Ken Elston
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Monthly Archives: August 2014


“You gotta get out there!”

I hear this admonishment all the time from supporters- and how great is it to be able to use that term for friends who want to see you succeed- who know how important it is to meet voters and let them get to know me before Election Day. There is no question that I have been trying to do just that. “Wing Kids” at my side and helping to share the load.

These kids are tireless and positive, and they provide me with the energy to knock more doors and walk more streets and attend more events than I might have otherwise. And that support is so important, because this election is really going to be close, and, if we want change in the city, it is going to take getting people to the polls.

Now school starts. For those kids and for me, at George Mason University, school has resumed and demands attention and hours. Rehearsal starts, too. This may not be an issue faced by many out there, but anyone who understands the phrase, “I can’t. I have rehearsal!” knows what it is like when you are working to put on a show.

Directing The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Mason will be both a drain and a gas in equal measure. This audience interactive, fast-paced comedy will be the first of its kind. It will include motion capture animation, elements of film and projection, the use of technology and social media, and an improvisational show-within-a-show structure. The show may be the first in history to start with, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please turn on your cellphones.” While it is sure to please (October 24-November 1—- get those tickets for the Center for the Arts in Fairfax AND the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas)*, it is also sure to consume me in the coming weeks.

Yes, you read that right. The play production ends November 1 and the election is November 4.

And, I know you get it. We often feel drawn in a million and six directions on any given day. Especially when we have a family, and we want to support their hopes and dreams. We struggle to make it all work. So, that’s what I am going to be trying to do. Make it all work, and, if you feel so inclined, I would really love your help. So, if you are willing to put up signs in your yard or windows, knock on some doors, talk to your friends and neighbors, then let me know and thanks so much.

I am gonna keep getting out there. I am gonna direct one heck of a show (seriously, come see it). I am gonna be there for my family. And, I am gonna still be standing on November 5. That’s when I start studying like mad to be the best darn City Councilman I can be. It doesn’t stop. You just gotta get out there.

*This shameless plug for the show, students of Mason’s School of Theater, and our amazing arts venues is for your good as much as mine!


Thanks to the generosity of veteran, teacher and community leader, Atif Qarni, I attended a luncheon and dialogue with Senator Mark Warner this week. Our state’s senior senator is, of course, running for reelection this November. He won election to the US Senate the first time by an enormous margin, and I hope he will do that again. His broad bipartisan appeal is based upon his past service as Virginia’s Governor, his business experience, and his willingness to stand up for good ideas, regardless of either party’s political position of the moment. He calls that being “an equal opportunity offender.” I call it championing effective government.

Warner and Elston

There is much to be said for working toward effective choices over ideology. In my campaign for Manassas City Council, I call that “common sense for our community.” It is what our city needs.

Favoring or advocating change, improvement, or reform to make progress toward better conditions for a community.

I am always surprised when I hear the term progressive used as a slur or derogatory label. Truth is, though, I only hear the word used that way by partisan political types, and so I shouldn’t be surprised. When I knock on doors and meet the citizens of our city, there is nearly uniform desire for a progressive vision for the city. Too often our elected representatives provide us false choices, and demonizing the term progressive is probably one of those. Progress is inevitable. The real question is whether we move forward in a way that makes our community better, or do we progress fettered by the limiters of division, distrust, and fear.

Pursuing a course of action midway between extremes, especially following a course in politics that is neither liberal nor conservative.

Politics is not a dirty word, either, though we are rearing a generation that has every right to believe it is. Public service should be an honor bestowed on those who deserve and earn the trust of all those they represent. The lay of the current political landscape is pocked, because too many seek only to represent only a few or a narrow point of view. That way takes us to the dangerous edges. Navigating community is generally best accomplished down the middle of the road.

Effective government should be about problem solving and working across the board and across party lines to resolve issues (and, undoubtedly, differences). Approaching problem solving through balanced and fact-based dialogue, always with resolution as the goal, is what I intend to contribute as a public servant. I welcome partners in that intent. You can be an important partner by voting on November 4. Encourage your friends and neighbors to vote for new voices on Manassas City Council. Let’s be all for one great city and one city great for all.


There is a difference between the tools we use to accomplish the good we have to do and the values that inform what we do and define our priorities.

