Alexandria Republicans have had a difficult time fielding candidates in recent years. Back in 2005, their choice to stand for election in the open seat for Virginia’s 45th House of Delegates seat received only 35 percent of the electorate — swamped by 67 percent support for Democratic newcomer David Englin. The last time a Republican won a seat on City Council was in 2000, and the Alexandria Democratic Committee has held all of the city’s partisan elective positions since 2003.
Mark Allen hopes to change that.
As a longtime Alexandria resident and someone who has decades of experience as a real-estate attorney, Allen hopes to use his connections and fundraising ability to unseat Englin, a one-term incumbent whom Allen says is "out of the mainstream" on social issues such as gay rights. Alexandria Republicans say that the city will benefit from sending a delegate to Richmond who is a member of the party currently holding power in the House of Delegates — a fact of life even Democrats admit probably won’t change with this election.
"If all of the voices from inside the Beltway are coming from one party, that limits our ability to get things done in Richmond," said Connie Ring, a former chairman of the Alexandria City Republican Committee who ran two unsuccessful campaigns for the Virginia Senate in the 1960s. "It’s always desirable to have representation that’s part of the party in power."
In the spring, Allen made a surprise appearance at the Alexandria Democratic Committee and announced that he was investigating the possibility of challenging Englin as a Democrat. By the time summer arrived, the Alexandria City Republican Committee announced he would be the Republican on the fall ballot. Allen quickly raised more than $76,000 — mostly from Realtors, general contractors and lawyers. According to the June campaign-finance disclosure forms on file with the State Board of Elections, Allen now has about $60,000 more cash on hand than Englin. Nevertheless, Democratic leaders say, beating an incumbent Democrat in the 45th District will take more than an ability to raise money.
"I’m not losing any sleep over it," said Del. Brian Moran (D-46), House Democratic Caucus chairman, in a recent meeting with editors and reporters of Connection Newspapers in McLean. "Englin is a strong candidate."
DURING THE FALL CAMPAIGN, Allen said, he will try to position himself as someone who will bring "a more businesslike approach" to governing. Allen said that if elected he would work toward bringing the city’s representation back toward the mainstream in Republican-controlled Richmond, where Democrats are frequently marginalized and often shut out of the process. Electing a candidate from the majority party, Allen said, would increase the city’s influence in the commonwealth.
"I want to see Alexandria not be so out of step," said Allen during a recent interview at his Oronoco Street law office. "My focus is on getting the people’s business done in a workmanlike way and not be so concerned with pushing envelopes."
Allen said that his examination of Englin’s Web site revealed two words predominated: "I" and "fight." The combat metaphor, Allen said, is counterproductive because accomplishing legislative goals in a spirit of cooperation. He said that he would rather use a velvet-glove approach rather than the kind of partisanship he said makes Englin a weak representative for the 45th District. And promotion of issues such as gay marriage would not be part of his agenda.
"I’m not convinced that gay marriage is an issue that most voters are concerned about," said Allen. "David Englin is clearly out of the mainstream on this."
WHEN ASKED TO SHARE what kind of bills he would file with the House clerk next year, Allen said he hadn’t yet considered the specifics of a freshman agenda. Unlike Englin, who seems to have more ideas than hours in the day, Allen’s style is more subdued. On the campaign trail, he hopes this will translate into an appeal to fiscal conservatives who are concerned about runaway government.
"I’m not the candidate who will have three new ways to spend your money," he said. "You’re not going to get a whole lot of new initiatives from me."