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Michael Lee Pope

Stories by Michael Lee

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Wealthy Homeowners, Poor Renters in Alexandria

Income disparity is highest in Arlandria, which trails the city in median household income.

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Scooting into 2020

City Council considers extending dockless mobility pilot program.

Alexandria is bitterly divided over scooters, and a recent survey showed that the city is just about evenly split between people who hate the dockless mobility program and people who love it. That’s the backdrop for members of the Alexandria City Council, who are now considering extending the pilot into next year. A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for Dec. 14.

Week in Alexandria

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Following the Money

Special-interest groups seek power and influence.

A look at campaign-finance documents from the 2019 election cycle reveals an intricate web of special-interest money, everything from Dominion and Verizon to casino developers and car-title lenders. Members of the Alexandria delegation took money from lobbyists and associations who have pending business during the upcoming two-month General Assembly session, when lawmakers will be forbidden from taking campaign cash.

Week in Alexandria

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Potomac Yard: Before and After

Transforming a suburban strip mall into an Innovation District.

The strip mall at Potomac Yard is a placeholder, a temporary solution to a thorny question about the relationship between density and traffic.

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More Educated, Better Paid

Foreign-born population attracted by government contracting and tech jobs.

Virginia’s foreign-born population is more educated and better paid, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis. The Richmond-based think tank points out more than 40 percent of immigrants in Virginia have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s a significantly higher level of education than the United States as a whole, and it’s even a bit higher than native-born Virginians.

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A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

Del Ray has more voters than Old Town, and it carries more clout.

Del Ray can boast that it’s the center of power in Alexandria, the home of both Mayor Justin Wilson and Sheriff Dana Lawhorne. Old Town, on the other hand, doesn’t have as many voters or as much clout.

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Republican Requiem

Democrats take General Assembly, sweep Fairfax School Board; Republicans hold Springfield.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Northern Virginia had its own breed of Republicanism. People like U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11), U.S. Sen. John Warner and Del. Dave Albo (R-42). Now, after a series of stunning defeats since the election of Donald Trump to the White House, Northern Virginia Republicans are a dying breed, with moderates bowing out or being voted out.

Week in Alexandria

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Generation Gap

Millennials and Gen X now outnumber older voters. So why do Baby Boomers dominate?

Millennials and Gen Xers now outnumber Baby Boomers and older voters in Virginia, according to data from the Census Bureau. But that doesn’t mean they have as much influence. Census numbers also show another trend: People over the age of 45 vote at much higher rates.

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Off-Year Campaign Cash

Money from Alexandria will help shape Election 2019.

More than $3.5 million in campaign cash has an Alexandria mailing address this election cycle, a spending spree that reflects the stakes this year’s election. Control of the House of Delegates and state Senate is at stake, and partisans on both sides are trying to influence the outcome.

Week in Alexandria

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Nice Work If You Can Get It

Eight Alexandria city officials pull in more than $200,000 a year.

.Alexandria does not have the top-paid government officials in the region. But it certainly doesn’t have the poorest, either. According to information received in a Freedom of Information Act request, Alexandria’s City Manager, Mark Jinks, pulls in a cool $288,000 a year. That’s at the top end of the range for local government chief appointed managers and administrators who oversee governments with a population of 100,000 or more, according to an annual survey conducted by the International City/County Management Association.

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Demand Curve in Alexandria

Labor shortage and housing shortfall lead to affordability crisis.

The number of jobs in the region is on the rise, a trend that will only be exacerbated when Amazon brings 25,000 new jobs to town. Meanwhile, unemployment in Alexandria is at about 2 percent, so low that it’s essentially full employment.

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More Students, Fewer Dollars

Schools are bursting at the seams while trying to do more with less.

.Enrollment is up, and funding is down. That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, which looked at funding and staffing trends at every school division in Virginia.

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High Interest, Big Money

Lenders of last resort in Alexandria try to buy influence in Richmond.

