By Denise Dunbar
The Times is pleased to present “Monthly Chat,” a new opinion series featuring a conversation with different Alexandrians. We will introduce you to neighbors that perhaps you didn’t know — and offer new insights into familiar faces.
Our first chat is with City Councilor David Speck, who previously served on council from 1991 to 1994 and 1996 to 2003. He was reappointed in September to finish the term of recently elected state Delegate Rob Krupicka. Speck’s term ends January 2. He is a managing director of investments at Wells Fargo Advisors and serves on the boards of many Alexandria charities.
You’ve just been appointed to serve the rest of Rob Krupicka’s term on city council. How did this come about? Are you going to run for council again?
DS: Rob’s seat, by law, was a court appointment. I was asked by a few people if I’d be willing to finish out the term. I know the issues and process, and so I let people know I’d be happy to do it. Let me make this clear: I’m not using this as a stepping-stone. I’d sooner die than run for office again.
Between the House of Delegates and city council, I’ve spent a significant part of my life doing this. When I ran for re-election in 2000, I said at the time that this was my last term. When the 2003 election rolled around people couldn’t believe I wasn’t running again. They said, “You could get re-elected.” This is not my life. I hope I left some footprints, but I didn’t feel [being an elected official] consumed me or that I needed to do it.
Although you are a Democrat, you at one time served on city council as a Republican. What led to your switch of party affiliation?
DS: It was 17 years ago that I switched, after my first term on council. Before becoming active politically, I picked and chose who I supported but wasn’t a member of either party. When I decided to get active politically, the progressive political party in Virginia was Republican. Bob Calhoun, Linwood Holton — the first Republican-elected governor since Reconstruction — people like that were Republican office holders.
I ran for city council in 1979 as a Republican and lost. In a fluke, both House of Delegates seats became open and I ran and won. But I lost in 1981 [while running for] re-election. I went into the finance business then. I ran for council in 1991, again as a Republican, and won. But the Virginia Republican Party was becoming increasingly conservative and unwelcoming to those who did not share their views.
People didn’t know what to make of me: I’m liberal, Jewish and from Alexandria. The dilemma for me after one term on council was that I didn’t feel I belonged in the Republican Party anymore. What was I going to do?
It was not an easy decision. Do I switch parties and run as a Democrat? No way I could do that. On the other hand, I couldn’t run for re-election as a Republican and then become a Democrat. So, I did the only thing I could and retired from council. That was 1994. In 1995, I decided people needed to know where I stood.
Blue Dog Democrats were switching from Democrat to Republican, but no one was switching the other way. It had a man bites dog element. I had no plan, other than saying ‘I’m a Democrat.’ In a somewhat unexpected political race, Patsy Ticer beat Bob Calhoun [for the state senate]. That left an opening on council. I had been a Democrat for a year and got important blessings from prominent Democratic leaders, so I ran and was elected.
Do you think city council elections should be partisan? Did you support moving local elections from May to November?
DS: City council elections should not be partisan. We are one of only a few Virginia cities that holds partisan local elections. I was also lukewarm to the move to a November election. The reason for the change from May to November was to increase voter turnout. Very small percentages were determining who was running the city. The May election attracted a more informed local voter, there were just fewer of them. We need staggered terms on council, but I would not have supported a November election.
The discord within Alexandria’s Democratic Party this year has been striking. We’ve had, for lack of a better term establishment Democrats versus change agent Democrats. What caused this?
DS: It’s been more contentious and competitive because we had so many open seats. It brings out a bigger group. We’ve also had polarizing issues. When you have a party that has been in power for a long time and has relatively few opportunities for the next generation to move into elective office, it creates a certain amount of dissatisfaction. There was a degree of fatigue with the people already there. Non-establishment candidates looking at this are able to take advantage [of] disenchanted voters.
Many friends in Alexandria, off-the-record, have told me they view U.S. Rep. Jim Moran as an embarrassment and wish another Democrat could represent our city. Yet, term after term, he runs without facing a credible primary opponent. Why?
DS: A couple of things. One is money. It’s difficult to run against an incumbent who has an easy time raising money in an expensive media market. He did have a credible opponent eight or 10 years ago, after he made some comments that were less than supportive of Israel.
But even then, when he was at his most vulnerable, Jim won by a wide margin. For some voters, although some of the events in Jim’s life are not what they like, he still votes the right way. On a bunch of things, I think Jim wishes he could have a do over.