2024 Mayor Profile: Amy Jackson

2024 Mayor Profile: Amy Jackson

By Wafir Salih | wsalih@alextimes.com

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson is seeking the city’s top leadership position after two terms on City Council, promising to bring her pragmatic approach to the mayoral seat if elected. Jackson was first elected to Council in 2018 and became vice mayor in 2021 after garnering the most votes of any Council candidate in that year’s city election.

She emphasized her ability to actively listen to residents and seek compromises on divisive issues – as well as her deep roots in Alexandria – as key qualifications for the mayor’s seat.

“You’re always here to help, not hurt. But in doing so, you can’t just stand your ground and say: ‘This is how it’s going to be. I’m right,’” Jackson said. “That’s not the case. You have to actually have conversations and compromise on some issues. I always say I’ve done my job correctly if nobody’s happy, because the compromise has happened.”

Jackson has lived in Alexandria for more than 40 years and was raised by her single mother at the Foxchase Apartments. As an only child, Jackson said her mother ensured she had a socially active upbringing.

“My mom made sure I always had friends around and sleepovers and was involved in sports and clubs and all of that because that’s how she was raised,” Jackson said.

Often referred to as the “hometown girl,” Jackson reflected on the city’s transformation over the years and the loss of once-common community spaces.

“When I grew up here, we had two bowling alleys – [now] we don’t have any. We had movie theaters – we have one down on Eisenhower Avenue. [Landmark] Mall is gone; that was my favorite mall,” Jack-son said.

Jackson attended Patrick Henry Elementary School, Francis C. Hammond Middle School and T.C. Williams High School. After graduating from high school, Jackson received her bachelor’s degree in communications from Virginia Tech. She later obtained two master’s degrees from George Mason University, specializing in curriculum and instruction as well as education leadership.

Jackson emphasized a need to return to basics and said Council needs to be more practical.

“We need more common sense, and not [just] doing [initiatives] because we can be first,” Jackson said.

Jackson also said that moving forward, Council should be clearer in directing city staff, because she feels oversight has been lacking.

“Council needs to charge staff with specific direction, and I feel like lately that hasn’t been happening,” Jackson said. “I don’t want things to happen ‘carte blanche’ when they are affecting so many people’s lives.”

As a retired teacher and administrator, Jackson highlighted schools as one of her top priorities. She also expressed support for a two high school system to better meet student and faculty needs.

“The schools need our support to make sure that they’re always at the top and that everyone’s getting what they need,” Jackson said. “We need a lot of things … but I think that’s a way to just show that we need a two high school system. I think it’s time.”

Jackson said public safety, including better crime prevention, is also a top priority for her. She linked middle schoolers not being involved or having access to after-school programs to a potential increase in crime and stressed the need for a solution.

“If you’re not in sports or after school clubs, what do you do?” Jackson said. “This has been the uptick in crime. Our middle schoolers have nothing to do. They are bored and they are getting in trouble.”

This mayoral election comes in the wake of Council’s unanimous decision to adopt the controversial Zoning for Housing initiative on Nov. 29, 2023, after more than 100 residents turned up in Council chambers to oppose the initiative, particularly the amendment that eliminated single-family zoning protections.

Prior to the final vote, Jackson motioned to defer that single-family zoning amendment from the final package, which Councilor John Taylor Chapman seconded. Jackson criticized the other Councilors for not voting to pull that section out and consider it separately at a later date.

“I don’t understand how the rest of my colleagues couldn’t pause it, honestly,” Jackson said.

Despite motioning to defer the single-family portion of the bill, both Jackson and Chapman voted for the ordinance in the end. Jackson defended her vote by saying that there were other portions of the bill that she believed were still necessary for the community and called out Mayor Justin Wilson for the omnibus nature of the ordinance

“I can’t say no to other things that I know are needed. There’s eight things in that bill and the zoning bylaw ordinance,” Jackson said. “… “I think that was the plan of the current mayor. [If] we can’t separate them out, … everyone’s going to just go along.”

