Democrats sweep the city council race, while newcomers, incumbents elected to school board

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Alexandria Democratic candidates celebrate as final results were rolling in on election night (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)
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By Missy Schrott | mschrott@alextimes.com

Alexandria voted to elect all six Democratic city council candidates during Tuesday’s general election, with a record number of city voters turning out at the polls for a non-presidential year, according to the Office of Voter Registration and Elections.

Turnout by 4 p.m. on Tuesday was 46.5 percent without absentee, in comparison to 39.87 percent in 2017, and 57.89 percent with absentee, contrasted with 46.90 percent in 2017.
In addition to electing all six Democratic nominees chosen during the June primary, voters officially selected Justin Wilson, who ran unopposed, to be Alexandria’s next mayor.

First-time candidate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker will become the city’s next vice mayor, having earned the most votes of all council candidates at 16.27 percent. She was followed by Amy Jackson with 14.67 percent, incumbent John Chapman with 13.94 percent, Del Pepper with 13.50 percent, Canek Aguirre with 12.83 percent and Mo Seifeldein with 12.64 percent. All candidates, save for Chapman and Pepper, are newcomers to the dais.

The closest challenger was Republican Kevin Dunne with 6.14 percent, followed by Republican Michael Clinkscale with 4.58 percent and, in last, Independent candidate Mark
Shiffer with 4.41 percent. Write-ins garnered 1.02 percent of council votes cast.

In the mayoral race, Wilson received 92.73 percent of the vote, while 7.27 percent went to write-ins.

“We’re going to have a very different council in January which I think is exciting,” Wilson said at the Alexandria Democratic Committee’s watch party Tuesday evening at Glory Days Grill. “You know, we’ve got new ideas, new focuses and it’ll be fun. I’m excited.”

In the race for Alexandria School Board, voters elected a combination of incumbents and newcomers. In District A, Michelle Rief had the most votes by far with 22.45 percent, followed by Jacinta Greene with 19.24 percent and Christopher Suarez with 17.56 percent. Bill Campbell, the longest tenured incumbent candidate of the five who ran, lost his bid for reelection, earning 12.18 percent of the vote.

Contrarily in District B, voters re-elected all three incumbents, with Veronica Nolan receiving the most votes with 28.02 percent, Cindy Anderson with 23.98 percent and Margaret Lorber with 23.43 percent. They beat the nearest challenger, Jewelyn Cosgrove, who had 13.97 percent of the vote, by more than 10 percentage points.

In District C, newcomers earned the most votes. Newcomer Heather Thornton earned 25.66 percent of the vote and fellow newcomer Meagan Alderton received 23.40 percent. Incumbent board chair Ramee Gentry earned the third seat with 17.55 percent, narrowly beating John E. Lennon, who received 16.94 percent.

Despite the rainy election day weather on Tuesday, spirits were high throughout the night at the Democratic watch party as candidates and their families, ADC members and
other residents gathered to watch local and national results come in.

Leslie Tourigny, Wilson’s mother, said many of the watch party attendees were primarily interested in election results across the nation for the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

“We’re not worried about the local election – it’s around the country,” Tourigny said. “… I hope we get back to being the country we were before the last couple of years, and we do away with hate, and we go back to being something that the world could emulate.”

ADC  Chair Clarence Tong said the impressive voter turnout could have been influenced by widespread disappointment in the national government.

“I think Democrats are incredibly motivated to vote,” he said. “They see what’s going on across the river, and they want to see something different here, and I think people aren’t going to take their vote for granted.”

In Virginia, voters re-elected Democrats U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine and U.S. Rep. Don Beyer. Kaine beat opponent Corey Stewart 56.88 percent to 41.12 percent across the state, while Beyer beat opponent Thomas Oh 76.17 to 23.61. In blue Alexandria, their margins were even more pronounced: Kaine received 81.01 percent to Corey Stewart’s 16.30 percent, while Beyer got 79.14 percent of the vote in Alexandria to Oh’s 20.63 percent.

Dak Hardwick, a former Democratic council candidate, made an appearance
at the party and said he was happy with the way the congressional races had gone in
Alexandria.

