By Chris Teale (File photo)
With four Republicans and one Independent as opponents in the November 3 general election, the six Democrats on the ballot for city council are hitting the campaign trail in what could be a tight race.
Five of the Democrats are incumbents — John Chapman, Tim Lovain, Del Pepper, Paul Smedberg and Justin Wilson — while Willie Bailey joins the fray in his first political campaign.
Bailey served 21 years in the U.S. Army and almost 25 years with the Fairfax County Fire Department, most recently as a battalion chief. An Alexandria native who graduated from T.C. Williams in 1983, Bailey said he is determined to grow the city’s affordable housing stock and improve Alexandria City Public Schools.
“I told myself, once my son graduated college, that I was going to try and do more to help my city,” Bailey said. “[The] city has done a lot for me and helped me take advantage of all the things it offered me. I figured I just wanted to do more to give back, so I wanted to run for city council and try to help some of the things I wanted to help.”
Bailey is the founder of nonprofit organization Firefighters and Friends to the Rescue, which provides underprivileged children with backpacks at the start of the school year, coats for the winter and toys during the holidays. He believes his ability to work with others will serve him well in a position that requires collaboration.
For the incumbent city councilors, encouraging business is a key part of their campaigns. Even with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration relocating to the Port City in 2017, the candidates are looking to create an economy not so dependent on the federal government.
“I think the idea is to work on this economic diversification, how we build an economy that’s not wedded to the vagaries of the federal government and what Congress is doing,” Wilson said. “I think that’s going to be a big focus, using tax policy and some of our processes in City Hall to create an environment where business can grow.”
“I really want us to be at the forefront of showing the economic development community and the business community why Alexandria is the place to start a business,” said Chapman. “I want to get down to the nuts and bolts of why folks say that we’re not necessarily a business-friendly town. I want us to be one of, if not the, best or easiest places in Northern Virginia to start a business.”
Economic development is the key driver for ensuring the city has more money available in its budget, and councilors feel the appropriation of public money can be done in a smarter way, especially when it comes to funding ACPS.
“For years the city’s contribution to the schools has been a fairly arbitrary number,” said Lovain. “The end result is the result of haggling, and it seemed to me that it needed to be put on a more rational basis. It seemed to me that this is just a big improvement to have at least a benchmark. That’s not to say that this is exact, but to give us a rational basis for deciding how much the schools should get.”
Even with the recent endorsement of the school system’s long-range facilities plan, the district faces capacity issues and a lack of universal pre-K. Ensuring the city fulfills those needs are two major education priorities for the candidates.
“I still really think there’s a need for clarity with our pathway forward when it comes to school capacity,” said Chapman. “I want, before we get onto the next school or school building, to have a clear picture that the public understands about what we’re building, how much it’s going to cost with the timeframe.”
“One of the things that’s very important to me are the preschools,” said Pepper. “I want us to have a push there; we’ve got to get all of our children into preschools. Everybody just has to have that kind of good start so when they hit kindergarten, they will be in a position to be up and ready to learn.”
The issue of affordable housing is a thorny one, especially with the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority asking councilors this weekend to approve demolition of the Ramsey Homes in the Parker-Gray neighborhood. Chapman said he wants to see progress when it comes to housing affordability and ensuring the city’s stock is maintained and increased.
“One of my goals with affordable housing is to change the debate,” he said. “Right now, we only look at market-rate and affordable housing, we don’t really take into account workforce housing. We throw that in with affordable housing, so many times projects that we get set-asides for really have workforce housing but they don’t have a lot of affordable housing.”
One area for optimism in development is the West End, which is poised for an influx of businesses with the TSA in Eisenhower West and the planned redevelopment of Landmark Mall. Pepper is hopeful in light of recent progress in both neighborhoods.
“I want to be very instrumental in the implementation of plans that come out of the Eisenhower West study,” she said. “The Old Town area and Del Ray, those are hot spots, very attractive and doing very well. We want the West End to reach its full potential. It’s got so much, and we’re trying to move some of these things forward.”
Smedberg did not respond to requests for comment.