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Our endorsements for Alexandria mayor and city council -- Greater Greater Washington

Greater Greater Washington: Our endorsements for Alexandria mayor and city council

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.