Jackson noted, however, that she also opposes changes to the parking requirements, which were included in the omni-bus initiative.

“Parking reduction I’m a ‘no’ to. … If you’re single and you have time on your hands, absolutely. Ride the bus; take a long walk; ride the bike. I can’t do that with a family of four, trying to get one to soccer and another to basketball … and another one to a Cub Scout meeting – it doesn’t work. I don’t have the time. That’s how families are feeling right now,” Jackson said.

Jackson said the ongoing lawsuit against Arlington County’s “Missing Middle” initiative was partly why she motioned for deferral of the single family zoning elimination. She said she expressed her concerns to the then-city attorney Joanna Anderson.

“What’s the harm in waiting to see what happens over there, before we institute it and then we’re getting sued?” Jackson said. “Well, no one listened to me. Here we are,” Jackson said, referring to the lawsuit that the Coalition for a Livable Alexandria filed against the city after Council passed Zoning For Housing.

“We’re over here in the same boat now getting sued. … Our judges have recused themselves and we’re going to have the same person. How do you think this is going to go?” Jackson asked.

Jackson also highlighted the fact that she was the only current member of Council to publicly oppose the proposed Monumental Sports & Entertainment arena before the initiative was abandoned, and that her opposition came after listening to resident concerns.

In early February, Jackson’s campaign launched an online Google survey to gather feedback from the community on the proposal. The survey offered five response options, ranging from strongly for the arena to strongly against, and included an open-ended question in which residents could explain their position.

“People wrote me novels,” Jackson said. She noted that responses came from residents all across the city and were overwhelmingly against the arena.

“Landslide. I think it was 75%, 80% against. And it was from everywhere. … It wasn’t just Del Ray; it wasn’t just Eisenhower; it wasn’t just Old Town,” Jackson said.

Jackson released a statement on March 18 saying she would not support the arena. In her interview with the Times, she said her decision was informed in part by resident feedback from the survey, but also cited the financial risks of the proposal as a major sticking point.

“As a leader, what I wasn’t going to do is take that large of a risk,” Jackson said “You can’t put us on the hook – and it would be us, not the state, not Monumental, us – with [an] already 82% residential tax.”

Jackson commended city staff and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership for the work they did crunching the numbers regarding the arena, but she also pointed out that many residents also offered valuable insights on how the arena could impact the city.

“We have a great staff. We have great AEDP staff – everyone was trying to check the numbers – but we then have a community of people that also do this for a living in the private sector,” Jackson said.

During a contentious public hearing on Jan. 20, Council voted 6-1 to approve the redevelopment of 301 N. Fairfax St. with Chapman as the sole dissenting vote. The building proposed would create 48 multi-family units.

Jackson acknowledged the opposition many residents had toward the redevelopment, but noted the property owner’s rights.

“I appreciate what we heard from the residents concerning 301 N. Fairfax St., however, it was a [1970s] concrete office building, pretty much empty,” Jackson said.

Jackson said the purpose of that property has evolved with the times.

“I think it was a good decision. And we saw, because I asked for it, what had been on that property before. … It wasn’t always a 1980s office building. … And so, this is where it showed it’s whatever the times need it to be. Well, the times need it to be this now. Back in the 1980s, I’m sure everyone wanted office space in Alexandria,” Jackson said. “If you’re going to put something there that’s actually going to help with – not everything goes back to taxes – but if we don’t have the commercial tax base, we have to do something.”

Jackson addressed concerns surrounding the city’s urbanization and said that while the city will continue to grow, it won’t be as urbanized as some expect.

“I don’t think we’ll be as urban as people think we’re going to be, and I think that’s a good thing. Arlington can be urban,” Jackson said. “I think we’re going to continue to grow, but I think it’s going to be different.”

Jackson expressed optimism about the city’s future but said a balance needs to be struck so residents aren’t excessively burdened.

“I led during the pandemic. We’re leading now. The vision is bright, but I also don’t want to put everything on the backs of … citizens. We have to attract and retain businesses and get that commercial base here, and [make sure] that we have things for families to do,” Jackson said.