Growler's hot button issues, but it certainly has gotten more than a few Alexandrians agitated.

What do readers think — or do you even care?

Lean Machine?

A number of Alexandria citizens like to snipe about the so-called "Moran machine" that allegedly runs the City of Alexandria. But does Brian Moran's third-place finish in the recent Virginia gubernatorial primary reveal the limitations of the machine? Although Mr. Moran won Alexandria, he didn't even carry his brother Rep. Jim Moran's 8th Congressional District (which includes Arlington).