Crowded slate of candidates vies for council

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By Missy Schrott | mschrott@alextimes.com

Alexandria is moving into election season full steam ahead now that the last call for Democratic candidates to file for the June 12 primary has passed. March 29 was the last day for Democrats to declare their intent to run. Republicans, meanwhile, have until late May to declare their candidacies, according to Republican City Committee Chair Sean Lenehan.

So far, 12 Democratic candidates and one Republican have filed to run for city council. In the mayoral race, Vice Mayor Justin Wilson is challenging incumbent Mayor Allison Silberberg for the Democratic nomination. The Democratic candidates for Alexandria’s mayor and city council will be chosen in the primary, while their Republican counterparts will be selected at a party caucus in early June. The ARCC has yet to finalize a specific date for the caucus.

The differing deadlines and processes are due to the amount of flexibility local parties have to select their candidates for the Nov. 6 general election, Alexandria’s General Registrar Anna Leider said.

On the Democratic side, all but one of the candidates filed their paperwork at the start of the first filing period on March 12. In addition, one more Democratic candidate, Ashkan Bayatpour, suspended his campaign in March after announcing his intent to run for council in January. He was told by his law firm’s legal department that there was a policy that barred firm members from running for public office.

The Alexandria Electoral Board had a random draw on April 4 for ballot order for the June primary. The Democratic candidates for council will be listed on the ballot in the following order: Amy B. Jackson, John Taylor Chapman, Willie F. Bailey Sr., Redella S. “Del” Pepper, Mo Seifeldein, Matthew S. “Matt” Feely, Canek Aguirre, Derek M. “Dak” Hardwick, Paul C. Smedberg, Elizabeth B. Bennett-Parker and Robert Ray IV. The newest candidate, J. Chris Hubbard, will be listed last, as he was the only one to file after March 12.

“I think we have a really robust field of candidates on the Democratic side this year,” Alexandria Democratic Committee Chair Clarence Tong said. “I think it’s a reflection of the fact that there are two open seats [on council], as well as just a very engaged electorate on the Democratic side, so I’m really excited for the primary season.”

Tong said a similar number of candidates had run for council in 2012, while only six ran in the 2015 election.

“I’m really impressed by the diversity of our field,” Tong said. “We have several candidates who are millennials, we have some other folks who have been engaged in the community longer, and then a few that are relatively new. I think it’s a really interesting field.”

This weekend marks the ADC’s campaign kickoff, Tong said. There will be a rally at Jefferson-Houston School for U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s (D-VA) reelection campaign on Saturday, along with the ADC’s annual Straw Poll event at Port City Brewing Company on Sunday, where residents will have a chance to hear from the Democratic candidates for mayor and city council.

On the Republican side, Kevin Dunne is the lone candidate to declare for city council so far.

“I anticipate a few more [candidates],” Lenehan said. “People are still exploring the issues and what their concerns are. As those crystallize with the new budget process that’s going on right now, I anticipate a couple more candidates to formally announce.”

Lenehan said he was not surprised that only one candidate has announced so far.

“If you look back in the most recent city council elections, there are usually three or four Republicans that run for city council, so I anticipate we’ll have that again,” he said.

Lenehan said the ARCC chose to do a caucus, first, because it is the way the party has selected candidates for years, and second, because holding a primary is more expensive.

The next steps in the local races for mayor and city council are debates and financial reports.

Tong said the ADC has two debates planned, one for mayoral candidates at George Washington Middle School on May 30 and another for city council candidates at Francis C. Hammond Middle School on June 5.

The ARCC does not have any debates or forums scheduled, but Lenehan said he is working with the ADC and other local organizations to ensure Dunne and any other Republican candidates are available for debates. He said in the past, Republicans have debated alongside Democrats at forums organized by homeowners’ associations, business organizations and other civic groups.

The Del Ray Business Association will host a Del Ray Community Mayoral Debate on May 2, moderated by NBC News4 Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey, according to Visit Del Ray’s website. The debate will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Mt. Vernon Community School Auditorium. Del Ray citizens and those involved with businesses in Del Ray are encouraged to attend. DRBA President Sue Kovalsky said they do no plan to host a debate for city council candidates.

The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce will host a mayoral debate on May 14 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the T.C. Williams High School Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public. The chamber will not hold a formal city council candidate debate, said Maria Ciarrocchi, chief operating officer and vice president of public policy with the chamber.

Leider said first quarter campaign finance reports for the period that ended March 31 must be filed by candidates by April 16. The reports disclose where their campaign funding comes from and what they’ve spend it on. The next campaign finance reporting period goes through May 31 and will be made public before the primary.

Leider said it is important for young voters to know that if they will be 18 by the Nov. 6 general election, they are eligible to register and vote in the June 12 primary election as well, even if they are not yet 18.

While Republicans are not holding a primary to select their candidates for local offices, the GOP is holding a primary on June 12 to nominate a candidate for U.S. Senate. The three candidates who qualified for the ballot are Nick J. Freitas, E.W. Jackson and Corey A. Stewart.

Come June 12, voters will have to make a decision about which races they want to weigh in on. Citizens can choose to vote in the Democratic primary to influence local races – Kaine is unopposed in his re-election bid – or the Republican primary for senate, but not in both. Leider said citizens can vote in either primary, regardless of party affiliation.

The deadline to register to vote is May 21. Absentee voting for the June 12 primary begins on April 27. All regular polling places will be open for voting from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day. To check your registration status or find your polling place, visit vote.elections.virginia.gov.

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