Turnover at City Hall

Turnover at City Hall

As the era of Justin Wilson draws to a close, what comes next?

Alexandria has a weak mayor system, which gives responsibility to the city manager to run day-to-day operations at City Hall. The mayor is in charge of running the City Council meetings and setting the agenda for the city.

Alexandria has a weak mayor system, which gives responsibility to the city manager to run day-to-day operations at City Hall. The mayor is in charge of running the City Council meetings and setting the agenda for the city.


The era of Mayor Justin Wilson is drawing to a dramatic finish, creating an open seat for mayor at City Hall for the first time in 20 years. Now that the two-term mayor has announced he will not be seeking another three-year timer, Councilwoman Alyia Gaskins announced her campaign for the office. Vice Mayor Amy Jackson is widely expected to also throw her hat into the ring. The primary is June 18, so potential candidates have four months to file paperwork.

"I would be thrilled to do this job forever," wrote the mayor in an email to constituents announcing his decision against running for reelection. "But doing two full-time jobs and being a good husband and father is not sustainable forever. Nor should anyone be in elected office forever."

The election for mayor comes at a time when the city is at a crossroads. Wilson has worked with advocates for urban development and mass transit to create a city where bike lanes and bus lanes are transforming the streets of Alexandria. Last month, members of the Alexandria City Council voted unanimously with the mayor in favor of a controversial plan to get rid of single-family zoning in favor of a system that would allow developers to build as many as four units on land that had previously been reserved for one house on one lot.

"I would hope that in the future the mayor, whoever that is, would be less divisive," said former Mayor Allison Silberberg, who says she will not be a candidate for mayor next year. "One crucial role that the mayor has is to listen and be respectful and be open to input from the public."

THE LAST TIME Alexandria Democrats conducted a primary election to fill an open seat for mayor was February 2003. That was when Kerry Donley announced that he would not be running for reelection, and Bill Euille snagged the Democratic nomination without opposition. As a longtime member of the School Board and City Council, Euille had built enough support among members of the Alexandria Democratic Committee that nobody wanted to challenge him for the nomination.

"We have more people driving cars than we have citizens, and until we get people in the mindset to get out of their cars and into mass transit, we aren't going to make any major inroads," said Euille after securing the nomination in 2003. "This means we must improve our mass transit systems and make it easy for people to get from point A to point B. Otherwise, people will continue to use their automobiles."

Euille was eventually unseated by Silberberg who was unseated by Wilson. The Game of Thrones atmosphere at City Hall has long roots, including a vicious Democratic primary in 1985 when Jim Moran unseated longtime incumbent Mayor Charles Beatley. Voters in Alexandria have never elected a Republican mayor, although Republican mayors were appointed during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

"I'm a little surprised Alexandria has never elected a Republican mayor because there were certainly a number of Republican officeholders," said John Milliken, a professor at George Mason University who is a former member of the Arlington County Board. "I'm thinking of Connie Ring and Wiley Mitchell and Bob Calhoun. But none of those people were ever elected mayor."

IN AN INTERVIEW about her campaign for mayor, Alyia Gaskins outlined her agenda for the potential three-year term. One of her first priorities would be to put together a strategic plan for reducing crime, documenting a strategy and what resources officers need to make it happen. She also wants to expand a public private partnership with the business community to provide jobs to young people. Another top priority, she says, is to respond "more quickly and more effectively" to complaints with metrics and performance measures.

"This decision has been deeply personal for me, and something that I don't take lightly. It's something I feel called to do," said Gaskins, who was first elected in 2021 and is currently serving her first term. "I believe that our city needs a leader who can face the changes that we have ahead, who can make hard decisions and ensure that we are reaching out and engaging voices, especially the voices of those in our community who have felt voiceless for a very long time."

When Bill Euille got the nomination 20 years ago, he had already served a decade on the School Board and a decade on the City Council. He was a native Alexandrian whose popularity at the Alexandria Democratic Committee was unquestioned. Now, 20 years later, Gaskins is announcing her campaign to lead the City Council as a relative newcomer during her first term in office.

"I can't change where I was born, and I can't change the length of time I've been here," she says. "I can only show you that for every day I have lived here I have worked hard to deliver and serve the people who are my neighbors, my friends, my family and my constituents."