Our endorsements for Alexandria mayor and city council

Alexandria will elect its next mayor and all of its six city councilmembers this year. In the June 12 Democratic primary, we endorse Justin Wilson for mayor and John Chapman, Redella “Del” Pepper, Paul Smedberg, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, ​​​​​​Dak Hardwick, and ​Mohamed "Mo" Seifeldein for city council.

Justin Wilson for mayor of Alexandria

Justin Wilson is the current vice-mayor (basically vice-chairman of the council). He is challenging Mayor Allison Silberberg, who won a three-way primary three years ago to unseat long-time mayor Bill Euille and then survived a write-in challenge from Euille. (Click the candidates' names to read their questionnaire responses.)

Like other area jurisdictions, Alexandria has a significant contingent of residents and voters who think that growth and change and a transition toward other modes of travel besides single-passenger vehicles is too much, too fast. Silberberg is the voice of this group, making statements like, "As we redevelop across our city, we need to pursue thoughtful, appropriate development that fits in and is to scale."

While development should of course be thoughtful, we are generally excited about the ways Alexandria has grown rather than alarmed. It has added homes and jobs especially near Metro and on bus corridors, increased walkable retail options, added bicycle facilities, and more.

It's important to understand and respect the views of those who are nervous about these changes, but Greater Greater Washington does not generally agree and we have not been aligned with many of Silberberg's positions on issues.

On her questionnaire, Silberberg said she does not support the city's recent reduction of mandatory parking minimums, stating: “Lack of adequate parking is the number one complaint I hear from residents and businesses, and I do not think reducing commercial parking requirements is a sound business policy.”

Likewise, she opposes changes that would reduce driving lanes for other purposes:

Traffic has increased significantly in the last year or two, including a high volume of cut-through traffic from cars from other jurisdictions. This has become a major quality of life issue in Alexandria, and reducing the travel lanes available to cars along these routes would exacerbate the gridlock and cut-through traffic that our neighborhoods experience on a daily basis.

However, Silberberg does not play the role of an anti-bike zealot. She said, "I support the use of mass transit and other forms of transportation like bikes to reduce our dependence on car travel." When it comes to individual projects, however, she is more hesitant.

In contrast with Silberberg's answers, Wilson has demonstrated support for urbanism in his questionnaire and on the council. He said, “I supported the 'road diet' on King Street and I believe that a road diet can be part of the City's solution to pedestrian safety issues in a few locations in our City.”

For parking minimums, he wrote, “Over decades, we have built underutilized parking in many areas of our City. That parking has come at the expense of open space, affordability and community amenities. It has served to induce more vehicle traffic.”

One contributor wrote of Wilson,

Justin is responsive to constituents in a way that can only be described as superhuman. He takes pleasure in assisting folks through the bureaucracy but also delves into policy issues and takes full command of complexities such as the City budget. He is singularly responsible for getting the forthcoming Potomac Yard Metro station on track and has led on affordable housing, smart growth and economic development. He pushed to get DASH bus on Google maps before any other DC-area transit system. He has also tackled city infrastructure head-on by founding a joint committee of school board and council to handle the ongoing increases in the school population.

On funding for the local housing trust fund, Silberberg favors dedicated funding while Wilson calls “advanced dedication of revenue” a “bad budgetary practice.” But, Wilson said, “I do believe that funding is important in the creation of affordable housing, but that our most powerful tool is the use of our zoning authority. I do not believe we fully leverage our zoning authority in the creation of affordability today.” It seems Alexandria should do both, and use its zoning authority but also somehow ensure that the trust fund gets the resources it needs.

We encourage Alexandria Democrats to nominate Wilson. (In overwhelmingly Democratic Alexandria, as in most inner jurisdictions in the region, the Democratic primary winner is virtually assured of victory in November.)

Today's Alexandria City Council. Image by City of Alexandria.

For Alexandria City Council

The mayor presides over a council with six other members. Wilson is vacating his seat to run for mayor, while incumbent Tim Lovain isn't seeking re-election, meaning at least two faces will be new.

We recommend three incumbents: John Chapman, Redella "Del" Pepper, and Paul Smedberg; and three new candidates: Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Dak Hardwick, and Mohamed "Mo" Seifeldein. We also received responses from incumbent Willie Bailey as well as Canek Aguirre and Robert Ray.

On our head-to-head rating tool, Chapman, Hardwick, Seifeldein, and Smedberg scored clearly higher than Aguirre, Bailey, and Ray; the first group garnered more than 75% of "wins." (Due partly to our error and partly to timing, we didn't have responses loaded in for Bennett-Parker or Pepper, but they gave many excellent responses.)

