Election 2021: Democrats sweep council race

Election 2021: Democrats sweep council race
Photo/Cody Mello-Klein From left to right: Democrats John Chapman, Alyia Gaskins, Justin Wilson, Kirk McPike, Amy Jackson, Sarah Bagley, Canek Aguirre and Elizabeth Bennett-Parker celebrate their respective wins on Tuesday night.

By Cody Mello-Klein | cmelloklein@alextimes.com

Alexandrians elected all six Democrats and re-elected Democratic Mayor Justin Wilson to City Council during the general election on Tuesday, even as statewide Republicans won races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and apparently also captured the House of Delegates.

Unlike in 2018, Wilson had a challenger in the mayoral race, Republican Annetta Catchings. With 32 out of 33 of the city’s precincts reporting as of the Times’ print deadline, Wilson secured 67.52% of the vote, or 35,557 votes, while Catchings had 31.07%, or 16,364 votes. Including absentee voting, 51.26% of city residents had voted by 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

Wilson appeared at the Alexandria Democratic Committee’s watch party at a private Rosemont residence on Tuesday night, expressing a combination of relief to be at the end of the campaign trail and resolve to get started on the next three years’ worth of work.

“I hate election years. I just hate it because everybody gets crazy, it gets in everyone’s heads, and everybody does unpredictable things. Now we can just get back to governing, and that’s the part I enjoy, that’s the part that’s exciting,” Wilson said.

Wilson will be joined by a Democratic slate that features three incumbents – Amy Jackson, John Chapman and Canek Aguirre – alongside three newcomers – Alyia Gaskins, Sarah Bagley and Kirk McPike.

Jackson, who was running for a second term on council, earned the most votes of any council candidates at 14.58%, securing her role as vice mayor. Gaskins was not far behind Jackson with 14.18%, followed by Chapman, a three-term city councilor, with 13.98%, Bagley with 13.9%, Aguirre with 12.36% and McPike with 11.59%.

The closest challenger for the six Democrats was Republican council candidate Darryl Nirenberg, who received 8.72% of the vote. Independents Florence King and Glenda Gail Parker followed with 5.38% and 4.44%, respectively.

“I think that’s what most energizes me, is that this is a really, really good team to work with on the next council,” Wilson said. “The three new members are coming on with a lot of great energy, a lot of great ideas. We’re going to get to work immediately. I already sent them all an email, so they have assignments.”

Mayor Justin Wilson. (Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)

Jackson, who was also present at the ADC watch party, covered her mouth and let out a loud laugh tinged with elation after seeing she was likely to receive the most votes out of the council candidates.

“It feels like the community has trusted me and that I have listened to the community,” Jackson said. “… Obviously, I feel like I’m doing the right thing by them and by the ones that have been listening to me. It would be hopeful that my colleagues take into account how this vote went and maybe things that should be looked into in the future. I appreciate the community support, and I look forward to working with them – and for them – more in the future.”

Bagley said she did not really comprehend the results of the election until she saw her name alongside the other incoming councilors on the T.V. projecting election results at the ADC’s watch party. She had spent the majority of election night at home with her parents and a few close friends eating dinner and enjoying the night – until she inevitably checked the results.

“I felt more comfortable doing the work than thinking about the outcome. If you do the work, then the outcome will happen regardless,” Bagley said. “I’m very process oriented, so, literally, until 6:58 [p.m.] it was just process, process. Then, I will admit that I didn’t look at data until we were about 40% in, and I think I had fallen to fourth, but to be soundly in the middle at that point was when it became very real.”

A complete Democratic sweep of the council race was a welcome sight for Bagley, who said all six candidates bring a particular set of skills, each of which would have been sorely missed.

“[We need things like] Kirk’s finance background and what he’ll bring with that perspective, Alyia and her urban planning and the perspective she has, Canek and his connection to the Hispanic community – I’m really pleased that I know who I’m working with, I know we held onto all of these really unique characters and now we can all start to figure out where we each take the lead,” Bagley said.

On the Republican side, while Nirenberg lost in the election, he said at the Republican watch party in Potomac Yard that his campaign highlighted issues that are core to many Alexandrians.

“We’ve run a totally issue-based campaign. The issues we’re talking about have been getting attention, like with the storm drain and the SROs. So, regardless, in our mind it’s a win,” Nirenberg said.

Photo/Olivia Anderson
Republican mayoral candidate Annetta Catchings talks with community members at a local GOP watch party on Tuesday night.

