Bryan Porter wants to be known for “quiet competence,” except while playing guitar in his office to relieve stress.
Porter, the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Alexandria, is running uncontested as a Democrat for his third term, and says the city has become a safer place under his watch.
“I’ve done my best to be thoughtful, compassionate and understanding,” Porter told ALXnow. “I’ve been ahead of the curve on our Mental Health Initiative and the Drug Treatment Court trying to divert people through criminal convictions wherever possible, our marijuana policy and about five or six different things of which I think I got it right a little bit before the legislature changed their tunes.”
Porter took office in 2014, and spent the next two years completely focused on prosecuting the case of Alexandria serial killer Charles Severance. Porter later wrote a book about the experience, and said that every fiber of his being was focused on a conviction.
“Every ounce of my free time almost had to be dedicated to investigating that case and putting it together and prosecuting it,” Porter said. “It really wasn’t until February of 2016 that I was able to put my entire focus on the office.”
He continued, “A lot of it for me was kind of trial and error, because I had never received any formal training on how to lead and I had never been in a leadership position before… I think I’m a much better leader than I was when I began.”
Porter said that non of his previous experience prepared him for the COVID pandemic.
“In January of last year, the city manager spoke to all of the department heads together,” he said. “He said this was going to be exceptionally difficult, and basically the worst pandemic that any of us had ever seen and that it was going to severely impact the the operations and each of our offices. I think there was a lot of uncertainty, employees were very very frightened about their families, their children, particularly if they had elderly people or children living with an orderly family members, a lot of stress on employees, a lot of unease and anxiety about what the future was going to hold.”
The Alexandria Courthouse is reopening Monday after being closed to the public for more than a year. While traffic citations are relatively caught up, Porter said there is a backlog of jury trials that will take time to sift through.
“For more than a year we’ve been almost incapable of putting on a jury trial,” he said. “The trial schedule for jury trials over the next 12 to 18 months is very full, and we’re trying to litigate cases that have been postponed due to COVID.”
To relieve stress, Porter says he plays an acoustic guitar in his office. During his free time, he also plays in a 90s cover band “Old Bailey and the Bondsmen”, which is made up of law enforcement friends. The lead singer is Tracy Quackenbush Martin, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Halifax County.
“I don’t do it in the morning, because people are busy, but I’ll play it in the afternoon,” Porter said. “Like if I if I need a little stress relief or something. I think that might slightly annoyed some of the people in my office, but I try to be respectful if I get into a song where I have to play some power chords pretty hard.”
Porter, who lives with his wife in Old Town, is an Alexandria native and graduate of T.C. Williams High School, where is father John Porter was principal. He got a degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University, and then briefly served as an Alexandria Police Officer. He went to night school at the George Mason University School of Law, and was hired as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in 2001.
He recalls not owning many suits after his first election in 2014.
“I remember my dad took me to ‘Today’s Man’ in Bailey’s Crossroads,” Porter said. “He brought me in there and he’s like, ‘Okay, listen. You got to have at least four suits. I’m gonna buy you four suits and four shirts and four ties and a pair of shoes, but since I’m buying they can’t be top of the line.”
Porter said that he doesn’t want to be Commonwealth’s Attorney forever.
“At some point the right call is for you to move on and allow somebody with new ideas and new energy to occupied the time temporarily occupied,” he said. “On the other hand, I don’t think I’m in a position to go out to pasture quite yet. I feel like I’ve brought a lot of energy to the office over the last two terms. I’ve created a lot of positive change, and so for the foreseeable future, I’ll keep going as long as I’m able to bring that type of energy to make positive change.”