By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Two years into his first term as a city councilor, Willie Bailey said he spent a lot of time debating whether to run for reelection. In his considerations, however, he said there was a deciding factor he kept returning to – it’s worth it.
“One thing told me that I have to run again,” Bailey said. “The city has done a lot for me, and it’s worth it to give back. The kids are worth fighting for; the seniors are worth fighting for; it’s worth fighting for to make sure everybody, not just the rich and famous but everybody, has a chance to grow up and succeed in Alexandria city.”
Although Bailey has not yet made an official announcement, he told the Times he will run for reelection in 2018.
Bailey grew up in Alexandria and experienced first hand many of the issues he addresses as a councilor. He attended the Alexandria City Public Schools, lived in the city’s low income and affordable housing and grew up visiting local pools and rec centers.
“A lot of this stuff is real special and touching to me because I grew up here,” he said. “All this stuff is close to my heart, so for me, it’s easy to fight for.”
Bailey’s first council term began in January 2016. He said his focus over the past two years has been bringing more affordable and workforce housing to the city, ensuring schools have the facilities and tools for children to succeed and fighting for seniors so they can age in place.
Public service has been a lifelong commitment for Bailey. He began his career in public service with the United States Army, retiring after 21 years. He has spent the past 26 years as an active firefighter in Fairfax County, rising in the ranks to battalion chief.
Bailey said John Niemiec, the president of his firefighter union Local 2068 in Fairfax, convinced him to run for Alexandria City Council in 2015.
“With Willie, what you see is what you get,” Niemiec said. “When you look at his integrity, his character, who and what he is, he’s somebody who puts actions behind his words, with respect to what he does and what he continues to do with the community and those less fortunate.”
In 1998, Bailey founded the nonprofit Firefighters and Friends to the Rescue, an organization that provides thousands of children throughout Alexandria with coats, backpacks, toys and school supplies.
“I know where his heart and his passion is,” Firefighters and Friends board member Michael Johnson said. “He has a great future here because he’s focused on what the real needs are here in the community.”
Johnson has known Bailey for close to 50 years. He said Bailey’s nonprofit work demonstrated his passion for community outreach. He also said it proved he uses his platform as a public figure to serve those who need it most.
“Will is the type of guy that’s fighting for everybody, not just one. He just wants … everybody to get a fair shake and a fair share. And he’s a very honorable guy. He’s a man of his word. He’s not like regular politicians,” Johnson said.
Bailey said his approach to politics is very nonpolitical.
“I always tell people I’m not a politician; I’m an Alexandrian first,” Bailey said. “It’s just not about sitting on the dais, pounding the gavel or casting the vote to write laws. It’s more about also being in tune with what’s going on in the community and doing what’s right for the community.”
John Porter, former T.C. Williams’ principal who knew Bailey as a student, echoed his thoughts.
“Willie’s in it because he cares,” Porter said. “He’s gonna do what he believes is the right thing. It may not be the most politically expedient thing, but he’s gonna do what’s right, and he’s gonna do what’s right particularly for those in need in our community and those that may not have as loud or as active a voice in the community. That’s what I really respect of Willie.”
When asked to reflect on his accomplishments during his first term, Bailey said he was most proud of allocating budget money to schools, affordable housing and the summer work program.
In discussing the issues, Bailey tends to reflect on his community roots. He said he fought hard on council to give funding to the summer work program because he took part in it as a teen.
“To this day, I still remember my first real suit I wore was a seersucker suit. I always remember that I wore it two or three times a week to work,” Bailey said of the summer he spent doing clerical work for an engineering company.
“It felt good to be able to work and put money in my pocket and be able to do things and help my family,” he said. “Now, I’m playing a role in making sure other kids benefit from that program.”
In his reelection campaign, Bailey said he wants Alexandrians to judge him for his actions, not his words.
“I’m a boots on the ground type person,” he said. “To me, politics should not be about how eloquent a speaker you are or how many photo ops you’ve taken part in. You should want to actually get things done, less talking in prolonged meetings, and more boots on the ground, getting things done for the residents of Alexandria.”