2024 Candidate Profile: Charlotte Scherer runs for Council

2024 Candidate Profile: Charlotte Scherer runs for Council
Charlotte Scherer. (Courtesy photo)

By Wafir Salih | wsalih@alextimes.com

Charlotte Scherer is knocking on doors and engaging with voters directly, having visited more than 5,000 homes as she runs for City Council for the first time. If elected, she would be the city’s first transgender councilor.

She plans on maintaining the same level of direct communication throughout her term if she’s elected.

“[Right now] it’s voter interaction. And if I’m elected to City Council, that will be constituent interaction,” Scherer said. “I tell people I’ve got a portal on my website: [the] website’s going to stay up no matter what happens. If I’m elected to City Council, you can always reach me right through that.”

Scherer has opposed the Potomac Yard arena proposal to bring the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards to Alexandria from the start and expressed skepticism of it coming to fruition.

“I brought up Google Maps not long after the arena [proposal], and I just looked at the map of the area, and I said to my wife: ‘I don’t see how this happens,’” Scherer said.

She recalled the day Mayor Justin Wilson took questions from more than 400 residents at a Del Ray Citizens Association meeting in December 2023. The community’s concerns touched on the effects the arena would have on transportation, the impact of bringing in 20,000 people for 200 nights a year, parking and how the city and the Commonwealth would pay for the project.

Scherer said she has great respect for Wilson, but disagreed with his response at the meeting.

“His response – and I know he was working in good faith – but his response was: ‘We’re going to work that out.’ And I think that that’s just not going to cut it.”

Scherer emphasized the need for future projects to prioritize transparency; financial studies and reports should be conducted before any public announcements moving forward, she said.

“There was like this gravitational pull for this deal, and the feeling of … ‘[We] want to bring the Caps and the Wizards here to Alexandria, it’s going to bring in how much tax revenue. … We’ve got to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Land the deal, we’ll work out the details later,’” Scherer said. “I’m generalizing there, but that’s a process issue I want to address, because this can never happen again. We need greater transparency.”

This election follows Council’s unanimous approval of the Zoning for Housing ordinance in November 2023. Before the final vote, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson motioned to defer the amendment on single-family zoning from the package, with Councilor John Chapman backing the motion.

Had she been on Council, Scherer said she would have voted with them to defer.

“I would have voted with Ms. Jackson and [Chapman] to defer … as we could have used more thoughtful discussion about those changes,” she said.

Scherer cited a study from the Urban Institute, which found that an increase in housing supply had little impact on affordability. Scherer argued that the aim of increasing affordability by allowing duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in neighborhoods previously zoned for single-family homes would be ineffective due to the high cost of land.

“A developer would have to come in there, buy a residence for $1.6 million, knock down a $700,000 house on it, [now] you’ve got a $900,000 lot remaining. You put an $800,000 duplex on it, you’ve got a $1.9 million duplex, because $200,000 goes into marketing, sales and profit, which means that each residence in that duplex is going to retail for $850,000. That’s not affordable. … Most likely the developer is going to pass on that, and if they’re going to knock down a house, they’re going to put up a McMansion,” Scherer said.

She emphasized public safety as another critical issue facing the city and said appointing a permanent chief of police would be a top priority.

[Former Police Chief] Don Hayes did a fantastic job. I don’t know if it’s going to be the existing interim chief of police or if we’re going to do a nationwide search. Leadership begins at the top, so getting that right is crucial,” Scherer said.

And, she proposed shifting some officers in the Alexandria Police Department from administrative roles to patrol duties, with incentives for those reassigned.

“Maybe they won’t like it. Maybe they will, but we can give them some bonuses to do it. Let’s get more community policing happening,” she said.

Scherer grew up in Oldsmar, Florida, with her parents and sister. She received her bachelor’s degree in history from the New College of Florida in Sarasota, then went on to the University of Florida and received her law degree in 2001.

She entered the Guardian Ad Litem program, which advocates for the interests of abandoned, abused and neglected children. She secured a position as attorney ad litem – someone who is appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interests. Scherer then worked in the public defender’s office.

