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.

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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