Smedberg, Pepper, and Chapman all have a history of supporting plans for Bus Rapid Transit and a more extensive network of bike lanes. They also specifically called for additional improvements and planning around Eisenhower Avenue to improve its potential as a transit corridor, and expressed concern and potential solutions for shifts in funding following the redirection of NVTA funds.

Pepper, the longest-serving councilmember who has held the seat since 1985, was before that aide to former mayor Charles Beatley during the creation of the DASH bus system. This providing her with a long-term immersion in these issues. She said, "Alexandria’s Master Plan calls for the creation of three high-capacity transit routes on the eastern and western edges of the City and another along Duke Street. It is my hope we could add another corridor along Eisenhower Avenue." And about city plans to add pedestrian and bicycle facilities, "I am pleased to support this expansion and to vote for funding each year during the City budget cycle."

As a former resident of ARHA, Alexandria's public housing authority, Chapman has personal experience on the implementation end of Alexandria’s affordable housing policy, and has previously attempted to increase the current set aside funding for affordable housing. He wrote, "I need to see that [the city's] plans provide sustainable affordable units and ensure affordability on its sites, and affordability levels as slanted towards our most at risk residents as possible, but still allowing for affordability as various income levels, both as a sustainability tool and a mixed income neighborhood goal."

Smedberg, meanwhile, has a strength from working on regional transit issues both within and outside of Alexandria as chair of the Virginia Railway Express and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. About places to add new homes, he cited Eisenhower West, Beauregard, Arlandria, and the Van Dorn Corridor, and said, "Alexandria's Metro Stations are another area of opportunity for the City. These sites overall are under-developed and might provide opportunity for commercial and residential development."

Dak Hardwick, Mo Seifeldein, and Elizabeth Bennett-Parker responded to our questionnaire with the most thorough answers of non-incumbents, and have clearly given a great deal of thought to these issues and how a place on the city council would allow them to pursue their vision.

Each of the candidates takes a strong stance on improving access to and condition of bike infrastructure. In particular, Hardwick has a clear vision for walkable communities, stating:

As we look to add residents to those areas, one of the key focus areas for me will be to ensure we are adding neighborhood-serving amenities in those emerging communities, allowing those living there to enjoy their neighborhood without having to get in their cars and drive somewhere else; which will in turn attract a diversity of residents at various stages of life.

Bennett-Parker voiced a similar sentiment, but from her own ground-up experience, which highlights the need for bike infrastructure to not just exist, but be functional. "I live near the King Street bike lane that starts at Janneys Lane and commute along King Street every day. The narrowing of the driving lane to add the bike lane has not proven to be a significant issue for drivers. The larger issue with that lane is whether it is useful to cyclists."

Seifeldein's professional background and personal story stand out among a field filled with personal achievement. He is a first generation Sudanese immigrant whose family came to the area to escape war and instability when he was a child. Alongside his siblings he worked to support his family up until college. Following law school, he spent time at The Hague working on human rights issues before returning to Virginia to represent clients who could not afford legal representation, as well as mentoring students at T.C. Williams High School, while eventually opening his own law firm He reflects a large, often underrepresented broad community of immigrants in Northern Virginia.

A common theme of strong candidate responses was the recognition of Alexandria’s unique history and current development trajectory. He covered this well:

To compete regionally, the City must modernize. At the same time, Alexandria has a unique identity given its history as a colonial city. This history is crucial to Alexandria's economic viability as a tourist destination in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Responsible development is the key to successful growth and continued ability to accommodate our growing population. Our population does not just include the growth of single-person households, but also an increase in the number of households with young children.

Of the remaining candidates, Willie Bailey and Canek Aguirre also appear to align with the Greater Greater Washington perspective on transit and housing issues in Alexandria, even though they didn't gain our endorsement. Incumbent Bailey has worked on recent issues such as a 1% meal tax to provide dedicated funding for the local housing trust fund and strongly supports ARHA initiatives. Aguirre has previous experience working in and with the Alexandria City Public Schools, serving as a liaison between students and the administration to bridge cultural and language gaps. He brings a specific representation for a portion of Alexandria’s community that is currently underrepresented in Alexandria politics.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our board and other volunteer committees. Want to keep up on other endorsement posts? Check out our 2018 primary summary page and sign up for our weekly elections newsletter.

Top image: Our picks for Alexandria. Images from the candidates' Twitter profiles or official Alexandria City Council headshots.

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