Alexandria has eight car-title lending locations and two payday lenders, plus a growing number of companies offering online loans at nosebleed interest rates. It’s an industry that’s been under fire in recent years, and now campaign-finance disclosures show these companies are spreading their money around to Democrats and Republicans in an effort to influence the next General Assembly.

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250,000+ Eligible Latino Voters in Virginia

Arlandria is home to one of the largest Salvadoran communities in the country.

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Dismal Science

Construction permits are down and unemployment claims are up, raising red flags for economists.

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Living in the Dark

Could you survive without your iPhone? Do you have an evacuation kit? Are you really prepared for the worst?

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Virginia Senate Minority Leader Faces Two Primary Challengers

Dick Saslaw hasn’t had a primary challenge since the 1970s; now he has two.

The last time Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw had a primary opponent, Jimmy Carter was in the White House and the Bee Gees were at the top of the charts. This year, for the first time since 1979, Saslaw has primary opposition. Not just one opponent, but two.

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Green Late Deal in Alexandria

Broken promises and missed deadlines plague Eco-City Alexandria.

Alexandria adopted its Eco-City charter with great fanfare in 2008 along with a promise: The charter would be renewed in a decade. That deadline has now come and gone with no plans to update it. In 2009, members of the City Council approved an Eco-City action plan along with another promise: It would be renewed in five years. Once again, city officials breezed through that deadline.

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The Hidden History of Del Ray

Uncovering the secret past in the Town of Potomac.

Gambling. Corruption, Racism. Greed. These are all part of a little-known narrative from the Del Ray's long-ago past, a time when progressive leaders closed a corrupt racetrack and formed the Town of Potomac, only to see an unwanted attempt by Alexandria City Hall to steal the land in a controversial annexation.

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Boysko Wins Wexton Seat

Democrats enter the new year with a fresh victory and a full head of steam.

.Virginia’s 33rd state Senate District was once a solidly Republican seat, a place where conservative voters repeatedly rewarded Bill Mims for opposing same-sex marriage and championing homeschooling. But ever since Mims resigned to take a job in the McDonnell administration, the seat has been held by a succession of Democrats on their way to bigger and better things.

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Education Issues Take Center Stage

Constituents tell lawmakers to increase teacher pay; ERA, $15 minimum wage and more.

Teachers deserve a pay raise, and Virginia desperately needs to hire more school counselors. These were two of the most prevalent concerns voiced by constituents to members of the Fairfax County legislative delegation, the largest in the Virginia General Assembly.

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Democratic Insurgent Versus Republican Moderate

January special election to fill seat vacated by Jennifer Wexton features two familiar faces.

The first election of 2019 might end up being a harbinger of things to come for Republicans, who have seen their presence all but evaporate in Northern Virginia. It could also test the limits of the blue wave that washed over Virginia since Donald Trump was elected president.

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Democrats Seize Control of Northern Virginia

Region once had its own brand of Republicanism; now that seems almost extinct.

The loss of two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (D-10) means Republicans are down to one lone elected official in Northern Virginia, Del. Tim Hugo (R-40). The blue wave that started last year unseating Republicans like Del. Jim LeMunyon (R-67) and Del. Bob Marshall (R-13) continued this year, when state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-10) was able to flip a seat that had been in Republican hands since a young military lawyer named Frank Wolf beat incumbent Democrat Joe Fisher back in 1980.

Senate Election is Blast from the Past

Kaine and Stewart both played key roles in 2016; now they’re at the top of the ballot this year.

Elections rarely get do-overs. Winners make victory speeches, and losers slink away to become consultants. But this year’s election for U.S. Senate features two key players in the 2016 presidential election that upended American politics.

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A New Era for Affordable Housing in Alexandria

City moves from rehabilitating old apartment buildings to developing new affordable units.

