2024 Candidate Profile: John Chapman seeks fifth Council term

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2024 Candidate Profile: John Chapman seeks fifth Council term
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By Wafir Salih | wsalih@alextimes.com

John Chapman’s reelection campaign is in full swing as he runs for his fifth term on City Council. He stands as the most experienced candidate currently in the race.

“Experience matters,” Chapman said. “Having seen a pandemic and multiple government shutdowns, I certainly understand the opportunities, but also the challenges [facing] our community.”

Chapman said the issues that dominated the 2021 Council election were primarily pandemic related. Keeping schools open, supporting businesses and ensuring public health safety had shaped the political landscape.

In this election cycle, Chapman acknowledged the Monumental Arena as being the hot topic of discussion. He said he views the arena proposal as a microcosm of a bigger debate about the city’s economic direction and priorities.

“I think the biggest conversation right now is the arena, but that goes into an overall conversation about how does the city stay economically sustainable in the near future and into the far future,” Chapman said. “What do we not want to see in terms of development, in terms of projects here? How do we balance what we’re doing with residential property taxes and business taxes? I think those are some of the big conversations that need to happen.”

Chapman doesn’t believe the arena will end up happening in its current form and voiced his concerns about the project, transportation being chief among them.

“I don’t think this thing passes and I don’t think it comes to fruition,” Chapman said. “I think there’s some extreme challenges on the transportation side. I think we have very creative and smart staff, but I don’t think we get enough resources from the state to make this work.”

Chapman said that not only would these transportation challenges affect Alexandria, but D.C. and Arlington as well.

“The issue is not just [with] Alexandria, you’ve got people coming from D.C. [and] through Arlington,” Chapman said. “Where’s Arlington’s money? What are they doing with their transportation? You don’t want a backup in Arlington, even if you clear the road in Alexandria.”

Chapman advocated for judging the project on its merits and disapproved of some of the negative comments being aimed at Ted Leonsis, CEO of Monumental Sports.

“What I don’t like is people making personal attacks against a company or targeting an owner,” Chapman said. “I know he’s a billionaire. I know that’s easy, but I don’t want any of these business owners that put their personal lives and whatnot aside to build their business personally attacked either. … We’ve got to be a business-friendly city and say to every business owner: ‘You have a chance for your business to come to this city and grow in this city as long as we understand how that growth affects everyone else.’”

Maintaining a business-friendly atmosphere in the city is central to Chapman’s campaign. He proposed that the city should convene an economic summit where residents, stakeholders and policymakers can come together and discuss the city’s economic trajectory in the years to come.

“I’m calling for us to have an economic summit here in the city, bringing in community members, stakeholders, folks in the economic development community [and] elected officials to talk about what the city needs to look like to attract business for the next 10 to 15 or more years,” Chapman said.

This election comes in the wake of Council’s unanimous decision to adopt the Zoning for Housing ordinance late last year. The proposal contains zoning reforms aimed at increasing housing and addressing affordability, while also eliminating protections related to single-family zoning.

Prior to the final vote, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson motioned to defer the single-family zoning amendment from the final package. Chapman seconded the move. The motion for deferral failed, leading to all members – including Jackson and Chapman – voting in favor of the ordinance as it stood.

Chapman said he stands by his final vote, but still believes deferring the single-family zoning amendment could have mitigated concerns.

“I think the idea where you separate out the most talked about item, separate that out and talk about that specifically, and have the community understand these [other items], and most of them support these [other items] – I don’t think you have the same animosity to Zoning for Housing than you do with them all bunched together,” Chapman said.

Chapman said he would support recognizing the Del Ray neighborhood as a historic district. This comes after “Save Del Ray,” a local grassroots group made up of community members, has grown in prominence the past couple years as they’ve advocated for preserving the historic character of the neighborhood.

“Del Ray is similar to Old Town where folks want to keep a certain style, a certain intensity of use. And I think you respect that. I think there’s some conversation whether that should be a historic district either,” Chapman said. “I honestly would support that; that’s a way to kind of temper the size of the development that happens in that area.”

Born in 1981, Chapman is a fourth generation Alexandrian. His mother served on the board of Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which Chapman said left an impact on him growing up.

“My mom getting involved in some of the early boards and commissions, and frankly, just having me and my sister sit there and do homework while she’s at a board meeting – I think was impactful for me,” Chapman said.

Chapman attended St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School from first to 12th grade. He grew up in public housing in north Old Town until he was in sixth grade. His family then moved to Quaker Hill. In his sophomore year of high school, Chapman and his family became homeless.

“During 10th grade we had a bout of homelessness. We were homeless for maybe seven or eight months,” Chapman said.

Chapman said his early experience of homelessness provided a stark contrast to his time at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School where he was surrounded by wealthier classmates.

“Just imagine going there, seeing wealthy kids and folks that have means, and you come home, and it’s for eight months and you’re homeless,” Chapman said.

After that eight-month period, Chapman’s mother was able to buy a house with help from grants and loans from the city. His mother sold him the house a couple years ago and she moved elsewhere in the city.

Chapman’s priorities remain consistent with the goals he had when first elected to Council in 2012, with a focus on community engagement, education and affordable housing. He has since expanded his priorities to include environmental concerns and economic development.

“I’ve continued to keep education, affordable housing and community engagement in there, but I’ve added more about the environment and particularly more about economic development,” Chapman said. “I think there does need to be a big conversation about economic development and retaining small business here in the city so that we understand how we’re going to do that for the next decade.”

Chapman emphasized how critical having a home is and spoke to the concerns of those currently facing struggles like the ones he faced growing up.

“Having a home here means a lot to me,” Chapman said. “Having that stability and making a space for our family has been a key thing for me. I know that I’m not the only one that feels that. There’s a number of people in the community that love the city and want to be here, and as times get challenging, they want to make sure there’s resources or support for them and their family if things don’t work out perfectly.”

Chapman attended St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where he obtained his bachelor’s in social studies education. In college he was involved in student government, where he oversaw student organizations on campus. He initially went to college wanting to be a social worker, but ultimately decided on studying to be a teacher. Chapman returned to Alexandria and took on various roles in education within Fairfax County, ultimately securing a position as a school administrator.

Chapman highlighted a ribbon cutting during his early days on Council, where he saw the affordable housing policies he advocated for in his first campaign have a real-world impact.

“During my first campaign, I talked about the fact that we need more non-profits coming into the city and doing housing, so seeing one of these newer non-profits come in, build a building and house people – seeing the actual faces of families [during the ribbon cutting] that now had a home because of the work that we had done and what I championed as was that moment for me,” Chapman said.

Before his 2012 council run, Chapman served as president of the local branch of the NAACP and president of Alexandria Young Democrats. Currently as a councilor, he serves on committees such as the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and the Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority Task Force.

Chapman said fatherhood has made him more forward-thinking as he considers the future his son will inherit.

“As a father, I have to imagine my son being 18. … When he graduates, I know what that date is going to be: 2038. What do I want the city to look like in 2038?”

Chapman envisioned what Alexandria might look like in 2038 and how he hopes for sustainable growth as the city grows denser, as well as keeping the city attractive for both businesses and professionals.

“I still want to be able to attract business, attract good staff, whether it’s staff in the city, staff for ACPS. … The city is probably going to be a lot more dense and have more people in it, but you want that to still be able to work,” Chapman said.

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