For the first time in years, close campaigns are being simultaneously waged for Alexandria mayor and city council, with the outcomes to be determined in the Democratic primary on June 12.
Because much of the focus has been on the mayoral race between incumbent Mayor Allison Silberberg and challenger Vice Mayor Justin Wilson – a contest in which the Times will not make an endorsement – the city council race has been a bit lost in the process. That’s a shame, because 12 impressive individuals have put themselves forward for consideration. And whether Silberberg or Wilson captures the mayoral nomination, the winner is going to need at least a few like-minded individuals on council to advance their agenda.
Our recommendations follow below, but first we want to explain the process that went into these endorsements. The Times’ three-person editorial board consists of our publisher, editor and reporter, and for the first time our recommendations are unanimous.
During the past six months, we have watched, listened to and talked with these council candidates in a variety of ways. We did a story on each, offered all candidates the opportunity to run a “Why I’m running for council” My View column in the Times, have had at least one member of our editorial board at each council debate and have carefully considered the candidates’ responses to our questionnaire and yes/no chart. We also reviewed incumbents’ voting records and actions in office.
We do not make these endorsements lightly, especially since we are only recommending two of the four incumbents for re-election. Any of the 12 could, in our opinion, serve Alexandria well, but we believe the following six would make the best council, collectively and individually, for reasons we will explain below beginning with the case for the collective group. Our selections are, alphabetically: Canek Aguirre, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, John Chapman, Del Pepper, Robert Ray and Mo Seifeldein.
First, we believe this group would bring much-needed diversity to council. With two
women and three minorities – one the son of immigrants and another an immigrant himself – a broad swath of Alexandria would be represented.
But more important than diversity of origin is that of perspective. The outgoing council has appeared to succumb far too often to groupthink, largely because of the dearth of business experience among its members. For that reason, three of the four newcomers we endorse have made their careers in the private sector: one is a lawyer, one an entrepreneur and another runs a family owned small business.
This group would also make council younger in average age and add the perspective of Millennials to the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers that we also endorse. Only two of our endorsees are over age 50 and three would be in their 30s throughout a three year council term. The problems Alexandria faces now and into the future require the input of younger, more technologically savvy leaders – though mixed with that of older hands who have the wisdom that more life experience brings.
We believe this council would actually utilize public input in their decision-making.
The outgoing council earned a – well-deserved in our opinion – reputation for not listening to the public.
Corporate interests too often prevailed over legitimate livability concerns of residents.
Public hearings have been pro forma meetings rather than vehicles for change. Many individuals in Alexandria, whether wealthy homeowners or those struggling on the margins, have complained of feeling ignored by their local government.
And now, the case for the individual candidates, again alphabetically:
Elizabeth Bennett-Parker: An Alexandria native, born to two U.S. Naval officers, Bennett-Parker has legitimate bona fides as an entrepreneur, environmentalist and nonprofit leader. She founded Fruitcycle, a company that used food destined for waste to create healthy snacks and later merged it with Together We Bake, a nonprofit that was already working to help provide women ex-offenders with employment skills. We believe Bennett-Parker’s thoughtful and smart voice, though quiet, would be a welcome addition to council.
Whether or not you agree with our choices for council, we encourage all Alexandrians to vote in the June 12 Democratic Primary, which is open to all registered voters within the city, regardless of party affiliation.