Canek Aguirre says experience matters, cites racial equity work in race for reelection

Like a ship during a storm, Canek Aguirre wants to guide Alexandria to more equitable waters.

The trick, though, is through proper communication.

Aguirre, a Democrat, is the city’s first Hispanic member of City Council, and isn’t shy about his biggest accomplishment — chairing Alexandria’s 2020 Census Complete Count Committee, which oversaw a 100% count of all households. That, he says, means hundreds of millions of dollars that wind into the city’s coffers over the next decade — made possible because of his connections with groups like Tenants and Workers United and Casa Chirilagua in Arlandria.

“A lot of times people aren’t gonna be able to see it, but it’s gonna be there,” Aguirre told ALXnow. “It’s for our schools, it’s for our roads, for our businesses and our families.”

Aguirre has raised $30,105 for his campaign, as of March 31, putting him in fourth place on the fundraising leaderboard in the Council race behind Alyia Gaskins. He stands in third place in cash on-hand with $20,724, behind Councilman John Taylor Chapman, who has $53,495.

Aguirre says all options need to be looked at to solve the city’s affordable housing woes, including colocating housing on school grounds, which is a controversial issue.

“People have to understand this isn’t a suburban area anymore,” he said. “Maybe 30 years ago it was, but we are definitely in an urban area. It is irresponsible for us as elected leaders to not be looking at colocation, whether it’s a gym, a pool space for DCHS or affordable housing.”

Aguirre continued, “To the folks that always talked about, ‘Oh, how can you possibly imagine putting housing on the same site as schools?’ Private schools literally have staff live on campus. They might live in the building next to the kids. They might live in the same building those kids. On top of that, you look at our schools across the street from housing, sometimes from million dollar homes, sometimes from public housing.”

Aguirre, a first generation son of Mexican immigrants, was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. During the day he works as a community liaison for Anthem HealthKeepers Plus — a job he took after working for three years as a counselor for Alexandria City Public Schools. He’s married and lives in the West End.

The city’s is also grappling with how to sustain its affordable housing stock in Arlandria, what with the Potomac Yard Metro station, Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus and Amazon HQ2 moving into town in just a few years. Aguirre said that the Heritage affordable housing development, which was heated due to its proposed height increase in Old Town, is a model that should be replicated in Arlandria, since residents are moved off-site to temporary living situations until the project is completed.

“It’s a huge concern,” Aguirre said. “Part of what some of the construction that’s going to happen in Arlandria is to build on a site that doesn’t actually have housing on it at the time, so that we can move some folks into new buildings, and then do redevelopment on the old buildings. That way they’re staying getting the stay in the neighborhood, and they’re actually getting to live in a brand new building with amenities.”

On racial equity, he said in a candidate forum Tuesday night that the city’s 2016  statement of inclusiveness “is great, but actions speak louder than words.” For the last two years, he’s also worked on language access-related issues, including .

Aguirre wants Alexandria to have a racial equity indicator report, similar to what is done in San Antonio, Texas. He also said that he’s responsible for more than $200,000 in back to business grants that went to minority businesses after pressing the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership to hire a bilingual staffer to reach minority businesses. He also said that the city is going to hire four multilingual communications staff so that the immigrant community is not uninformed as they were during the initial days of the vaccine distribution.

“People are afraid of being evicted, people are getting sick, people are dying,” he said. “It’s been a very scary time, and we’re still not out of it.”

Aguirre’s not much for social media, though. While some Council members, including Mayor Justin Wilson and Councilman John Taylor Chapman will converse with residents on social media, Aguirre holds off.

“What I utilize social media for is essentially to get information out,” he said. “I have always maintained an open door policy. If anybody wants to meet with me, they contact me through official channels, and I will meet with them. I don’t want to get exhausted and lose myself in echo chambers, or in places that will just the conversation won’t stop. No matter what you say it’ll just keep on going, and people will disagree or agree or whatever is going to happen.”

Aguirre and his colleagues have been criticized by online groups, including the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook group for marching to the beat of the city manager’s drum.

“I always find it very interesting that you have this group that thinks that council just marches to the beat of the city manager’s drum, because this council is very, very independent,” Aguirre said. “We all will speak up when we take issue with something, and if we disagree with something, you better believe we’re going to make it known. There’s a lot more that we need to do. And it can go backwards.”

The Democratic primary for City Council is on June 8.