Robert Ray discusses campaign for city council

Robert Ray discusses campaign for city council
Robert Ray at his Old Town shop, Cavalier Antiques (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

By Alexa Epitropoulos |

Robert Ray’s city council run revolves around community.

Ray is the the second-generation owner of Cavalier Antiques in Old Town, and grew
up in the neighborhood. His parents, Robert Ray III and Elizabeth Waters Ray, bought the building where the business remains in 1962, though they started the company in Georgetown in 1946.

Ray and his wife, Mary, a licensed clinical social worker who runs her own practice out of the same building, have raised their daughter, Catherine, in their home above the antique shop.

Community ultimately pushed Ray to run for council.

Ray, who was against the proposed Old Town business improvement district, was actively involved in the contentious debate and felt that the opposition’s voice wasn’t being heard.

“I sat there watching council receive three minutes after three minutes of ‘we don’t want this’ and just a few people saying they wanted it,” Ray said. “I noticed council just sort of putting up with it and then when the vote came to what they were going to do … they were upset that they weren’t getting what they wanted.”

Ray supported Mayor Allison Silberberg’s actions on a number of issues, particularly her opposition to the BID and to changes proposed by the city’s parking task force. His decision to run for council stemmed in part from what he sees as a need for more voices to speak up for livability in Alexandria, particularly in Old Town and Del Ray.

The membership makeup of the city’s Parking Standards task force was a particular sticking point in Ray’s mind.

“Even though they claim this is coming from residential review, it’s not. There’s no minority report from people who were present that thought it would have a negative impact on their lives,” Ray said.

Ray started mulling the idea of running in June and announced intentions to run as a Democrat at an Alexandria Democratic Committee meeting in December. He’s one of four newcomers that have announced their council campaigns so far, the others being Dak Hardwick, Mo Seifeldein and Amy Jackson.

At least two council seats are in play in the 2018 election due to Vice Mayor Justin Wilson running for mayor and Councilor Tim Lovain not seeking reelection.

Councilors John Chapman, Del Pepper and Willie Bailey, meanwhile, have either publicly announced or have told the Times that they intend to seek reelection.

If elected, Ray said he would primarily focus on representing the interests of Alexandria residents and small business owners. He said curbing development would be of particular importance to him.

“A lot of people, they’re just on the margins. People who are artsy and quirky and have cool little shops that make Alexandria an experience vs. what you can get on the web – those people do it because they absolutely love it,” Ray said. “They want to watercolor, they want to make crepes. They’ve come up with this idea and they’re doing it. That is not necessarily the road to riches.”

Ray thinks of representing the interests of small business owners like his father, who lived most of his life with bills hanging over his head.

Cavalier Antiques at 400 Prince St. was started by Robert Ray’s parents, Robert Ray III and Elizabeth Waters Ray (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

“My mom died when I was six of cancer. My mom and dad were these quirky people that had some income and definitely added to the character of the neighborhood with what they did, but my dad couldn’t pay all his bills. They were so bohemian that they didn’t
have insurance. He had bills hanging over him for years and years,” Ray said. “… My dad was lucky because he was able to pull through it. Burke & Herbert helped him out with loaning money he probably couldn’t pay back right away. The community pulled around him to help him out.”

He said, perhaps because he grew up without significant means, he has an eye for budgeting. He now serves as treasurer for both the Old Town Civic Association and the Alexandria Association.

“We could be a much thriftier government if we didn’t allow as much influence. For whatever reason, it feels like money is going out and some money isn’t coming back,” Ray said. “Being treasurer of these different organizations and also not growing up with a bunch of money has given me this sense of the value of thriftiness. When I’ve been in my
offices, I’ve seen myself as defender of the treasury – this is my job to make sure we don’t have champagne and caviar and suddenly there’s no more money left.”

Old Town Civic Association President Yvonne Callahan, who has known Ray since he was a child, has just recently begun working with him in a professional capacity.

“I know him in one sense very recently and going further back as a person. He’s always been someone who cares deeply, is concerned about government, is willing to put time in civic associations. That’s a good beginning background for people who want to run for office,” Callahan said.

She said Ray, who started as Old Town Civic Association treasurer in October, has instituted changes for the better since starting his post.

“He has done a remarkable job with pulling together our membership lists and upgrading our computer system and things of that sort that needed it,” she said. “He’s certainly displayed a keen sense of organization in taking this over.”

Callahan said she expects to see him focus on issues like historic preservation and the protection of small business. She said she could see him interacting well with other councilors.

“Robert is on the quiet side – he’s very respectful, he chooses his words carefully, he’s not a flamethrower. I think he would not only get along with just about anyone – he would work very hard to reach consensus with people, to reach out to people to see what they could agree on,” Callahan said.

Alexandria Association President Karen Paul has worked with Ray since he became treasurer of the organization in 2012.

“In the experience I’ve had, he has really improved the whole accounting and duties that the treasurer performs, the bookkeeping and the accounting,” Paul said. “He just came in and has totally upgraded the way we do things.”

Paul said Ray also has the ability to listen and consider many different perspectives.

“He’s the kind of person who listens. He listens to all sides, considers something.
He doesn’t rush to judgment quickly or do things because everybody else is doing them,” Paul said. “He approaches issues in a very considerate way.”

Many of the issues Ray is most passionate about are highly personal for him. His desire to support historic preservation comes back to the building he lives in and operates his business out of – a building that was nearly torn down as part of urban renewal.

“We take for granted that developers and big interests haven’t steamrolled us over in the past, but it’s because people have banded together to defend their own property rights and their own expectations for the community,” Ray said.

Should his campaign be successful, he hopes to create a mechanism for more
input from the community.

He said he hopes to create a survey through Google Forms that would poll members of civic associations about the biggest issue facing them at the moment.

He said, though no Republicans have announced intentions to run yet, he sees the upcoming election as a struggle between two varying points of view. He sees himself on the side of instituting a counter balance to big, potentially life-changing forces, including development.

“I wish to fall on that side of the question and I hope there’s enough people who can see through huge amounts of money that can influence elections,” Ray said.

For Ray, it comes back to setting up a dialogue with the community he’s remained in all these years.

“I just want to be with people and meet with people who enjoy political speech and elevate the issues and perspectives. I really want to connect more with my community and hear more about what they have to say,” Ray said. “I want to expand my understanding by hearing other people’s takes.”