Candidate profile: Sarah Bagley sets focus on City Council

Candidate profile: Sarah Bagley sets focus on City Council

By Allison Hageman |

Sarah Bagley said she is the type of person who uses her skills, time and opportunity to improve her community in any way she can. In this case, she is using her skills for a run at Alexandria City Council.

During the pandemic, Bagley said she learned just how important it is to engage locally and contribute through service.

“I am someone very driven by a desire to be a positive force in my community,” Bagley said.

Bagley grew up in Virginia Beach and was raised by her dad, a Vietnam veteran who worked in a local shipyard. She attended the College of William & Mary where she studied government and received a law degree from The Catholic University of America before moving to Alexandria in 2016.

She is currently the executive director of Chisom Housing Group, a nonprofit that provides services to residents in affordable housing communities. She is also a licensed lawyer in Virginia and has years of trial experience – a skill set that she said sets her apart from other candidates.

“I think I have a unique resume in some ways – this blend of both legal professional work and then the social services work I’ve been doing now for the last almost six years,” Bagley said.

Locally, Bagley volunteers with the Alexandria Democratic Committee and Moms Demand Action. Both experiences have given her a sense of how to engage the community in a meaningful and positive way, she said. For ADC, Bagley has done phone banking, door-knocking and polling station work, while for Moms Demand Action, she has lobbied for gun control legislation. Last year, Bagley spoke before Alexandria’s City Council, encouraging them to pass the ban on guns on city property, which City Council ultimately ended up adopting.

“For me, it felt like an area in which we could do better and that regular people like myself and the other volunteer members of Moms could make an impact and could reduce the presence of guns in our society,” Bagley said.

According to Bagley, she was motivated to enter the City Council race because of a desire to improve her community. She also expressed a desire to bring female representation to the ballot, particularly after Councilor Del Pepper announced her retirement and Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker announced she was running for the Virginia House of Delegates. The final piece of her decision, according to Bagley, was the COVID-19 pandemic, a disaster that showed how vital local government is in residents’ daily lives.

“I wanted to be sure that we would have women on the ballot, and I felt like this was an opportunity to serve a community that I have made my home,” Bagley said.

For her campaign, Bagley said she is focusing on affordable housing, COVID-19 and safer communities.

As someone who works at an affordable housing nonprofit, Bagley said the issue is often at the front of her mind. Bagley said she would like to see council create affordability at different price points and create more senior living communities. Ensuring residents of all ages can continue to live in the city is important for Bagley.

“I want to definitely be a part of that discussion about how do we develop in a way that provides multiple price points,” Bagley said. “How do we allow people to age in place?”

Another issue Bagley wants to tackle on council as aggressively as possible is the city’s flooding and infrastructure challenges. Bagley said the city needs to invest intelligently and transparently in order to address the issue.

“It’s a quality of life issue,” Bagley said. “It’s not going to go away without dedicated time, effort and money.”

When it comes to communication, Bagley said she feels council needs to reassess the methods they use to share and listen to information. She acknowledged the difficulties of receiving feedback at council meetings over Zoom but said that local leaders should expand their feedback methods so that more residents can question and comment on council decisions.

In the short term, Bagley said Alexandria needs to focus on flexible solutions to the impacts of COVID-19, particularly for the city’s local businesses, even as it aims to expand housing options and address flooding issues.

“Local businesses are going to want and need a business environment that allows for flexibility because this is a new situation and a new dynamic,” Bagley said. “And I think nobody is exactly sure what our lifestyles are going to look like, what our social choices are going to be as we emerge from the pandemic.”

Like many candidates in the lead up to the June 8 Democratic primary, the pandemic has forced Bagley to reassess what campaigning looks like. Her campaign has become a combination of phone banking, Zoom events, a monthly story time event for kids and socially distanced gatherings. Though, Bagley said she wishes she was able to knock on doors and talk to people in person.

Part of the reason Bagley loves Alexandria is how engaged its residents are. They care about the city, its history and want to be heard, she said.

If elected to City Council, Bagley said she wants Alexandrians to feel like their voices are heard. Engaging in proactive conversations and listening opportunities around the city whenever council is undertaking major projects would be a major part of her time on council, according to Bagley.

“There’s so much that Alexandrians agree upon and so much that they share in their love for the city,” Bagley said. “And yet I think we could do better to make those engaged citizens feel included in how projects are chosen and decisions are made.”