By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Matt Feely, a Navy veteran, Old Town resident and college professor, announced his candidacy for city council at the Alexandria Democratic Committee meeting on Feb. 5.
If elected to council, Feely said he would focus on finance, public safety, education and infrastructure, along with bringing new approaches to leadership and city governance.
Feely graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and received an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, a master’s of science from the National Defense University and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He spent 34 years in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a supply corps captain and has been an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia Business School since 2013.
“What I think makes my candidacy different is I have a very clear sense of how to approach leadership and management challenges as a result of the experiences and education I’ve accrued,” Feely said.
Feely has lived in Old Town for 12 years and said he has always been interested in government. He said the presidential election of 2016 sparked his desire to get more involved and discuss local and national issues.
Shortly after the inauguration of President Trump, Feely began inviting other residents to his home for dialogues dubbed “Discourse for Democracy.” Attendees said he’s held about six meetings and discussed topics such as “What does it mean to trust?” and “What are the values of the different parties, and how might there be common ground?” to generate discussion in a nonpartisan, analytical manner.
Dina and Derry Deringer are Alexandria residents who met Feely about a year ago and have attended several of his discussions.
“If I had to describe him in a nutshell, principles and values, these are things that are important to him,” Derry Deringer said. “He’s big into character, and I think it’s good to have that kind of voice on the council.”
Dina Deringer said Feely’s abilities to generate thoughtful discussion and listen carefully would present themselves well on council.
“He’s sort of a listener, taking in all the different points of view. I think that’s how he can be effective,” she said. “Sometimes people will come in with a very strong point of view, and they just try to push it. They try to push it without considering others, but I also think you have to be careful in not assuming that the people who are the loudest are the majority, and I think he would be very sophisticated in understanding the difference.”
Feely said his analytical side would benefit him on council.
“I think that being able to understand the vocabulary that’s used, to understand what people’s sense and sensibilities are and then to be able to translate that into policy that requires sort of [an] analytical framework, is something that would be very useful,” he said.
Feely highlighted four key areas he would fight for on city council, the first being finances.
“We’ve increased our revenues but not enough to cover the continued excess expenditures. To be able to avoid burdening our future … we need to get a handle on the structural deficit,” he said.
In regards to infrastructure, he said it is essential to address maintenance issues immediately to prevent problems in the future.
“Because we discount the future, we tend to underinvest today. There are stories of deferred maintenance all over the city,” Feely said.
In addition, he said he hopes to continue working for a “healthy” public school division and a successful public safety program that includes public health, environmental health and social issues such as affordable housing.
Bill Dickinson, another attendee of Feely’s “Discourse for Democracy” meetings, said Feely’s experience in the Navy would help him in addressing the budget.
“He was a captain in the supply corps of the Navy. That means he was responsible for managing huge amounts of financial resources. He had to be accountable for them,” Dickinson said. “He interacts well with financial topics. We don’t have too many members of council who really do that.”
Dickinson said that city council races are often resume-based, with candidates listing their credentials based on boards and commissions.
“While he’s fairly new to Alexandria, he just might be the tonic that we need,” Dickinson said. “He’s not served on a lot of boards and commissions – he hasn’t served on any – but he brings a vantage point, an outside viewpoint that maybe we need in this city.”
In addition to addressing city issues, Feely said he would bring and implement leadership principles including alignment, integrated planning, inclusive leadership and values-based leadership.
“Not everyone has to agree wholehearted[ly] with what we’re doing, but if we are able to explain without any provocation that what we’re doing is in accordance with the values that we have expressed through the inclusive planning process, then people will at least understand the logic for what we’re doing,” he said. “I think that will build trust and confidence in the government, and it’s just the right thing to do.”
Feely is the sixth Democratic challenger to announce intentions to run for council, following Dak Hardwick, Mo Seifeldein, Amy Jackson, Robert Ray and Canek Aguirre. Incumbent councilors Del Pepper, Willie Bailey, John Chapman and Paul Smedberg have also announced they will run for reelection this year.
At least two seats will be filled by newcomers, as Tim Lovain has announced he will not seek reelection and Justin Wilson has forfeited his seat to run for mayor.
“The conventional wisdom is that two seats are up for grabs, but I just don’t buy that. I think that all seats are up for grabs,” Feely said. “I think that every incumbent member is a fine person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re all shoe-ins.”
The Democratic primary takes place June 12. Feely held his campaign kick off Wednesday, Feb. 21, and will host a “Chat with Matt” Feb. 24 from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Panera Bread at 3201 Duke St.