Our View: Assessing Alexandria’s local election

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Photo Credit: Missy Schrott
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Nationwide the vaunted blue wave was real, and though not the tsunami predicted at one point, in Alexandria it helped lift the full Democratic slate to easy victory.

Here’s how complete the Democrats’ victory was in Alexandria: they took the top six slots in every one of the city’s 29 precincts. The closest a Republican came to sniffing victory was in the city hall precinct, where Republican Kevin Dunne finished 16 votes shy of Canek Aguirre for sixth place.

Dozens of women nationwide gained high office on Tuesday, aided in part by the #MeToo movement, and its effect was evident in Alexandria as well, with three women – Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Amy Jackson and Del Pepper – among the top four council vote-getters. They form the first trio of women elected to city council since 2000, when Pepper was joined by Claire Eberwein and Joyce Woodson on the dais.

Bennett-Parker, who will serve as Alexandria’s new vice mayor, garnered impressive support citywide: she was the leading vote-getter in every precinct, often by a wide margin.

She received 16.27 percent of all votes cast and a whopping 43,887 overall. To put the magnitude of her performance in perspective, Mayor-elect Justin Wilson became vice mayor in 2015 with 11.67 percent of votes cast and 15,852 overall, though it must be noted that turnout was much lower three years ago and two extra Republicans on the ballot helped dilute the winners’ percentages.

It will be interesting to see when, or whether, Bennett-Parker, who also was council’s leading vote-getter in the June Democratic primary, can parlay her city-wide support into a strong, independent voice on council.

Also impressive was the second-place finish of former teacher Jackson, who, as the only council member with children currently in Alexandria City Public Schools, is expected to play a leading role in advocating for school-related issues.

Several observations about the new council, and things to watch for:

The continued lack of business experience on council is concerning.

With the city dealing with ongoing, big-dollar projects with private sector developers, it would help to have someone with banking or large-company experience. Incumbent Councilor John Chapman and Bennett-Parker have limited private-sector experience, but only with smaller businesses.

The learning curve of this group is going to be steep, and possibly painful to watch.

Perhaps the only positive aspect of having such a long gap between the June primaries and the following January, when new council members take office, is the time it affords the winners to study city issues. With four new members who have never held elective office, everything from parliamentary procedure to nuances of important issues are, to some extent, going to be learned on the fly.

How will its youth and relative lack of life experience impact this council’s decision making?

Will the new council members understand, and respect, the valid livability concerns of residents who have lived here for decades?

Do these young, incoming councilors understand the treasure that is Alexandria’s history, and will they prioritize its preservation?

This isn’t just an age-related concern; it’s geographic. For the first time in recent memory, no one on council lives in Old Town. It’s also economic, as Alexandria’s
history drives our lucrative tourism industry.

It will be fascinating to see how everyone adjusts to their new roles. How will Wilson wear the mayor’s mantle? How will Chapman and Pepper, seasoned council members, deal with being bypassed for the vice mayor’s chair? How will feisty Mo Seifeldein, who challenged his colleagues in primary debates, mesh with them on the dais?

One thing is likely: the next council term won’t be boring. Like the rest of the
city, we look forward to seeing how it plays out.

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