For Catchings, the results of the election and what she heard from voters reinforced the idea that the local GOP has support, even if it hasn’t yet capitalized on it.

“I want to help [the GOP] in any way that I can to go into spaces that we ordinarily have not been in, to reach out and bring our message to those communities that think that we don’t care or that we don’t understand what their struggles are,” Catchings said.

In the race for Alexandria School Board, voters re-elected all three incumbent board members, but the majority of the board, six members, will be new when they take office next year.

In District A, incumbents Michelle Rief and Jacinta Greene led with the most votes, 25.3% and 25.2% respectively, followed by former Councilor Willie Bailey, with 21.07%. In District B, which was the most competitive district with seven candidates, three newcomers secured spots on the board. Ashley Simpson Baird led with 19.87%, followed former School Board member Kelly Carmichael Booz with 17.73% and Tammy Ignacio with 17.13%.

Since there were only three candidates in District C, they automatically secured seats on the School Board, with current Chair Meagan Alderton capturing the most votes at 33.48%. Newcomers Abdel Elnoubi and W. Christopher Harris followed closely behind with 33.21% and 31.32%, respectively.

The mood at the Democratic watch party struck a bittersweet tone throughout the night. Candidates, campaign volunteers, community members and other public officials cheered on their local Democrats even as the results of the statewide elections deflated some of the excitement in the room.

The mood was reversed at the Republican watch party: disappointment with the local races, where their candidates faced steep uphill odds in deep-blue Alexandria, was tempered by excitement at the party’s sweep of the statewide offices and apparent, and unexpected, capture of the state House of Delegates.

With the majority of precincts reporting results, Republican Glenn Youngkin was declared the winner in the governor’s race first by CNN at around 12:30 a.m. and then Fox News a few minutes later. Youngkin gave a victory speech shortly after 1 a.m. to a large crowd of supporters at his watch party in Chantilly, Virginia.

Alexandria Republican Committee Chair Pete Benavage spoke about the different outcomes locally versus statewide.

“It’s been a hard-fought campaign, and I think Annetta [Catchings] has done a tremendous job. I think all of our candidates have set a new bar for the Republican party, and a high bar. We want to continue that momentum forward,” Benavage said. “In the state we’ve done a very good job, and we need to follow through with the city.”

Despite Youngkin’s statewide victory by more than 77,000 votes, according to unofficial results from the Virginia Board of Elections, Alexandrians voted overwhelmingly for McAuliffe, with 75.1% voting for the Democratic candidate and 24.15% voting for Youngkin.

In addition to Youngkin, Virginia voters elected Republican Winsome Sears as lieutenant governor and Jason Miyares as attorney general. Statewide, Sears beat Democratic candidate and Alexandria-Fairfax County resident Hala Ayala 50.97% to 48.93%, and Miyares won against incumbent Democrat Mark Herring 50.49% to 49.93%.

In blue Alexandria, the results were quite different, with Ayala securing 75.93% to Sears’ 23.89% and Herring beating Miyares 76.15% to 23.74%.

The shift in partisan leadership at the state level provided Wilson with not only a legislative concern but an administrative challenge for the city moving forward.

“For the last eight years we’ve had governors who have really been well aligned with where we are going, so even when we haven’t had the General Assembly, we’ve had a governor who has been working really hard to support Alexandria and us as a community. We’re going to lose that, and that is a big, big change,” Wilson said.

Sarah Bagley

With priorities and policies bound to shift at the state level, Bagley said the work that Alexandria’s local officials are doing becomes more valuable for the community.

“I think it means our job is more important than ever because people to choose to live here because they respond to our Democratic values, our progressive values,” Bagley said. “… We are really going to have to protect and safeguard the values that our electorate just demonstrated matters to them.”

In the House of Delegates races for Districts 45 and 46, both of which represent parts of Alexandria, Democrats prevailed easily. Current Majority Leader in the House of Delegates Charniele Herring ran unopposed in the 46th district and received 92.1% of the vote. Current Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker secured 73.57% of the vote to beat out Republican candidate J.D. Maddox for the 45th district seat.

“I got into this race to continue delivering results for our community, and while I think the outcomes of tonight are not what I had hoped, I look forward to fighting for our community’s values and for our families in Richmond,” Bennett-Parker said.

Current council and School Board members will serve through the end of 2021, and the newly elected members will be sworn in at a ceremony in January.

Olivia Anderson contributed to this story.