Two Independents, One Republican Face Six Democrats in Alexandria

Two Independents, One Republican Face Six Democrats in Alexandria

Voters will have six votes for six seats.

Voters in Alexandria chose City Council members in May or June until 2012.

Voters in Alexandria chose City Council members in May or June until 2012. Library of Congress

Back in May 2009, an independent and a Republican were able to knock off two incumbent members of the Alexandria City Council in an extremely low turnout election where only 12 percent of voters showed up to the polls. A few weeks later, the lame duck council ditched the idea of having May elections in favor of moving the election to November, when turnout is much larger and Democrats tend to perform better. The first year that City Council was elected in the fall was November 2012, when turnout was 71 percent and Democrats ousted independent Alicia Hughes and Republican Frank Fannon.

"I can beat Del Pepper," said Fannon of his 2012 reelection campaign. "But I can't beat Barack Obama."

This year marks a coda to that election. One of the Democrats who was ousted in 2009 and returned to the City Council in 2012 was Justin Wilson, who is now running for his second term as mayor. Pepper is retiring for council after an unprecedented 12 terms. The Virginia General Assembly recently passed a bill that ends all May elections, moving all existing 115 May elections to November whether voters in those jurisdictions want it or not. Earlier this year, voters cast ballots in the last ever Virginia elections to be held in May in Vienna, Berryville, New Market and Abingdon. Now all local elections will correspond to other state and federal elections.

"The effect of this would certainly be to lock down the Democratic majority," said Chris Marston, chairman of the Alexandria City Republican Committee in 2009. "It would make it difficult for any candidate that wasn’t in lockstep with the top of the ticket."

Until 2012, Alexandria held separate elections for local offices dating back to the 18th century. Some of the earliest city records from the 1750s show that municipal elections were held in February. By the early 1800s, they were moved to the second Tuesday in March. After the Civil War, they were scheduled for the second Tuesday in June. From 1973 to 2009, local campaigns were held in May. This year's election will be only the fifth time Alexandria has selected City Council members in the fall.

Voters are considering six Democrats running against two incumbents and a Republican. Republican Darryl Nirenberg and independent Florence King are campaigning in favor of school-resource officers in schools and creating a ward system in Alexandria. Independent candidate Gail Parker is campaigning on a platform of expanding rail service throughout Alexandria and the region.

"For candidates willing to take a chance, there can be a longer-term payoff," said Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington. "Candidates who lose a race they are expected to lose can still end up with a job in a gubernatorial or presidential administration, so defeats can turn into wins for one's career down the road."