Potomac Yard arena boils down to four issues, says Alexandria mayoral candidate Alyia Gaskins

ALXnow will be running a series of City Council candidate interviews through the local election filing deadline on April 4.

The economic potential for the $2 billion Potomac Yard arena deal is maintaining the interest of Alexandria City Council Member Alyia Gaskins.

Gaskins is running for mayor and says that a good deal for Alexandria means more city representation on the Virginia Stadium Authority board, which would own and finance the future home of the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals.

Gaskins says that she’ll carefully dissect the proposal “if and when” it comes before City Council and that her four key issues are on the city’s representation on the Virginia Stadium Authority board, as well as how the project impacts labor, housing, and transportation.

“A good deal is one that has strong labor protections, a commitment to affordable housing and new transportation investments,” Gaskins told ALXnow. “It is also one in which we have the majority of authority on the, but the majority of seats on the stadium Authority Board.”

A House version of the bill to create the board was approved earlier this month, but the Senate version of the bill is currently stalled.

“As you know, I’m the one who’s going to be in the weeds going through each and every page to really evaluate what has come to us and is it something that’s going to deliver for Alexandria,” Gaskins said. “I can’t speculate now until I see specifically where we are on each of those areas, because I don’t think it works without all of them.”

On the issues

Gaskins said she had to take a pause and that she was disappointed after seeing the Alexandria School Board’s recent budget request. The Board asked for $21 million more than what was allocated from the city in last year’s budget, prompting an outcry from Mayor Justin Wilson, and a fiscal year 2025 budget proposal from the City Manager that does not include $10 million in additions from the School Board.

Gaskins said that City Council was briefed in the fall about a potential reduction in real estate values, and that the decline would mean a substantial revenue reduction in the city, potentially resulting in cuts to city services.

“I thought seeing then a budget that calls for such an addition at a time when we are facing some tough economic situations was really a little disappointing,” she said. “At the same time, we all are fighting for the same thing. We want our teachers to be the best paid, and to be the most supported in the region. We want our kids to have the greatest academic outcomes that they can achieve. Our two bodies will have to figure this out, starting tonight at our work session.”

Gaskins also said that the city needs to pause as it evaluates the second phase of its zoning for housing initiative. Last year, City Council controversially its upended its residential zoning policies  by eliminating single family zoning. She said that the first phase focusing on housing production and that the city also needs to look at homeownership programs, tenant protections and preventing housing displacement should be refined.

“I don’t think we need to add anything else,” she said. “We need to focus on doing that and doing that well.”

On the double-digit Virginia American Water rate hikes, Gaskins said that she wants to get retroactive refunds for residents who may see their water bills significantly hiked.

“I think it’s excessive and it could be harmful to our residents,” Gaskins said of the increase. “The numbers I’ve seen show that if this rate goes through as planned, some of our residents could see upwards of a 50% increase in their bills.”

On public safety, Gaskins said that the citywide uptick in violent crime is “unacceptable,” and that the Alexandria Police Department needs to create a strategic plan that “clearly articulates” how it is being tackled. She also said that the recently released community crime map will help residents understand what’s happening.

“It’s not just uncomfortable, I think it’s unacceptable,” Gaskins said. “And I think that communication between our public safety professionals and our residents is an important piece of our crime prevention strategy that has to be strengthened.”

About Alyia Gaskins

Gaskins, who was elected to City Council in 2021, is running in the Democratic primary on June 18. She’s married with two young children and moved to the with her family from Fairfax County in 2016. She’s been a senior program officer at Melville Charitable Trust for three-and-a-half years, before which she worked as a a public health strategist with the Center for Community Investment and the National League of Cities.

She’s a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was raised by her single mother, Francine Smith, and her paternal grandmother Marilyn Parker. Gaskins said that her mom regularly worked two or three jobs at a time, mostly as a paraprofessional and librarian at Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Parker died last month, and Gaskins said that the loss has been difficult.

“It’s definitely been hard, because every big moment I can think of in my life, my grandma has been by my side,” she said. “I think the only kind of saving grace is she taught and she instilled in me a faith and a joy that surpasses understanding. And so when the days are hard, I can still smile because I know I know she’s with me.”

If elected, Gaskins will be the first Black female mayor of Alexandria.

“When I think about what it would mean to be the first Black female mayor, honestly, sometimes I can’t even put it into words, like it’s something that is overwhelming,” she said. “It’s something that is humbling, and it’s something that would fill me with tremendous joy.”

Gaskins has a bachelor’s degree in medicine, health and society from Vanderbilt University, a master’s in urban planning from Georgetown University, and a master’s of public health from the University of Pittsburgh and a certificate in municipal planning from the University of Chicago.

She was elected to City Council in 2021, and previously served on the city’s Transportation Commission, where she said that her experience with the Seminary Road bike lane controversy convinced her that the city needs to improve outreach to impacted communities.

Communication-wise, Gaskins said she had no notice from Mayor Justin Wilson when he announced he wasn’t seeking reelection on Dec. 1. She announced her intention to run on Dec. 4, as did her fellow Council Member Vice Mayor Amy Jackson.

“I had no special inside knowledge or anything like that,” Gaskins said. “What I watched over the past several months is what Justin has said, that he’s thinking about it and we’ll find out the decision. I thought to myself, I’m going to be ready no matter what that decision is. I want to be ready to run.”

Gaskins is leading in fundraising among her Council colleagues, raising $46,000 with $34,000 on-hand as of Dec. 31, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Jackson has raised $16,900, and has $15,800 on-hand. The next financial disclosure deadline for the candidates is at the end of this month.

Gaskins says that she gets four-to-five hours of sleep on a good day, and that her family is committed to seeing her conduct city business.

“What I do think I’ve been able to create in my life and will do as mayor is a harmony where I have found a way for all of the pieces to work together,” she said. “I recognize the demands that will be on my time, then it makes sense that will be on my family’s time. But this is something that we are fully committed to doing as our unit and making sure that as a unit we can serve and continue to deliver.”

The Democratic primary is June 18.