News & Politics

5 Things to Know About Alyia Gaskins, the Likely Next Mayor of Alexandria

She will become the first Black woman to hold the position in the Virginia city.

Photograph courtesy of Alyia Gaskins.

Alyia Gaskins soared to victory in last week’s Democratic primary for Alexandria mayor, beating the runner-up by almost 30 points in a very low turnout race. It’s safe to say she’s a lock for the office given how overwhelmingly blue Alexandria votes and that no Republican is even running for the seat.

Between a weekend vacation to her hometown of Pittsburgh and a city council meeting Tuesday, Gaskins called to share a few facts about herself. Here’s what you need to know about the Port City’s new highest municipal officer-elect.

1. She’ll be the first Black woman to serve as Alexandria’s mayor

If Gaskins, who is 35, is elected in November, she will be the first Black woman to hold the position in the city’s 244-year mayoral history. “I feel immense gratitude and excitement,” Gaskins says. “You know, I’ve been thinking about the fact that Alexandria is a city where we played a critical role in the slave trade, where we were also a hub and a place of refuge for slaves escaping during the Civil War.… We’re also a place that has amazing stories of Black history and excellence, like Earl Lloyd and Samuel Tucker, and so it’s this very complex history of struggle and pain, but also joy and resilience.” Heightening her celebration, Gaskins watched the primary tallies tick into victory the night before Juneteenth.

Alexandria’s population is approximately 21 percent Black. In 2003, William D. Euille became the city’s first Black mayor and held the post for a 12-year record. Patsy Ticer became the first woman to serve as Alexandria’s mayor in 1991, more than 100 years after the first female mayor was elected in the United States (in Argonia, Kansas).

2. The child of a single mother who struggled to pay medical bills, Gaskins worked her way up through education

Growing up, her mother suffered from diabetes, sarcoidosis, and asthma that landed her in the hospital a dozen times a year, Gaskins says. Her mother prioritized health insurance, leaving little money for food and other needs, and their home became infested with mold and rodents. Because of her mother’s health issues, Gaskins dreamed of becoming a physician, eventually switching to policy work in public health.

In sixth grade, she received a scholarship that allowed her to attend an all-girls private school that at full price would’ve cost $10,000 more than her mother’s annual income. “I’d step into school, and then I’d return home to a very different situation,” she says. “What I take away from that is I feel like every kid should have exposure to those opportunities. “

A bachelor’s and two master’s degrees later, Gaskins credits her education as crucial to her success, and her talking points commonly revolve around education and childcare access.

3. She’s quite the people person

Gaskins built her career on being very good at schmoozing. She’s a senior program director of the Melville Charitable Trust, and in 2019, she founded a consulting company that works with cities on cross-sector partnerships. Her knack for networking is palpable in her personality, too. “Every time I meet somebody in our community who has an idea for how to make our city better, I am the first to reach out and say, ‘Let’s have coffee. Let’s go for a walk. Let’s talk,’ ” Gaskins says.

It’s also her reputation as a member of the Alexandria City Council, and she knows it. “I’m probably the one who asks the most questions on council now,” she said in an April interview with Alexandria Living.

4. She’s got big plans for Potomac Yard after the arena debacle

Before DC won the bitter war to keep the Washington Capitals and Wizards in the District, Gaskins had voiced support for the construction of an arena in Potomac Yard (though she never officially took a stance). That deal is finally, definitely off the table, but she’s still eyeing the area for major development.

Gaskins sees the spot as the future home of restaurants, retail, entertainment, and open spaces. The land is privately owned by JBG Smith, so any development would require serious negotiation. Nevertheless, Gaskins is unequivocal that the buildout will happen during the next mayor’s term in office. Following the inter-city arena scrimmage, she says, “there is a renewed energy and a momentum around this site. There are a lot of potential interested developers and partners.”

5. She may continue to work her two other jobs as mayor

But that’s nothing new. The mayoral role in Alexandria is only part-time, and current Mayor Justin Wilson has worked as a senior director of Amtrak throughout his tenure.

Josie Reich
Editorial Fellow