While campaigning in Market Square over the weekend, Bill Cleveland did not have to introduce himself to many of the city’s voters. They already know him. As a member of the City Council from 1988 to 2003, Cleveland is a familiar face on the campaign trail. And as someone who was twice elected vice mayor, he is a rare example of a Republican who has achieved a measure of success in a city typically dominated by the Alexandria Democratic Committee.
"Voters want a City Council that does not act in lockstep," said Cleveland, taking a break from campaigning on Saturday morning. "I think they want someone who is going to question things, and that’s what I intend to do."
Cleveland’s campaign materials trumpet two qualities he hopes will resonate with voters: independence and experience. On the campaign trail, Cleveland has cast himself as someone who is willing to challenge the Democrats on City Council and question their actions. Republicans say that they are fortunate to have a candidate as familiar as Cleveland for such a compressed campaign held in the dead of summer when many potential voters will likely be away.
"Getting people to the polls in the middle of July is going to be a Herculean task," said Mike Lane, a Republican who is working with the Cleveland campaign. "The bottom line is that we’ve got to work harder than the Democrats. We’re breathing fire, and we’re not going to sleep until Election Day."
A NATIVE OF Pittsburgh, Cleveland was drafted into the Army shortly after graduating high school in 1968. From December 1968 to 1969, he was stationed near the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War. By the time he returned from the jungles of Southeast Asia, Pittsburgh’s steel mills had closed and Cleveland moved to Alexandria to live with relatives. He took positions working security for George Washington University and Northern Virginia Community College before landing a job with the Capitol Police in 1974. In the late 1970s, he worked with his neighbors and police officials to create a neighborhood watch program in Warwick Village.
"I’ll always remember that because I felt like we were really accomplishing something," said Cleveland. "We cut crime by 98.8 percent in one year."
After his success in Warwick Village, Cleveland launched his political career in 1985 with a failed campaign for City Council. Even though he didn’t make it that year, he stayed involved and launched a successful campaign for the next election in 1988. For 15 years, Cleveland served as a member of the City Council — and he was twice elected as vice mayor after receiving more votes than any other member of council. His tenure as an elected leader is most remembered for the votes he cast against several budgets, a history that his political opponents say might hurt him on the campaign trail.
"When somebody votes against the whole budget, they are voting against a lot of good projects," said Vice Mayor Del Pepper, who served with Cleveland in the 1980s and 1990s. "I can’t think of a sings time when I have ever voted against a budget because it would have been voting against some really needed projects."
FISCAL RESTRAINT is a major part of Cleveland’s platform. In public speeches and one-on-one sessions with voters, the former vice mayor has been highly critical of city spending over the past few years and he was very specific about which program he would like to eliminate. He said that he thinks the $4.7 million investment in an "all-city sports center" would be a mistake.
"We could use that money for helping kids," said Cleveland. "I believe that fiscal responsibility and budget restraint must be exercised."
One of Cleveland campaign’s selling points is that he is not a member of the Democratic Committee, which currently claims all the city’s elected partisan positions. Cleveland is hoping that voters will want to impose some checks and balances at City Hall. One issue where he would break from his colleagues if he were elected to City Council would be the city’s use of its zoning ordinance to force bars and restaurants to become smoke free or lose their operating permits.
"We’re setting ourselves up for failure with the smoking ban," said Cleveland. "We have to work within the Dillon Rule, and this plan clearly does not do that."