City Council members say ward system would be a bad idea for Alexandria

Members of the Alexandria City Council celebrating centenarians at City Hall, Sept. 12, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

At a town hall meeting last Sunday, most City Council members said — in no uncertain terms — that they are opposed to a ward system in Alexandra.

Currently, all City Council leaders are elected in an at-large system. Each Council member represents the city as a whole. D.C., on the other hand, had a City Council that’s a mix of at-large members and ward members — representatives of specific areas of the city.

City Council members said switching to a ward system would give leaders less appreciation for city-wide issues, would make it harder to address neighborhood-specific issues like flooding, and would make it harder for Council members from less affluent areas to fundraise.

“I, for one, am not a fan of the ward system,” Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said. “I like to know all the puzzle pieces in the puzzle and I would be concerned to have different people trying to vie for funding on the Council in a really big area like Del Ray vs a small area in the West End.”

The driving criticism of a ward system from city leaders was that it would create sharper divisions between neighborhoods, which would make it more difficult to secure funding for certain programs.

“I would not be supportive of returning to wards,” said City Council member Kirk McPike. “Wards tend to foster competition and division between parts of our city. A lot of challenges we face need to be a whole city effort to address them, not one part or another bearing more of the weight. Under the current system, we can take a broad view on issues such as some of the flooding issues that affect a small geographic area but are incredibly expensive to address.”

McPike also noted that the current at-large system already represents a broad swath of the city, with four Council members living west of Quaker Lane. City Council members Sarah Bagley and Canek Aguirre both said they supported the current at-large system over a ward system.

While City Council member John Chapman said he opposed switching to a ward system, citing competition between neighborhoods over transportation and infrastructure issues, he did say more could be done to represent specific neighborhoods.

“I’ve been very interested in D.C.’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners [ANCs],” Chapman said, “so that every neighborhood has someone who can talk about hyperlocalized issues. That might solve some of the issues I hear folks talking about with wards.”