Our View: Times election assessments

Our View: Times election assessments

The Alexandria Times normally makes endorsements for mayor, City Council and School Board. The benefit of endorsements is we select the group of candidates that our staff believes would collectively best serve the residents of Alexandria. We generally strive for diversity of opinion as well as that of ethnicity, gender and sexuality. The disadvantage of endorsements is we don’t provide an opinion on those we don’t endorse.

Therefore, we have decided this year to provide assessments rather than endorsements, because we believe that all 25 candidates – two for mayor, nine for City Council and 14 for School Board – deserve to be considered on these pages. We also think the candidates should be considered as individuals and not as members of political parties, both because local elections are nominally non-partisan in Virginia, with no party designations appearing on the ballots for either School Board or mayor/council, and because schools, flooding and development shouldn’t be partisan topics.

The stance of this newspaper on an array of issues is well-known to careful readers. Broadly speaking, we are pro small business, pro environmental protection and pro livability. Our stances on specific issues are informed by those general principles. Some of the candidates below more closely mirror our perspective than others, but all 25 have strengths and weaknesses that voters should consider as they cast their ballots.

The candidates are listed alphabetically by category, beginning with mayor, then City Council, followed by School Board.


Annetta Catchings – Catchings has campaigned as a problem-solver whose many years of experience as a flight attendant have given her necessary skills to assess situations and resolve conflicts. She pledges to actively seek advice from residents and to heed their concerns on issues ranging from flooding to road diets to safety in schools. Catchings, like incumbent Mayor Justin Wilson, favors having school resource officers in Alexandria City Public Schools. While some supporters view Catchings’ lack of prior political experience as a positive, detractors would say it – along with her brief tenure as an Alexandria resident – are negatives too significant to overlook when casting ballots.

Justin Wilson – Wilson’s mastery of the details of public policy is legendary in Alexandria. There are few people who can match his depth of knowledge on a single issue, let alone the array of complicated topics that come up in a city of well over 150,000 residents. Wilson also dutifully engages on social media, via email and in person with residents from all political perspectives. Wilson unapologetically supports an urbanist vision for Alexandria: projects that increase Alexandria’s density and thus our residential tax base, along with a multi-modal approach to transportation with a focus on making it easier to bike and walk, and expanding public transit accessibility. While Wilson engages constantly with residents, it’s difficult to think of a single instance where those conversations have changed his mind. Wilson’s detractors would also say that his knowledge of the weeds of policy does not necessarily translate into wisdom in his policy choices.

City Council

Canek Aguirre – The first Latino to serve on Alexandria’s City Council, Aguirre is well plugged into the city’s Hispanic community. He clearly sees it as his mission to serve this community, though as a result he often seems uninterested in issues of concern to the rest of the city. A passionate advocate for progressive policies, his critics say that Aguirre can sometimes come across as dismissive of perspectives with which he disagrees.

Sarah Bagley – Bagley’s chief issues are affordable housing and gun safety. She also advocates for higher pay for Alexandria’s first responders. Despite her stated desire to increase the compensation of Alexandria’s police, Bagley, along with incumbents Aguirre and John Chapman, said at a forum moderated by the Seminary Ridge Civic Association that she would not vote to return school resource officers to Alexandria City Public Schools.

John Chapman – Chapman has the second-longest tenure on council after retiring Councilor Del Pepper. Chapman has emerged as a swing vote on several contentious issues: He sided with the majority earlier this year to remove SROs from ACPS in a 4-3 vote. Then, after the recent surge in violence in city’s schools, he reversed course and voted with the majority in another 4-3 decision to temporarily return the SROs. To supporters, those votes showed leadership. Detractors claim Chapman tells people he agrees with them on issues but often later does not back up those words with his votes.

Alyia Gaskins – Gaskins has campaigned on a theme of community engagement, saying she aims to listen to what residents want and give them a say in decisions. She has emphasized her background in public health – she holds a master’s degree in public health from the University of Pittsburgh – as a differentiator in her campaign. Non-incumbents are somewhat blank slates, especially younger candidates like Gaskins, as there’s less information on which to assess their future performance on council, but Gaskins seems both capable and someone who would be an independent voice.

Amy Jackson – Incumbent Amy Jackson is council’s most authoritative voice on school issues, as she’s the only person on the dais who has both worked as an educator and has children in ACPS. Jackson is not shy about voicing her opinions, from her opposition to the road diet on Seminary Road and to the recently opened slaughterhouse, to her support for SROs in public schools. Jackson uses public input to inform her decisions more than any other current member of council, yet has also voted in support of most development projects during her three years on council.