Alexandria is falling behind its affordable housing goal, creating or preserving about half of the units that were anticipated five years ago. But now that that restaurant diners will be chipping in an extra $5 million a year, city officials are poised to move forward with an aggressive new slate of affordable housing development. Gone are the days when city officials could get their hands on a few 1940s garden apartments here and there to rehabilitate. These days the thinking at City Hall is developing new units as part of a grand strategy to build their way out of an affordable housing crisis.

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Virginia Voters Choose Firebrand

Corey Stewart to lead Republican ticket this fall.

Conservative firebrand Corey Stewart was denied an opportunity to be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013. And then he came within striking distance of being the party’s standard-bearer in the gubernatorial campaign last year. Now, finally, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors has secured a spot at the top of the ticket, bringing his brand of anti-immigrant, pro-Confederate Trumpism to the race against incumbent U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine.

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Down the Drain in Alexandria

State slashes funds to fix city’s combined sewer system.

Alexandria’s plan to fix its raw sewage problem may be going down the drain, at least this year. Leaders in the House and Senate money committees slashed $20 million out of the budget that was supposed to help the city fix its antiquated combined sewer system, which floods the Potomac River with raw sewage whenever there is as little as 0.03 inches of rain.

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Budget Brinkmanship in Virginia

Lawmakers poised to leave town without passing budget.

Budget showdowns are rare in Virginia, but not unprecedented. Back in 2004, Gov. Mark Warner clashed with Republicans over a sales tax increase. Then in 2014, Gov. Terry McAuliffe engaged in brinkmanship over expanding Medicaid. Now lawmakers are poised to end the session once again without passing a budget.

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Mixed Success on Menstrual Equity in Virginia

Increased availability behind bars, but no tax breaks during back-to-school week.

Several lawmakers from Northern Virginia arrived in Richmond this year hoping to push a cause known as menstrual equity — making sure that feminine hygiene products are affordable, safe and available. But success has been mixed.

Virginia Senate Might Torpedo Medicaid Expansion

Democrats still need to flip one more GOP senator to make it happen.

Usually it’s the state Senate that leads on progressive issues, and the House of Delegates kind of drags its feet. Not this year.

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Gun Debate on Lockdown in Virginia

Democrats unable to gain traction on reform, despite new numbers in House.

When lawmakers arrived in Richmond last month, Democrats were hopeful that they would be able to use their new numbers to gain some traction on the gun debate. Now that the session is half over and the nation is reeling from yet another mass shooting, very little of their agenda has been accomplished at the Capitol.

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View from Coffin Corner

Extreme position on House floor enjoys a storied history.

As a freshman delegate in 1978, Ken Plum was assigned a desk in the far corner on the Democratic side of the House of Delegates — seat 17. It wasn’t the best vantage point in the House because about a third of the Republican members were totally out of view. The senior members took the seats at the back of the chamber near the center, sticking Plum in the corner.

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Virginia Lawmakers Play Whack-A-Mole with Predatory Lenders

Senate panel takes action limiting one kind of high-interest loan, leaving loophole for another.

By this time next year, high-interest lenders may be prohibited from making consumer finance loans — at least ones they find profitable at 200 percent interest. So that loophole may be closed by the end of the General Assembly session. But it seems likely lawmakers will leave Richmond this year creating no restrictions on open-end lines of credit, raising concern among some that lawmakers are playing a game of whack-a-mole.

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Effort to Force Diversity at TJ School Fails

Lawmakers reject bill that would have required governor’s school to admit poor students.

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Naked Truth About Strip Searches at Traffic Stops

Northern Virginia Democrat advocates for strip searches to combat opioid crisis.

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Alexandria to Launch Airbnb Registry, Adding $200,000 in New Tax Revenue

Airbnb to collect the taxes and forward money to city.

For the last few months, city officials have been working behind the scenes to create a registration system for people who rent out their homes through Airbnb. Now they’ve created the online database, and they’re about to launch a campaign to let all the home-sharing businesses know it’s time to register with the city and start paying taxes.

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