Tools like budgets, rules of order, and politics are often limiters. Budgets are finite. Rules necessarily define process and order, but they often defy common sense interpretation. And, in consideration of that which often defies common sense interpretation, politics can lead to team and consensus building, but, and sometimes more often, politics divide us. At worst, politics actually create an atmosphere of dislike and disrespect. History is full of this ugly use of politics, and we seem to be in an era that will be characterized by future generations as limited by divisive politics.

Defining shared values, on the other hand, brings us together. Defining shared values is harder than defining personal values, because shared values have to stand up to the test of actually being shared. It is well worth doing. Shared values are not limiters. Shared values represent guiding principles that help us define priorities. Values are the guide rails that allow us to assess our reasoning and decisions that help us reach our goals.

I had the honor of celebrating Eid, the end of Ramadan, with friends at the Manassas Muslim Association. It was a time of prayer and reflection centered on community and Selam, or Peace. In that time, I considered the Mosque’s motto: “Educate, Enlighten, and Empower Our Next Generation.” It seems one good way to order those values that underlie policy and decision-making.

Education is the most important investment we make. Enlightenment requires transparent and information-driven communication. Empowerment implies inclusive engagement and mutual trust. Our next generation is the future. If we aren’t doing all we can for the next generation, then why are we doing it?

Let’s make certain we are using the tools at our disposal to do good things for our next generation. Let’s define that good through shared values. Let’s set an example as we set the stage for our next generation.


I love to cook. Haven’t had much time for it this summer, as I have added campaigning for City Council to my to do list, but I love cooking. A dear friend gave us a bumper sticker. We keep it on the fridge. It says, “Love people. Cook them good food.” Words to live by.

What makes good food? Great ingredients make good food. The art of cooking lies in showcasing the best ingredients.

Thoughtful preparation helps in making great food, too, because you have to prioritize and recognize the importance of timing in the whole affair. The pairing of flavors, attention to detail, and determining when to do this important cooking before that important chopping, so that plating and enjoyment are both optimized, defines the experience of the finished product.

The spirit of approach probably matters, too. Cooking for people with love is important. You attend to the ingredients, prioritize, and work really hard in the heat, because you care about all the people you are doing it for.

Manassas has all the wonderful ingredients and boundless potential needed to satisfy our entire population. Ten square miles that can be showcased artfully, but it will take a thoughtful approach to prioritizing our efforts, so that we optimize the experience for all.

The spirit of approach really does matters. Governing for people with love is important. You attend to the citizens, prioritize, and work really hard in the heat, because you care about all the people you are doing it for.

Let’s get cooking, Manassas.


Imagine that perfect “Hometown, America.” When I think of it, it’s a place where children play on streets that are safe and clean, attend the best schools, and where neighbors know and look out for each other. Now, imagine what it would take for this vision to be the truth about Manassas. Even with our problems [shared with other small cities], we may not be that far away from that small town ideal.

We have a terrific police force, as well as great fire and rescue services. Those who manage those services are some of the best in the business. Each budget cycle they tell us what is needed to achieve top-notch status. If our political leadership support their well-reasoned, achievable goals, our streets are safer.

Clean streets that drain properly, that can support increases in car, bike and pedestrian traffic, and that visually brand our city in a positive way during inevitable growth are manageable necessities for our future. Our city already (or is it still? again?) looks good in places. The new welcome signs are genuinely welcoming, and I applaud the efforts that went in to getting them. Let us keep supporting improvements. We have to hit some new benchmarks, and focus on more than just the flashy things, if we are going to do what is absolutely necessary for the citizens of the city now, let alone position ourselves for a bright future.

Our school system does a fine job of educating our youth and dealing with current challenges. For the most part, our children are having good experiences with caring teachers. The schools are handling high numbers well, and they are identifying those needs that would have to be filled to really go from good to great. The elected School Board and appointed school administration have been good stewards of the public’s money and their trust. Trust them to do their duty, and support them in meeting and resolving challenges, and we will have the school system we would all want for our children and grandchildren.

Besides resulting in the kind of city we all want, that kind of community investment saves significant money long-term and attracts the kind of investment we need. These priorities keep Manassas City a great place to live. They are worth our time and consideration. As a city leader, I will focus on the things that matter most to our city and help to make us what we want to be. We don’t have to simply imagine. We can make it happen.