By Will Schick | [email protected]
City Council candidate Bill Rossello literally has widespread involvement in the Alexandria community.
A Baltimore native of Puerto Rican descent, Rossello moved to Alexandria in 1988 and married his wife, Bonnie, a year later. During his more than three decades in the city, Rossello has lived in three of Alexandria’s distinct neighborhoods – Old Town, North Ridge and Seminary Hill.
According to Rossello, his long-standing connection to the city and its residents distinguishes him from most of the other candidates running for council in the June 8 Democratic primary.
“The rest of the folks are relatively, you know, they haven’t lived here very long, they haven’t seen a lot, they don’t really understand, in my mind, the full context of where we’ve been as a city,” Rossello said.
Rossello is running against 12 other candidates for City Council. Most of that dozen have much shorter tenures in the city than Rossello, however some, including incumbent councilors John Chapman and Amy Jackson, grew up and attended school here.
The son of a migrant father and a mother who grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Manhattan, Rossello said his Latino heritage has helped define him.
“My Puerto Rican grandmother from Ponce worked as a seamstress in the Garment District. Later she lived with us from before I was born and helped raise my three siblings and me,” Rossello said.
When Rossello earned a B.A. in history from Duke University and an MBA from the College of William & Mary, he was building on the foundation laid by his parents.
“Both my parents were the first in their families to attend and graduate from college,” Rossello said.
Rossello said he has been civically active for a long time — not because of political aspirations but because the community had called on him to serve.
A management consultant with more than 30 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies and state and local governments across the country and Canada, Rossello’s first taste of public service came when the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce asked him to serve on the city’s budget committee in the early 90s.
“I ended up doing that for almost the entire decade,” Rossello said.
Rossello later served as vice president and travel commissioner for the Alexandria Soccer Association.At the time the association was on the brink of failure, Rossello said. Playing fields were in poor condition, and there weren’t enough fields to meet the demand of the city’s youth.
“We ended up working with the Youth Sports Commission to drive the City Council to invest in fields in our city parks,” Rossello said. “And we were able to get a number of fields to be reconstructed with artificial turf and with lights, and that tripled the capacity for the city, for our youth and for our adult players.”
When, in 2018, the city started considering the redevelopment of a 0.9-mile stretch of Seminary Road, which would reduce the road from four to three lanes and add bike lanes, Rossello stepped in to advocate for those opposed to the project. Rossello argued the city had not adequately engaged with residents.
“The city was doing things without engaging the affected stakeholders in the affected neighborhoods the right way, and they weren’t doing it transparently,” Rossello said.
With his help, a group of residents united by their op-position to Seminary Road expanded their scope to engage with other issues of concern in the city. Out of the Seminary Road debate came the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook group, of which Rossello was a moderator for a short time. The page, which has grown to 2,400 members, has become a forum for residents to express their dissatisfaction with current city policy and rally around causes that matter to them, such as opposition to the planned Taylor Run stream restoration project.
Rossello expressed a similar dissatisfaction with the city’s current leadership.
“The city was doing things with little engagement, not a lot of transparency, orchestrating the outcomes that they wanted to address their agenda, as opposed to really taking the pulse of the community,” Rossello said.
Rossello said he believes this last experience is what has driven his neighbors to call upon him to serve once again, this time on City Council.
“I have no aspirations to have a long political career. … I’m really here to change the direction of the city in a very positive way,” Rossello said.
Rossello’s plan for instituting this change is comprehensive. His campaign platform is built around what he terms the “five planks.”
The first plank involves making city hall more responsive and transparent, while the second plank is designed around promoting “responsible development.”
“I’m not against development. We just have to be thoughtful about it,” Rossello said. “And I’m not so sure we’re being thoughtful.”
Rossello said he believed that the city’s current development strategy is making it difficult for many middle class families, particularly those within the city’s Black community that have lived in the area for more than 150 years, to remain in the city.
“Working with developers to make sure developers make a lot of money just to get a few affordable housing units, I don’t think that’s the right path,” Rossello said.
In Rossello’s view, over-development also impacts other areas of the city, such as its already over-taxed stormwater infrastructure. Rossello criticized what he sees as the city’s simultaneous lack of sewer maintenance and pursuit of a policy of consistent building.
“You lose permeable surfaces on the one hand, which creates more water flow, and then we haven’t been cleaning out the pipes,” Rossello said. “And so, that’s negligence.”
Rossello’s planks also include addressing the issue of school capacity and “keeping everyone moving safely.”
“Ninety percent of households in the city own at least one car, and they depend on that car for everything from commuting to running their errands and getting to the grocery store,” Rossello said.
While Rossello said he believed it was important to support and promote alternative modes of transportation such as biking and walking, he also said many people within the community cannot do either.
“We have to face the facts, and that is for the next 15 or 20 years at least, people are still going to be owning their cars, and a lot of people [will] commute,” Rossello said.
The fifth plank of his campaign is to make the city embodying its eco-city pledge. While Rossello said he believes it is an admirable goal, he criticized the city for not always living up to the eco-city moniker.
“We’ve been saying this for 20 years, that we’re an eco-city,” Rossello said. “It’s quite embarrassing when we found out that we had millions of gallons of raw sewage running into the Potomac for pretty much a century.”
Rossello said that the city is handling stream maintenance projects such as the recently paused Taylor Run and Strawberry Run restorations much in the same way.
Rossello’s campaign represents a long-brewing dissatisfaction from several sectors of Alexandria with the way the city operates. But despite his open criticism of city processes and of local leaders like Mayor Justin Wilson and City Manager Mark Jinks, Rossello said that his primary reason for running remains the opportunity to bring accountability, experience and transparency to the dais.
“I feel very strongly about that notion of responsibility – that when you are the right person at the right time to step up, you have to step up,” Rossello said. “I think I bring a set of experiences and skills and competencies that has been in short supply on the City Council for a long time now.”