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Alexandria podcast returns to tackle 2024’s big elections

Liberally Social podcast (image via Democratic Social Club/Facebook)

A group of women Alexandria women are on a mission to ensure no candidate is just a name on a ballot in Alexandria.

The Liberally Social podcast, started back in 2021 to explore the 13 candidates running for City Council, has come together again to profile two candidates who could shape policy in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS).

In the mix of Potomac Yard arena news and the holidays, the School Board special election to replace School Board Member Willie Bailey has flown a little under the radar.

Real estate agent and former Parks and Recreation commissioner Gina Baum is running against Tim Beaty, a substitute teacher in ACPS and former Global Strategies Director at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The podcast interviewed both candidates in 30-minute profiles posted earlier this week.

Liberally Social has a rotating group of hosts, but the school board candidates were interviewed by Alexandria Democratic Committee chair Sandy Marks, Marta Schantz, a senior vice president at the Urban Land Institute, Kristen Weber, a senior director at the National Center for Youth Law, and Anh Phan, former outreach representative for Sen. Mark Warner.

“We’ve got two very different candidates on the ballot,” said Schantz. “From what I’ve gleaned, they’d engage in school board members in different ways, with different priorities and passions and a different way of doing business. That’s one big takeaway from what I’ve learned.”

The podcast doesn’t endorse candidates and asks every candidate the same questions, from personal questions to thoughts on specific topics affecting Alexandria.

“It’s very egalitarian, it’s the same prompt, and we just listen,” Schantz said. “Our listeners are smart… We try not to poke holes or be too ‘gotcha’, we let the candidates speak for themselves.”

“And sometimes we say ‘they just said that,'” Phan said. “Invariably, when it gets published, when [listeners] hear what outside the box things get said, it gets noticed.”

Even as one election nears on Jan. 9, another significant election looms later this year. Mayor Justin Wilson is not seeking reelection and Vice Mayor Amy Jackson and City Council Alyia Gaskins have both thrown their hats into the ring to replace Wilson.

Additionally, Jackson and Gaskins running for Mayor leaves two empty seats on the City Council that will be up for grabs.

“There’s so much speculation about the City Council election,” said Schantz.

“Everybody is running,” Marks joked, “and nobody is running.”

Marks said while the Potomac Yard is one of the most talked about issues, she’s hopeful that election discourse can focus on other fundamental issues.

“People want to talk about the arena because it’s feisty, but there are a lot of other things happening in the city,” Marks said.

Schantz said she hopes that election discourse can address climate change and equity issues affecting the city. While both are national and international issues, Schantz said there’s much that elected leaders can do at a local level.

“We act where we have the influence,” Schantz said. “Everyone has an impact to make on climate change, on equity, on being a good human. There are so many things you can do locally. If everyone sat in a dark corner and said ‘no one makes a difference,’ then no one would do anything.”

Marks said she hopes the podcast helps Alexandrians get to know more about their candidates and helps humanize them for the electorate.

“It started with ‘how can we do voter education?'” Marks said. “Because there are so many candidates, it’s difficult to do a deep dive with each one, so you get charts with checkboxes, yes or no on specific issues.”

Marks also said she hopes the podcast helps understand that the city’s elected leaders are people too. Marks said, particularly since Donald Trump’s election in 2016, she’s seen an uptick in online conspiracy theories, even at a local level.

“Getting to know them personally dispels some of that,” Marks said. “It’s about inoculating the social electorate against fear.”

Phan said that while online interactions have gotten more polarized, she gets some hope from the fact that returning to in-person human interactions has helped combat some of the vitriol.

“This really helps dispel some of that cynicism that might occur when you talk about electoral politics,” Phan said. “I mean, you have to be a little ‘called to it’ to be running for public office. That’s not something that should be squashed. The podcast gets you to know them as a human person, reinforcing the idea that they are trying to do something in the community. That makes me feel better; more idealistic.”

Image via Democratic Social Club/Facebook

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