An election without public polling is a bit like the days when pregnant couples didn’t know the gender of their baby until the day of birth. If you don’t know, you put a finger to the wind and perhaps believe that signs point to your desired outcome. Lack of foreknowledge can lead to big surprises.
phoWe were surprised by Tuesday’s local Democratic primary results, though perhaps we shouldn’t have been.
The overall takeaway from the results, which included Mayor Justin Wilson besting former Mayor Allison Silberberg by an unexpected 14 percentage points in the mayoral primary race, is that this was a resounding win for Alexandria’s local Democratic establishment.
Wilson racked up endorsements from most party leaders, along with many current and former officeholders. Silberberg, now, as in 2015 when she won the mayor’s seat, is a change agent.
What caught many residents off guard was the magnitude of this victory for Wilson, given that the 2018 head-to-head matchup between the two was relatively close – about five percentage points had separated the candidates – and the city has been roiled by a series of contentious issues since then. Several large groups of residents had actively organized opposition to the current leadership.
As a result, conventional wisdom was that this election would be tighter. It wasn’t.
In the race for the six Democratic slots for City Council in the November general election, all three incumbents won, with the longest-tenured councilor seeking re-election, John Chapman, garnering the most votes. Newcomer Aliya Gaskins, at 31 the youngest primary winner, was second, followed by incumbents Amy Jackson and Canek Aguirre, then newcomers Sarah Bagley and Kirk McPike.
Of the newcomers vying for council, Bagley and McPike were seen as being most closely aligned with Wilson. Both also have long histories of activism within the Democratic party: McPike is chief of staff to a Democratic congressman while Bagley is active in the Alexandria Democratic Committee and runs an affordable housing nonprofit. A few additional takeaways from this slate of candidates:
• This council will be a bit older, and hopefully more familiar with city issues, than the last council if these six prevail in the November general election. Last time, four members in their 30s won election. Their lack of life experience, and at times maturity, showed. Despite the retirement of long-serving Councilor Del Pepper, and the fact that Jackson at age 50 is the oldest Democratic nominee, the median age of council would rise if Bagley and McPike, both in their 40s, win in November.
• The drive for greater density in Alexandria will continue unabated if this is the next council. This appears to be the desire of a majority of Alexandrians. So be prepared for continued destruction of Alexandria’s tree canopy, ongoing flooding issues and school overcrowding because those flow in a direct line from ongoing, large-scale development.
• A revealing aspect of the responses of all 15 candidates to the Alexandria Times voter guide was that only one of them, Patrick Moran, listed historic preservation in the city as one of their top five priorities. Historic preservation is both a core driver of Alexandria’s local economy and a facet of the city that drew many long-time residents here.
• Finally, it appears that urbanists now comprise a clear majority of Alexandria’s electorate. The number of registered voters in the city rose by almost 4,300 since 2018. The significant jump in already-built, multi-family complexes drawing younger residents in recent years means that this majority will likely continue to increase.
There is a generational divide in these results and in how people perceive them. For the young and the new, this is how things should be. For many older, long-term residents, this election feels like a funeral.