Former Alexandria City Council members Timothy Lovain and Justin Wilson and incumbents Del Pepper and Paul Smedberg won four of the six Democratic nominations to the council Tuesday night in a close but low-turnout election.
Newcomers Allison Silberberg and John Taylor Chapman also made the top six from a field of 14 Democrats, according to unofficial returns. On Nov. 6, the winners will face two independent candidates and three Republicans for the six council seats.
Lovain, the top vote-getter, attributed his victory to “my smart-growth message, my transportation expertise and my personal involvement in the public schools.”
In an election in which much of the rhetoric was aimed at the council, the reelection of Pepper and Smedberg and the return of Lovain and Wilson could be seen as an endorsement of the status quo by the 17 percent of voters who cast ballots.
Only 217 votes separated Chapman from Victoria Menjivar, who came in seventh. While Michael Hepburn trailed the field with an unofficial 2,230 votes, all the remaining candidates were bunched within 1,620 votes.
Most of the candidates worked the rain-slick sidewalks throughout the day, seeking every last vote. It was the first time in decades that Alexandria had held a citywide Democratic primary and the first time it was in June. Those changes, as well as several major local development controversies, led to many of the candidacies.
In Old Town, the overriding issue was the council’s January decision on how to redevelop the waterfront. In the West End, the council’s decision on how to manage the redevelopment of thousands of apartments along Beauregard Street enraged housing activists, who also worry about gentrification in the largely Hispanic Arlandria neighborhood.
Other West Enders, particularly commuters, bear grudges over the council’s failure to stop the Defense Department from moving into the Mark Center, at Seminary Road and Interstate 395. There’s also a range of issues about the schools, which will have its own election for School Board members in November.
By local standards, the council primary was an expensive race, with $343,000 worth of contributions to the Democrats as of June 1. Four public forums introduced the voters to the candidates, in addition to fliers, door-to-door campaigning and robo-calls.
The notably polite contest took a negative turn last weekend when a flier attacking Boyd Walker was sent to residents. It was funded by the partner of candidate Sean Holihan and organized by the treasurer of Chapman’s campaign. Both Holihan and Chapman denied any knowledge of the brochure.
Mary Kay Schoen and Kathleen Schoen, a mother and daughter who ran into each other at the James K. Polk Elementary School polling location, said they filled out their ballots with clear intentions.
“I feel like we lost some opportunities for development,” Kathleen Schoen said as she shepherded her two children out of the polls. “The West End has been neglected. I think [the Defense Department’s arrival at the Mark Center] was a big mistake. . . . I don’t want them to make a big mistake on Beauregard, too.”
Her mother, Mary Kay Schoen, said she wanted a range of newcomers and experienced council members. Her choices, she added, were based on “civility on the council, development that takes into account everybody’s concern and not heavily weighted to the Old Town crowd.”
“There’s been a tremendous lack of imagination in how Alexandria has been developed,” her daughter added.
Across town at the Durant Center, Bill Cromley said he voted for every candidate “brave enough to speak in favor of the waterfront plan,” mentioning Smedberg, Pepper, Lovain, Wilson, Holihan and Melissa Feld.
The switch to paper ballots didn’t seem to flummox voters, election officers at multiple precincts said, and few glitches were reported. The paper ballots had to be filled out with a pen and then scanned at the polling place so the votes could be recorded electronically. After the polls closed, election officers delivered the scanner’s memory card with the recorded votes to Alexandria City Hall, where the results were tabulated. In the past, each precinct called in its totals, a practice that could introduce errors when there are so many candidates.
Some voters carried hand-scribbled notes or fliers into the polls, while others were sure of their choices.
“I voted my six and Jim Moran,” Ethel Underwood said at the Beatley Library. “I know them, I’ve read the brochures and watched the debates, and that’s how I make up my mind.”
Carlos A. Rivero, leaving the polls at John Adams Elementary School, in the Beauregard area, said his first choices were Menjivar and Sammie Moshenberg. “First, because they are women. Also, white and Hispanic, working together.
“I voted for all the women in there,” Rivero said. “They are more honest and have less history of corruption than men.”