Alexandria City Councilman John Taylor Chapman wants to be mayor someday. Not now, but he says that the seat is in his longterm plan.
In the meantime, Chapman’s got a few ideas on improving government access in the West End, which is also where he lives. Additionally, he says that the Eisenhower Valley is ripe for affordable housing development and that it’s the duty of local politicians to directly address resident concerns on social media platforms.
He’s also got a toddler and a wife at home, a full-time job with Fairfax County Public Schools and a touring company, in addition to a strapped city budget and a never-ending list of docketed items to be voted on or discussed.
“The last 36 months have been very interesting,” Chapman said. “I got married, had a child, and like everybody else am going through a pandemic. A lot of heavy, heavy stuff has happened over the last year.”
Chapman says it’s acceptable for the public to engage with local elected officials on social media — a contentious topic that was recently raised at a joint meeting with the City Council and School Board. Mayor Justin Wilson is an admitted social media addict who routinely talks with residents on multiple platforms, and retiring Councilwoman Del Pepper does not engage on social media at all. Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilman Canek Aguirre have staffers to manage their accounts, and Chapman, Councilwoman Amy Jackson and Councilman Mo Seifeldein directly discuss issues with the public on social media.
“As an elected official, if you want to try to reach out to folks outside of normal communication channels, yes, it’s definitely acceptable,” Chapman said.
A lifelong city resident, Chapman graduated from St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School and has a degree in social studies education from St. Olaf College. By day, he works as a community use specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools, and coordinates with more than 1,000 community and government partners that want to rent out about 100 school spaces. He initially harbored hopes of being a teacher — a goal he says that was realized by founding his Alexandria-centric African American history Manumission Tour Company in 2016.
Chapman wants to renew conversation about opening a West End Service Center to connect residents to city resources and save them a trip to City Hall.
“I think we’re coming up on 75 years that the West End has been a part of the city, and I’m going to be calling for a study on how to better connect residents to the services that we have here in the city,” he said. “We need to solve that issue of connectivity.”
Chapman said Alexandria needs to capitalize from its Black historical roots, much as it has from being a favorite destinations for America’s founding fathers, like George Washington.
“I really believe there could be a whole industry around local African American history in Alexandria and throughout the nation,” he said. “Telling the stories of enslaved and free people and how they elevated themselves, their community and their city is a story that needs to be told. I want Samuel L. Tucker to be a household name across the country for the work that he did in the library sit-in in 1939, before the modern Civil Rights Movement. Most folks don’t know that across the country. That’s news to them when they get to Alexandria.”
Chapman will occasionally go against his colleagues, like when he voted against the Seminary Road road diet. He also, along with Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, recently called for Council to review the Taylor Run and Strawberry Run Stream Restoration projects in light of concerns over habitat destruction.
“I think my latest pet peeve has been around the idea that the truth is flexible, that there are alternative facts,” he said. “I’ve had people tell me flat out to my face, ‘John, you never voted against Seminary Road.’ This is on the record, and, honestly, there’s a video of it.”
Affordable housing is a continual issue that the city is working on, and Chapman says that the Eisenhower Valley will need to be grown out.
“That’s a huge industrial area with Covanta there, and Virginia Paving, Co,” he said. “I think you have an opportunity to look at mixed use and additional residential development, but also looking at the infrastructure there to support it. Then, moving down east on Eisenhower Avenue you get past Cameron Run Regional Park and some of the additional developments and where you get into the heart of Carlyle there are a number of parking lots or places where things are just sitting there without development — plots of land that have not been built out or planned for. That means growing out the area around our Van Dorn Metro and our Eisenhower Metro stations.”
Chapman said he eventually wants to be mayor.
“It’s something that I want to build toward,” he said. “I mean that politically but I also mean that in terms of relationships with more people in the community not only know my name, but also know what I stand for. I think the folks that I’ve seen run for mayor have been very firm in that and people gravitate to them because of what they stand for.”