“I see historic turnout across the country. I think it’s reflected here locally. I am not surprised,” he said. “You could see that we have a motivated electorate right now. They are looking for change. They’re looking for a different direction. I saw a poll today that said almost six out of 10 Americans said the country’s on the wrong track. And when you have a poll like that and people go to the polls with that in mind, then they’re going to look for change.”

Once the local race had been called around 9 p.m., the six councilor-elects and mayor-elect gave speeches to thank those who had voted for them and who had helped them campaign.

Chapman, one of the two incumbents re-elected, said this had been the hardest of his three campaigns for council.

“This election before others has been probably one of the toughest ones that I’ve ever been through,” he said. “If you recall in the primary, there were folks in the community who wanted incumbents gone. ‘Chapmaniacs,’ my campaign team, lined up behind me and we pushed forward. Our theme was to survive and advance. We did that. We did that by talking about the issues that we are working on on council, the future of our city and how we move forward together.”

Bennett-Parker attributed her success to working hard to spread her message.

“In the primary I worked really hard. … I did in the past few months as well,” she said. “I personally knocked on the doors of more than 5,000 voters and my team did 20,000 so our team worked hard to get our message out and I think that message resonated with a lot of people.”

Matt Gaston, a Democratic precinct captain in Del Ray who attended the watch party, said it would be interesting to see such a new council in January.

“There’s a lot of new people, a lot of fresh perspectives,” he said. “Hopefully they’ve got ideas on how to deal with things like the school situation and some of the other things … but it’ll be interesting to see how things play out and how the dynamic changes with a virtually completely new council.”

Wilson said he had already been working with the Democratic nominees to get them up to speed on the issues facing council.

“We’ve had a lot of meetings and we’ll continue to do that once they become official,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re trying to wrap up a number of issues that have been pending on the current council, particularly the issues that are midflight. We want to get those resolved by the end of the year so we don’t have to start over on some things. … We’ve got some big issues coming ahead of this council in the next three years and we needed all the head start we could have.”

Outgoing Mayor Allison Silberberg made an appearance at the party to congratulate local winners and watch the national results.

“I congratulate all of the winners and I look forward to being of help if I can,” Silberberg said. “I’m certainly proud of all that we have accomplished in a very short time while I’ve been mayor … and we’re not done yet. We’re gonna go right up to the last minute of the last hour and run right through the tape.”

Just a short distance away from Glory Days, local Republicans gathered at Ramparts for a watch party of their own. Shortly after 8 p.m., it became apparent that there wouldn’t be an upset by council challengers. Dunne said, though it wasn’t the outcome he hoped for, it was to be expected.

“I think it’s the nature of where we are and a context where voters aren’t too focused on city issues,” Dunne said. “I’ve had a few people who are Democrats who I’ve approached and said, ‘I’m running for city council, I’m a center-right conservative just trying to make an impact in the city’ and they said ‘If it were any other year, you might get my vote, but this year we need to do a protest vote.’”

Dunne said national politics had affected Republicans’ chances in the city.

“I think it’s really a perfect storm for Republicans, at least in this area,” he said.

Dunne said voters had given city government a “clear mandate,” though, and it was a result that he respected. He said he wasn’t sure if he would run for office again, but didn’t rule out the option.

“I think Alexandria has a bit to improve upon in getting rigorous answers out of their candidates. In all but I think one forum – and this exception was small – members of the audience were simply not allowed to come forward with questions,” Dunne said. “I would really like us to improve this process … in terms of the way in which questions are formed and the back-and-forth.”

Alexandria GOP Chairman Sean Lenehan said that he was pleased that candidates brought important issues to light.

“It’s not looking locally like maybe we would have hoped for, but the message … the biggest issues they were talking about at least got brought up in the dialogue,” Lenehan said.

Lenehan said those issues included the city’s high tax rate, both on residents and on restaurants. He said it wasn’t clear how national issues affected the local results. He said, ultimately, the next council would be dealing with hyper-local issues.

“Our issues have nothing to do with the national level – our concerns are public safety, our concerns are solid schools, our concerns are strong infrastructure. All of that has zero to do with who is in the White House,” Lenehan said. “… I know that when city council is seated in January, those are the issues they’ll be facing.”

Current council and school board members will serve through the end of 2018, and the newly elected members will be sworn in at a ceremony on Jan. 2.

Alexa Epitropoulos contributed to this report.

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