Florence King – King is deeply rooted in Alexandria, as evidenced by her 30 years of living in and giving back to the city. She was rewarded for her many years of volunteer work, especially helping low-income residents with financial literacy, by being named a Living Legend of Alexandria in 2018. Her campaign has emphasized keeping Alexandria affordable for both low-income and middle-class residents, although she has at times talked dismissively of some of the city’s newer residents and transplants. King is one of six non-incumbents running for council and is one of three Black candidates on the ballot.

Kirk McPike – McPike has campaigned on improving the city’s affordable housing situation and on what he called the disconnect between the city’s residents and its elected leaders. McPike, who is chief of staff to a U.S. congressman, has emphasized the need to leverage outside money from Richmond and Washington to help solve the city’s problems. McPike raised most of his funds for this campaign from outside the City of Alexandria, which detractors see as outside money influencing our local election.

Darryl Nirenberg – Nirenberg is running on what he calls a “common-sense” approach to Alexandria’s problems. Rather than push an ideological agenda, Nirenberg says our government should fix the city’s storm drains, keep schools and the community safe and get traffic moving. A lawyer, Nirenberg worked on Capitol Hill for several years early in his career, including for conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), an opponent of many civil rights causes, and liberal Sen. Jacob Javits (R-NY), before moving to a private law practice, where he has spent 25 years.

Glenda Gail Parker – Parker is singularly focused on environmental issues and making Alexandria a more walkable city. Supporters love the government budget analyst’s environmental advocacy while detractors point to Parker’s seven failed prior bids for elected office, including multiple unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and Virginia House of Delegates.

School Board – District A

Willie Bailey – The affable lifelong Alexandrian, who is a veteran, Fairfax County firefighter, former Alexandria city councilor and Alexandria Living Legend, supports SROs in schools, fair pay for teachers and closing the achievement gap. On council, Bailey frequently related personal experiences, which informed his votes, though his mastery of policy details often lagged behind that of his fellow councilors.

Ish Boyle – A former Marine, cybersecurity specialist and father of two ACPS students, Boyle supports SROs in schools and more resources for mental health services. Boyle is an outspoken critic of ACPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D.

Jacinta Greene – One of only three incumbents running for the nine-seat School Board, the marketing consultant has identified the achievement gap between the performance of white and minority students as the key issue facing ACPS.

D. Ohlandt – An educator and parent of three ACPS students, Ohlandt advocates for differentiated and individualized education for all students. She has emphasized the need for ACPS and particularly Hutchings to improve communications with parents and students.

Michelle Rief – This incumbent engaged with parents who were frustrated by Hutchings’ handling of ACPS, particularly the district’s slow reopening from COVID-19, more than any other School Board member. Rief nonetheless supports Hutchings and his objectives for ACPS.

School Board – District B

Deborah Ash – The retired State Department employee and ACPS grandparent advocates education over equity and greater choice for parents, including which school to attend. Ash, who opposes vaccine mandates, has criticized Hutchings for sending his child to private school.

Ashley Simpson Baird – An educator and ACPS parent, Baird said ACPS’ biggest challenge is addressing unfinished learning from the pandemic and providing attendant social and emotional support. Baird supports SROs in schools but believes they should be part of a larger plan to ensure safety and support.

Kelly Carmichael Booz – The educator, ACPS parent and former School Board member supports the temporary return of SROs to schools until other security and mental health professionals can be hired and trained. She called the need for improved communication “a critical area for growth” for Hutchings.

Tammy Ignacio – A former teacher and administrator, Ignacio is a mother of three ACPS graduates. She said the district’s chief long-term problems involve capacity, facilities maintenance and infrastructure. She favors SROs in schools if school leaders want them.

PreeAnn Johnson – The former ACPS teacher and principal has 36 years of experience in the district and understands all facets of the system. She supports SROs in schools, calling the program a “great success,” and advocates building law enforcement partnerships at all levels.

Bridget Shea Westfall – The social worker and ACPS parent seeks to improve decision-making transparency in the district. She favors more community feedback to the School Board, is critical of Hutchings’ handling of reopening schools and supports SROs as part of a collaborative approach to security.

School Board – District C

Meagan Alderton – The teacher and School Board chair favors increased compensation for educators and SROs in schools. She argued passionately at a School Board meeting earlier this year that a pool at the new Minnie Howard campus is an issue of racial equity.

Abdel Elnoubi – The ACPS parent and PTA president cited recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, facility overcrowding and a growing opportunity gap as key problems facing ACPS. Elnoubi favors police outside patrolling the perimeter of school buildings rather than inside.

W. Christopher Harris – The ACPS graduate and parent does not believe police belong in schools. He emphasizes meeting the individualized needs of students, parents and staff.