By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
The legislative meeting on Tuesday night was the last such event for three members of City Council: Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilors Del Pepper and Mo Seifeldein. To send them off in style, their colleagues honored them with a set of proclamations, kind words and, in Pepper’s case, emotional goodbyes.
All three outgoing councilors were honored with words from Mayor Justin Wilson, a proclamation recognizing their achievements and words from their colleagues, Councilors Canek Aguirre, John Chapman and Amy Jackson, all of whom were re-elected in November.
Concluding 36 years on City Council, Councilor Del Pepper received the most attention of the outgoing members of city leadership. Her colleagues paid tribute to her 13 terms, three of which she served as vice mayor and all of which were marked with a dedication to public service that Wilson said “is quite honestly unmatched and will never be matched.”
“There are not many things in this city that do not show the imprint of Del’s leadership in 36 and a half years,” Wilson said. “… She has woken up every single day with a passion for service for this community and has left a record of accomplishment and service and persistence.”
Wilson’s reading of the proclamation for Pepper’s service was interrupted by the town crier, Ben Fiore-Walker, who came into council chambers shouting “Hear ye, hear ye,” dressed in his colonial garb and ready to read a few words in Pepper’s honor. After Wilson read the proclamation, Pepper received a standing ovation from those in attendance. She also received a video message from fellow Alexandrian Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) thanking her for her service.
Several of Pepper’s council colleagues, including native Alexandrians Chapman and Jackson, got emotional during their comments to Pepper.
Chapman broke into tears as he described the impact Pepper has had not only on the community but his family.
“The work that you’ve done up here on council is not just votes and decisions. As you know, it really affects people’s lives,” Chapman said. “Your decision to continually support [the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority] and funding for Quaker Hill allowed my family to live there. Your support for DASH allowed my family, when we didn’t have a car, to get around the city, allowed my sister and I to play in sports and participate as any other kid would in city activities.”
Jackson, who helped campaign for Pepper as a teenager, also teared up as she recalled how Pepper served as an early role model.
“Growing up here and having you to look up to as a young girl, in your position, was huge in the mid-80s,” Jackson said. “Women were not working in your position like they are now. You have always been a role model, and you will be missed.”
Chapman proposed a resolution to name the building at 4850 Mark Center Drive, which will serve as a consolidated home for the Department of Community and Human Services, Neighborhood Health and Alexandria Health Department, after Pepper. The resolution passed unanimously.
When honoring Seifeldein, the first Sudanese member of council and the first immigrant to serve on council, several of his fellow councilors called attention to Seifeldein’s passion for giving a voice to the voiceless.
“You bring that voice to so many of our residents in different parts of the city,” Chapman said. “We like to think of ourselves as a progressive city, but you have consistently in these last three years pushed us to make sure that is reflected in our policies.”
Bennett-Parker, the youngest woman to serve on council, is set to embark on her first term as representative of the 45th District in the Virginia House of Delegates after being elected to the position in November. Her colleagues acknowledged that having a representative at the state level who knows Alexandria’s local issues inside and out will be an asset.
“You’re fierce and a force and I can’t wait [to see you in that role]. … They don’t know what’s coming,” Jackson said.
The next City Council, which includes Wilson, Aguirre, Jackson and Chapman as well as newcomers Sarah Bagley, Alyia Gaskins and Kirk McPike, will be sworn in on Jan. 3.