Scherer said she was drawn to the Guardian Ad Litem program because she is a survivor of child sexual abuse from the Catholic church.

“I had suffered terrible abuse as a child myself,” Scherer said. “So that was something I was drawn to, to provide those children with protection that I didn’t receive.”

Scherer said she didn’t speak about the abuse for more than 30 years, and when she opened up, she sought legal representation and reached a settlement with the church, which she said made an attempt to make things right. The settlement helped pay for her transition and allowed her to functionally retire and campaign full-time.

“The settlement’s been useful because it’s given me the opportunity to campaign full time and also to become my true, authentic self, because as you know, I’m transgender. The settlement gave me the ability … to do what I needed to do to make changes within and without,” Scherer said.

Charlotte and her wife, Dana Scherer, at the St. Patrick’s Day parade. (Courtesy photo)

Scherer arrived in Alexandria in 2011 and commuted to Washington, D.C. for her job in mergers and acquisitions, working on the landmark 2019 Disney and Fox merger for more than two years. Later, she served as a magistrate for Alexandria and likened the role to that of a councilor.

“You have to remain detached, listen to the arguments of the party, make findings and then come to a decision, which is called a ruling. It’s very much like being on the City Council,” Scherer said.

Scherer revealed she grappled with her gender identity since childhood, dating back to the 1980s. She said she immersed herself in her work to distract herself.

“One of the reasons why I put in 70 or 80-hour work weeks is because that would distract me … from these feelings that never quite went away.” Scherer said. “I would just consume myself with work. Here’s a merger and acquisition. Here’s a case. Here’s a trail section. … You distract yourself with that. Then, that dysphoria, that noise in the background, it goes away. But when you’re alone with your thoughts, it can reemerge.”

With the courts closed and work paused during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Scherer said those feelings of dysphoria reemerged in full force. She scheduled an appointment with a gender therapist via Zoom, who confirmed that her lifelong feelings indicated she was transgender.

Scherer described the meeting as a pivotal moment. After the session ended, she sat at her desk for two hours taking it all in, and then her eyes fell on a book on her bookshelf that resonated with her.

“I saw a book on the shelf by Tom Wolfe that said, “I Am Charlotte Simmons.” And it hit me. It was like: ‘OK, I get it. I am Charlotte. I am a woman.’ And in that moment, I became Charlotte,” Scherer said. “I didn’t transform like that. You know, it was not like the ‘Bhagavad Gita.’ … It’s more my authentic self and my sense of self aligned for the first time so powerfully.”

In 2021, Scherer left law to undergo an intensive transition, which took about two years.

“In the end, it all worked out so beautifully. It just taught me and reinforced that lesson that, whether it’s on the trail or in life, you stay on the path, you keep moving forward, you keep calm. You will arrive at a safe place. You will arrive at a safe destination,” Scherer said.

Charlotte Scherer delivering the opening remarks at Bet
Mishpachah, a synagogue known for its inclusivity towards the
LGBTQ+ community, on Transgender Day of Visibility. (Courtesy photo)

Scherer, who served on the city’s Commission for Women, recalled when a resolution of support for abortion providers was brought before the commission, which, according to Scherer, took place about eight months before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. The resolution failed initially, but then passed after the Court effectively overturned Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs decision. This eventually led City Council to amend the city’s zoning code to put abortion clinics on the same level as other health care providers.

Scherer said this experience showed her how persistent effort can lead to policy changes over time.

“That planted a seed within me that if you’re patient [and] persistent about it you can make real change,” Scherer said. “What a difference that makes actually to allow reproductive health clinics to have the same range of options as to location, as any other health care provider in the city.”

Scherer is a member of the Florida Bar, Virginia State Bar, Washington, D.C. Bar and U.S. Supreme Court Bar. She’s an avid reader and likes to go on long hikes in her free time. She lives with her wife of seven years and is pursuing a master’s degree in psychology through Harvard University’s online program with only 12 credits left.