By Carla Branch
Since 1999, Susan Kellom has served as the chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. When ADC elects officers in January, however, Kellom’s name will not be among those nominated to be the Party’s leader.
“After ten years, it’s just time,” Kellom said. “It’s time for someone else to take on the leadership of the Committee and it’s time for me to do other things. Ben (her husband) and I would like to travel some and spend more time with our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Though she will no longer be the Party Chair, she will still be a member of the ADC executive committee. “As the immediate past chair, I still have a seat on the executive committee. I would like to point out that, in addition to my retiring as Chair, Paul Smedberg will be leaving the executive committee as the longest-serving immediate past chair. We will be sad to see him go,” Kellom said.
Kellom’s interest in politics began when she was a college student at tiny Gettysburg College. “Since I joined the Army just after college, I really couldn’t get as involved as I wanted to. Then, when Ben retired in 1981 and I left the Army, that all changed,” she said.
The couple had moved to Fairfax County in 1977. Kellom’s first campaign was working for former Virginia Congressman Herbert Harris. The Kelloms moved to Alexandria in 1983.
“Ben kept driving around Fairfax County looking for City Hall. There’s one in Alexandria and that’s where we came to get involved in local politics,” Kellom said.
She joined the ADC in 1984 and became an officer in 1985. “Things have changed a lot since then. We have reached out to more diverse parts of the community and encouraged more people to get involved both in the Committee and in local politics in general,” Kellom said.
She is particularly proud of the Committee’s outreach in the Hispanic and Ethiopian communities. “We have done a lot but there is much more to do. We need to continue our outreach to all parts of Alexandria and get them involved,” she said.
There are 183 ADC members and 26 associate members. “Our membership has continued to grow and we now have an office that is staffed through a contract we have with a small local consulting firm. This office has allowed us to serve our members and our candidates better,” she said.
Politics and Policy
One of the criticisms leveled at Kellom and the ADC is that they lost two Democratic seats on the Alexandria City Council last May. “The two incumbent Democrats who lost in May are two of the best City Council members we have ever had,” Kellom said, referring to Tim Lovain and Justin Wilson, who lost to Republican Frank Fannon and Republican-backed Independent Alicia Hughes. “I think there were a lot of reasons that they lost but since we clearly didn’t get the votes we needed to re-elect them, we could have done better.”
The ADC takes positions on Virginia State legislation but rarely on local issues before City Council. “Most local issues should not be partisan, such as collecting the trash and clearing the snow. City Council members are elected to serve the entire community and we try not to make their decisions partisan. By choosing a slate of candidates, we give them our support. We have just thought it best not to politicize Council any more than it is by having a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ next to their names,” Kellom said.
Two ADC members have already thrown their names into the ring to replace Kellom: Matt Harris is an attorney with Communication Workers of America and Clark Mercer is a member of the staff of Virginia Democratic Senator Jim Webb’s Commission on Wartime Contracting. Harris has been a member of ADC for many years and Mercer, a lifelong Alexandrian, is the co-founder of the Alexandria Young Democrats. Harris is 42 and Mercer is 30.
“They both have the administrative skills to be the chair of the Committee and are both excellent candidates,” Kellom said. “The job is very time consuming though, and that was a bit of a surprise to me. I would say it takes 50 to 60 hours a week on average and more when there is a hotly contested election involving one of our candidates.”
Harris and Mercer are known candidates but there could be others. “We take nominations from the floor so someone could announce his candidacy now or on the fourth of January at the meeting. We will have to wait and see,” Kellom said.