Our View: Alexandria Times announces endorsements for city council, school board

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(Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)
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At long last, five months after the June Democratic primary, Alexandrians head to the polls on Tuesday to elect a new mayor, six city council members and nine candidates to the school board. Two things are certain: both governing bodies are going to have several new members, and the new city council will be considerably younger than the previous one.

City council will have at least four new members, as Councilor Tim Lovain is retiring, Vice Mayor Justin Wilson is set to wield the mayor’s gavel and Councilors Paul Smedberg and Willie Bailey lost their re-election bids in the primary. Four of the nine incumbent school board members are not seeking re-election, so that body will also have an influx of newcomers.

There is also a generational change afoot, particularly on council. The four outgoing members – Lovain, Smedberg, Bailey and Mayor Allison Silberberg – are all over 50. Three of the Democratic newcomers – Canek Aguirre, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Mo Seifeldein – are under 40, while the fourth, Amy Jackson, is in her 40s. One of the two Republicans running, Kevin Dunne, is in his 20s. So, the new council is certain to be younger and less experienced than the outgoing one.

Below are the Alexandria Times endorsements for council and school board. Making endorsements is a responsibility that we take very seriously.

Our endorsements are the product of our three-person editorial board, and reflect the input of our reporter, editor and publisher. They are based on responses to the Times questionnaire, the answers to which were included in last week’s Alexandria Times Voter Guide, on our observations of candidates during debates and candidate forums, on interviews our staff did with each candidate and on how the candidates conduct themselves in the community.

We hold all candidates running for council and school board in high regard, and there are aspects of each person’s message that resonated with us. There are no losers here – only some candidates who stood out a bit more.

First are our endorsements, followed by explanations for our selections.

For city council, in alphabetical order, the Times endorses: Canek Aguirre, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, John Chapman, Kevin Dunne, Amy Jackson and Del Pepper.

For school board, alphabetically by district, the Times endorses:

District A: Bill Campbell, Michelle Rief and Marc Solomon

District B: Cindy Anderson, Jewelyn Cosgrove and Margaret Lorber

District C: Meagan Alderton, Ramee Gentry and John Lennon

City Council

Canek Aguirre has an array of experience that would be helpful on council. He’s worked in Alexandria City Public Schools, in health care and within Alexandria’s underserved communities, particularly with our immigrants. He has experience on several boards and commissions, including in leadership roles. Aguirre is extremely thoughtful and well-spoken on a number of topics.

Elizabeth Bennett-Parker would bring a needed voice to city council as a business and nonprofit leader. Early in the primary campaign, Bennett-Parker, at times, seemed nervous
on the debate stage. But as the campaign wore on, she increasingly found her voice and continues to impress. Bennett-Parker won the most votes of any candidate in the Democratic primary.

John Chapman, a two-term incumbent, is in our estimation the most irreplaceable council candidate. One of only two incumbents on the Democratic slate of six, Chapman is deeply knowledgeable on a wide selection of issues. He’s that rare leader who listens before speaking. The city would be well-served if Chapman were to garner the most votes in the election and become vice mayor.

Kevin Dunne’s name on this list may surprise some people, given his youth and the fact that he’s running as a Republican in a city dominated by Democrats. But political diversity is as important as any other kind, and Dunne is an extremely talented and insightful candidate who recognizes that local issues are not partisan. It was just 11 years ago that another precocious, impressive and ambitious candidate joined council while in his 20s: incoming Mayor Justin Wilson.

Amy Jackson was our seventh choice in the June Democratic primary, meaning the Times did not endorse her then and instead gave our nod to Mo Seifeldein. While we still also like Seifeldein, we have switched them in our rankings for two reasons. First, Jackson, if elected, would be the only councilor with children attending ACPS (along with presumptive mayor Wilson) and is also a former teacher. Given the primacy of school-related issues, her perspective would be valuable. Second, Jackson’s presence at an almost endless succession of city meetings, where the only reason to attend is knowledge rather than to campaign, is impressive. She’s equipped to hit the ground running. Conversely, Seifeldein has been the least visible of the Democratic candidates during the general election.

Del Pepper is the city’s institutional memory. On a dais that’s going to be filled with much younger colleagues with no prior elective experience, we think Pepper’s long-term knowledge of issues, precedents and cycles is vital. During public hearings, she continues to be the one person on council who, it’s evident from her questions, has visited each site beforehand. Such ongoing dedication after 30 years on council is remarkable.

School Board

District A: Bill Campbell is knowledgeable and engaging, and re-electing him would bring continuity to this district’s representatives. The remaining two choices were difficult, as all six candidates were first rate. However, we think Michelle Rief stood out for the breadth of her knowledge on a range of issues. Her citing of data to support her views on topics like the need for smaller schools, in the context of the high school capacity crunch, impressed. Our final choice for District A is Marc Solomon, based mainly on his background as a security specialist. This is a vantage point that would be helpful on the school board.

District B: This was an extremely difficult choice, as all three incumbents are seeking re-election, joined by two impressive newcomers. We back two of the three incumbents, Cindy Anderson, who is vice chair of the school board and Margaret Lorber. Lorber is one of the most impressive incumbents on either council or the school board, and her experience in bilingual and special education – two areas where ACPS most needs improvement – are especially helpful. Our final District B choice is Jewelyn Cosgrove, who we found to be extremely well-spoken, and in fact the most impressive newcomer in any of the districts. Cosgrove is the parent of one small child with another on the way. She would bring a needed perspective on the long-range implications of the capacity crunch.

District C: We felt three of the candidates in this District were clear standouts. Current Board Chair Ramee Gentry is unmatched in her knowledge of where ACPS stands, where it’s trending and where it needs to go. Newcomer Meagan Alderton is a longtime special needs teacher, an area of chronic under performance within ACPS. We think she would be a strong, capable voice on the school board. Finally, John Lennon has followed a lengthy and successful career as a writer and editor working for the federal government with several years serving as a tutor, PTA officer and member of numerous ACPS committees and task forces. He would be able to make a difference from day one.

These are our choices. Whether you agree or differ, we encourage you to go to the polls and vote on Tuesday.

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