2024 Candidate Profile: Kirk McPike runs for second Council term

2024 Candidate Profile: Kirk McPike runs for second Council term

By Caitlyn Meisner | cmeisner@alextimes.com

Longtime political operative Kirk McPike, who is gearing up to campaign for a second term on Alexandria’s City Council, has enjoyed his role as the candidate and official since being elected in 2021.

“I’ve come to this job with a long history of dealing with constituents. … They want a representative to answer a question, take a position [and] to help solve a challenge,” McPike said of his role on Council. “It’s really gratifying to be the person who gets to talk to a constituent … [talk] to our city staff to highlight it and then hear back from that constituent.”

McPike ran and won his seat on Council in 2021. He was inspired to run because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact on the city.

“You always think about running for office someday,” McPike reflected. “But finally, the opportunity aligned and I felt I was the right match for the job. And I’m really glad that I did.”

He was serving on the city’s Budget and Financial Affairs Advisory Committee when he decided to run. Knowing Alexandria’s budget “inside out,” McPike was concerned about a potential crash landing once the pandemic ended.

“I also know how the Great Recession had impacted not just our budget, but the residents of the city who depended upon the services that we provided,” he said. “I was very concerned that we’re going to have a hard landing from the pandemic that would once again put a lot of weight and pressure on people in Alexandria who are holding on to their place in our city by their fingertips.”

In addition to the budget and pandemic, McPike cited climate change and affordable housing as his main priorities in 2021 in addition to this cycle.

“I think we’ve made real progress over the last few years,” he said. “I want to be on Council to make sure that implementation goes well. … There’s always unfinished work for any electoral office.”

Heading into the 2024 election, McPike’s campaign pillars expand upon his 2021 priorities: properly implement Zoning for Housing, continue investing in transit and expand commercial tax revenues.

“We have made major investments in transit and traffic improvements over the course of the last Council,” he said. “We need to make sure that … we don’t go backwards on free DASH and we continue to make it practically possible to take transit options to get cars off the street.”

He said what underlies everything is the budget. McPike said funding for Alexandria City Public Schools remains a top priority of his, and hopes to expand funding in this budget cycle.

“I think that we’re going to end up making more investments in the school system in this year’s budget,” he said. “We’re going to continue … classroom construction to increase the capacity of our schools. … We can’t continue to do that if we don’t ensure that our budget itself is on stable footing.”

McPike is doubtful the proposed Potomac Yard arena will progress past the General Assembly, where it has stalled in the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee since early March.

“I don’t really see this coming out of Richmond in a way that would be acceptable here,” McPike said. “But, if there’s no arena, we still have the same challenges that we have today. We still have the same increasing reliance on residential property taxes. We still have revenues that are growing slower than inflation.”

Many of the issues around the arena that are being raised by residents – traffic, impacts on neighboring communities – were questions McPike has himself, in addition to labor conditions during construction and operation of the facility.

And, McPike said, he wanted Council to ultimately decide the arena’s fate.

“It’s frustrating to be engaged in a project, the ultimate fate of which wasn’t in our hands,” he said. “I wanted this project to be approved or to be rejected because of the concerns that we had, not because the legislature couldn’t come to an agreement on how to approach this proposal.”

The residential tax burden has been an issue for years in the city. In the proposed fiscal year 2025 budget from City Manager Jim Parajon, the proposed residential tax makes up nearly 37% of the city’s revenue.

“We’re going to need to find ways to bring new revenue in and that means working with [the] Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, our chamber of commerce, with the state to find businesses that fit Alexandria,” McPike said. “You can have something that is mixed-use retail, residential and commercial that produces significantly more tax revenue for the city that provides needed affordable housing.”

He said the city was initially interested in the arena proposal because it would serve as an anchor for additional economic growth.

“Right now we know that restaurants and retail alone aren’t going to do it and the office market in Northern Virginia is very weak,” McPike said.

An entertainment-oriented anchor is a likely solution, McPike said, whether or not it’s the arena proposal in its current form.

“Finding the right fit can be a challenge,” he said. “[It has to] be big enough to spur the redevelopment, but also manageable if it’s just us working with a partner to do it.”

And McPike applauded previous efforts made by the city, AEDP and staff to retain and recruit businesses in Alexandria, namely Inova Hospital and the Potomac River Generating Station.

But, not all hope is lost for McPike in terms of economic growth. Despite the challenges, he believes Alexandria is home to dedicated staff and residents who work to make this city better.

Kirk McPike with members of the Alexandria Fire Department at National Night Out in 2023. (Photo/Kirk McPike)

“I don’t think that the challenges that we have with our revenue … are insurmountable because this is Alexandria, and we tackle problems all the time,” McPike said.

A Dallas, Texas, native, McPike graduated from Southern Methodist University with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2005. He went on to work in Democratic politics, first with the Dallas County Democratic Party, then as chief of staff to then-Texas state Rep. Marc Veasey, who has been a U.S. Congressman since 2013.

McPike has also been campaign manager for other public figures in Texas, including a successful reelection campaign for the openly gay Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez in 2007 and an unsuccessful run for the Texas House in 2010 with Loretta Haldenwang.

Thanks to the Victory Fund – a national organization that supports LGBTQ+ candidates that has endorsed McPike twice – he was connected to Adam Ebbin’s first campaign for state Senate in December 2010.

McPike said he was immediately welcomed upon arriving in Alexandria; as a closeted gay man in Texas, he never felt “at home” there.

Kirk McPike with representatives of ALIVE! and Councilor Sarah Bagley at the 2023 Pride Festival at Market Square. (Photo/Kirk McPike)

“Shortly after arriving to the city, I realized this is where I wanted to be for the rest of my life,” he said, recalling that time of his life. “[This city is] a wonderful, diverse place that tries new things and is forward-looking and willing to say yes to big ideas, and it’s a great place.”

This is also how he landed his current gig of 12 years as chief of staff to U.S. Congressman Mark Takano, another openly gay politician from California.

Questions and eyebrows were raised when McPike, in 2021, received hundreds of donations from people living outside of Alexandria.

“The donors from across the country who supported me are people I have worked with throughout my career or went to college with. I have lived in five different cities [and] I’ve worked in several states,” McPike said. “I’ve worked with candidates and friends in several more, and many of the people who I’ve worked with have gone on to live in other places.”

McPike said when it was time to raise money for his Council bid, he turned to those friends and acquaintances.

“Those are the sorts of people that, when you’re a candidate running for office, you go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m doing this, you’re somebody who cares about me, who knows what I care about, will you support me?’” he said.

McPike reflected on his tenure as it stands on Council, stating he was proud of his votes for the Zoning for Housing legislation and instituting quarterly town halls.

“I’m very gratified to see the success of those town halls and hope that we can find more ways to increase the flow of information in and out between the residents,” he said. “This is local government: We live here, we work here. People have no problem asking us questions in the grocery store … or [when] we’re walking down the street to a restaurant.”

And, as an Eagle Scout, McPike recognized the constituents and residents of Alexandria matter most.

“When you’re in charge, you’re actually the person that matters the least,” he said, reflecting back on his Scout days. “When you’re leading, you’re trying to solicit input from the people that you’re leading, incorporating their thoughts into where you’re trying to take the whole.”