Alexandria mayoral candidates Gaskins and Jackson reveal contrasting visions in ADC debate

Two of Alexandria’s three Democrat mayoral candidates sparred onstage Tuesday night, expressing vastly different ideas on how they would manage city affairs.

In the Alexandria Democratic Committee‘s debate hosted by Teo Armus of The Washington Post, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson and City Council Member Alyia Gaskins laid out their philosophies on governance, as well as some specifics on their visions.

The next mayor will have to contend with a host of issues, including rising crime, the city’s affordable housing crisis, residential taxes vastly outweighing underperforming commercial tax revenues and potential budget cuts from Richmond.

While they shook hands at the start and end, Jackson and Gaskins hardly looked at each other throughout the nearly two-hour event, despite standing about five feet apart. The debate was held in the auditorium of Alexandria City High School.

Protestors calling for a ceasefire to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas also briefly interrupted the final portion of the debate, but after five minutes allowed the candidates to make their closing statements.

Outgoing Mayor Justin Wilson watched the debate in the back of the auditorium with members of the School Board and told ALXnow that he will likely endorse a mayoral candidate before the June 18 primary.

Between now and then, there are a number of mayoral and Council candidate forums.


Residential property taxes currently make up 82% of city revenue, vastly outperforming income from commercial properties. Now, as residential taxes are expected to increase 2.5 cents to pay for teacher raises and other services, City Manager Jim Parajon says that the widening gulf threatens the city’s financial security.

Jackson said that, if elected, her priorities would be to fully fund Alexandria City Public Schools and focus on public safety. She also said that she was the only member of City Council to openly go against the failed Potomac Yard arena deal before it imploded and the city backed out.

Despite the city backing out of the framework plan to put a professional sports arena and entertainment district in Potomac Yard,  Jackson said that the area still needs to be converted into an entertainment district. She said that those revenues will help offset the residential tax burden.

“Moving forward, we need an entertainment district there that will help with the 82% residential tax base, and make sure we have our commercial tax base coming in, because that land is always supposed to be developed,” Jackson said.

Gaskins, who is currently leading in fundraising and endorsements, said that she’s running to help build a “safer, more affordable and more accessible city.”

Gaskins said that the city’s residential tax burden will be alleviated with a comprehensive economic development strategy, an “intentional and aggressive” small business strategy and improved relations with lawmakers in Richmond. She also said that, in addition to funding basic quality of life priorities, that she would focus on investing in tourism initiatives and small business development.

“Our needs have to be paid for and finding new ways to generate commercial tax revenue is going to be critical to make sure that we can fund the things that are necessary for our quality of life,” Gaskins said.

Zoning for housing

Despite voting for the measures last fall, Jackson criticized a set of zoning reforms that aim to boost residential development in the city.

The zoning reform package included changes to single-family zoning, expansion of transit-oriented development, reducing parking requirements for single-family homes and analyzing office-to-residential conversions.

Jackson said that the process was put forward too fast and that Council should have taken more time discussing it with the public.

“People were just finding out about what we were trying to do with policy on signs in people’s yards,” Jackson said. “Where was the mailer for single family housing or zoning for housing? There wasn’t one. People did not understand what was happening.”

Gaskins said that the zoning reforms went through a year-long public engagement process, and that she pushed for more discussion when the issue became controversial.

“I heard that people were feeling like they wanted more engagement,” Gaskins said. “I am the one who put forth a memorandum to my colleagues that then resulted in an additional public hearing, and resulted in a town hall, more pop-ups, additional work sessions, and especially with the Planning Commission, so that residents could hear and see the text amendments much clearer and have more opportunity to weigh in.”

Health equity

Black residents in Alexandria are 117% more likely to die before their 75th birthday than white residents, according to the Northern Virginia Health Foundation.

Gaskins said that the issue keeps her up at night, and can be helped by new housing programs that encourage economic justice for minority residents, as well as focusing on attracting minority business owners to set up shop in the city.

Jackson said that the Alexandria Health Department needs to improve its outreach to Black residents for free clinics to get basic health checkups.

Richmond relationships

Facing education funding cuts from the state government, Jackson said that city staff work closely with legislations in Richmond to maintain funding, and that parent teacher associations from Alexandria City Public Schools need to be more involved in advocacy efforts.

Gaskins said that the city’s legislative package should be clear with lawmakers in Richmond, as well as issues that the city won’t budge on.

“I want to make sure that Alexandria doesn’t draw the short straw on any issue,” Gaskins said. “I think it’s also important to be able to work across the region as a mayor and make sure that we’re building coalitions with other localities who share some of the things that we do.”