EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth of a continuing series of profiles of candidates seeking seats on City Council. Elections will be May 6. The Gazette is profiling one candidate from each party in alphabetical order each week. Mayoral candidates will follow Council, and School Board candidates will then be profiled. Already profiled: Republicans Keith Burner, Allison Cryor and Claire Eberwein; Democrats Ludwig Gaines, Rob Krupicka and Andrew Macdonald.
Judy McVay, Republican
Three years ago, Judy McVay barely missed being elected to City Council. Now she’s trying again.
"The last time I was a very reluctant candidate,” McVay said. “I held my campaign kick-off party on April 2, for a May 2, election. This time, I had no hesitation whatsoever.”
McVay has lived in Alexandria for 30 years and has been involved in civic affairs throughout that time. She has served as the president of the Old Town Civic Association, as co-president of the Federation of Civic Associations, as an officer with the League of Women Voters and as the founder of the Coalition for a Sensible Bridge. She is also a member of City Council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee.
McVay has an adult daughter who attended public school through sixth grade and then attended St. Agnes, where she graduated in 1986.
“I have always been committed to public education,” McVay said. “Megan went to public school for elementary school, and because of her age, we felt that placing her in a single-sex school would be better. She was only 11 years old going into the seventh grade, and while she could easily keep up with the academics, she was not as socially mature as some of the other kids in the same grade. It was a good choice for Megan.”
McVay said she is concerned about development in the city. “For too long, the city has allowed developers to do pretty much what they want,” she said. “We are one of the most densely populated cities in the country, and we do not have the infrastructure to support that density.
“Also, there’s the traffic as a result of overdevelopment. We must do something about getting people out of cars and onto mass transit. Building more roads certainly isn’t the way to do that,” she said.
ANOTHER AREA OF CONCERN is the real-estate tax rate. “We must do something to decrease the tax burden on homeowners, particularly those who are elderly or live on fixed incomes. An elderly couple lived near me and had to sell their home because they could no longer afford to pay their taxes. The taxes on the assessment on my own home went up more this year than the amount that I paid for it,” she said.
Also, open government is one of her focuses. “Government should be open and accessible to all of the citizens of the city,” McVay said. “When the city commissions studies, the results should be available on the Web site. People should not have to pay to see the results of studies that have been paid for with their tax dollars. Also, every citizen should have a right to be heard without fear of being laughed at or embarrassed. The mayor and City Council are elected by the citizens, and those citizens have a right to be heard.”
She is running as a Republican and wants people to know that “I have always been involved in this community and have learned a lot about the way the city works. I don’t know all of the answers, but I am willing to work hard and learn, and I will always listen to anyone who wants to express an opinion,” she said.
Redella Pepper, Democrat
Redella S. “Del” Pepper has been elected to six terms on City Council and is hoping for a seventh.
"This campaign is unlike any other that I have been through because there are three open seats and so you have a tremendous amount of competition,” Pepper said. “There are obviously campaigns that are spending a lot of money this time, and there are very competent people running. Many of them have that ‘fire in the belly’ that you have to have to be a part of this. As a result, you have very strong teams out there.”
Pepper has lived in Alexandria for 35 years, all of that time at 4600 Duke St. She has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and political science from Grinelle College and did some graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. She worked as a social worker, in foster care and adoptions in Chicago for five years, but worked in Alexandria as a volunteer, civic activist and a City Council aide, before running in 1985. She was elected vice mayor for one term.
Pepper has served on a wide variety of boards and commissions, including Alexandria United Way’s Board of Directors, The League of Women Voters Board, Alexandria Red Cross, T. C. Williams PTSA and many more. She has one son who graduated from T. C. Williams High School in 1991, attending public school for both elementary and secondary education.
“There are no two ways about it, money is the primary thing that we are going to need to focus on over the next three years,” Pepper said. “We are going to have to find other revenue sources instead of the real-estate tax. We have tried everything with the state, making a series of requests. We have also done things ourselves such as raising some of our own fees, such as sewer fees, the local cigarette tax and charging more for site plans that are submitted by developers. We didn’t used to cover our own costs, and now we do.
“While I believe that we must reduce the burden on our homeowners, we must be very careful. As the city manager pointed out the other night, if the state ever decides that they do not want to reimburse us for the car tax, we are sunk because that is millions of dollars. I don’t know how we would make that up because we have a lean, mean budget. There are no new initiatives."
THE SECOND PRIORITY is traffic. “Traffic is, by far, the most troubling, ongoing problem that we have,” Pepper said. “It affects everybody’s quality of life. We’ve done a slew of things to protect neighborhoods, such as a variety of traffic-calming measures and pedestrian-friendly measures such as installing countdown signals at crosswalks and having crosswalks that are well-marked. The traffic itself has reached a point of being unmanageable. I don’t know what we can do, but that has got to be one of our biggest priorities.”
She would like to see DASH bus service expanded and would like to see a Metro station at Potomac Yard. “I am still hopeful that, one day, we will have that Metro station at Potomac Yard that I have supported all along,” she said.
Pepper believes that Council must remain committed to the public school system. “We simply cannot fail there,” she said. “This is our chance to really have an impact on kids’ lives. We must keep those schools in good shape and keep them furnished with up-to-date equipment. We must also keep our teachers’ salaries competitive,” she said.
ONE OF THE THINGS that Pepper is proudest of that has been accomplished during her years on Council is the city’s AAA bond rating. “This was accomplished under [former City Manager] Vola Lawson,” she said. “She put us on a very financially sound and a very lean budget.”
Pepper is also proud of what she calls the changing face of the city. “One of the things that you are going to hear about from me, of course, is the new animal shelter. We had reached a point that many of us were concerned whether the state was going to allow us to remain open because of violations. We desperately needed a new facility and, although, I felt like a lone voice out there, we all worked together and got that accomplished,” she said.
“The Beatley Library is also a tremendous achievement. That was almost a 10-year project, and I was on a whole slew of committees that worked on planning that facility.
“Ben Brenman Park, as well,” she said. “I worked hand in glove with Ben Brenman on that park. I was on a bunch of committees that monitored the closing of Cameron Station and planning what was going to happen with that property. This is a whole different city than it was in 1985 when I first ran for Council.”
WHAT DOES SHE wish Council had done differently? “I wish that the Patent and Trademark Office had come in with a smaller package. I always supported PTO coming to Alexandria, but I preferred the Hoffmann site; that’s where I wanted it to go. I voted against the PTO development at Carlyle because I just think it’s too big,” she said.
She also wishes the Woodrow Wilson Replacement bridge had gone differently. “I wish we had held out for the 10-lane bridge and not settled,” she said. “Also, closing the Burke Library was a terrible mistake. You simply don’t close neighborhood libraries.”