“In the future, I would like to see more specificity from the candidates.”
— Sarah Pray
Differences between incumbent Mayor William Euille, current Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg, and former Mayor Kerry Donley emerged during a debate as the three took turns directing blame for Alexandria’s current problems on each of the other two during the first mayoral debate. The debate, held in Douglas MacArthur Elementary School on April 23, primarily focused around issues of parking and city infrastructure.The shifting blame became most apparent during the candidates’ discussions on BRAC-133.
“We must rebuild people’s trust,” said Silberberg, calling for fewer executive sessions, which she blamed for the BRAC-133 development.
During the debate, Donley and Silberberg highlighted BRAC-133 as an example of a blunder made by the City of Alexandria. BRAC-133, also known as the Mark Center, is a Defense Department building at the corner of N. Beauregard and Seminary Road.
Silberberg spoke briefly on the topic and criticized the building’s off-the-tax-rolls status, a strategy Alexandria has since used to entice other government departments to relocate to Alexandria, such as the National Science Foundation.
Donley criticized the density of the building and the lack of transit infrastructure to support the facility’s 6,400 work force. However, Euille noted that Donley was on the City Council at the time and voted in favor of the added density. Donley acknowledged his vote in the favor of the development, but said the project did not proceed the way City Council was told it would.
All three candidates noted that transportation was a major problem in Alexandria. Euille cited the Potomac Yard as an example of his administration bringing additional transit development to the city. His other highlighted transit development, adding bike lanes to King Street, received a negative response from the audience.
“People didn’t like that, but we have to think multimodal,” said Euille. “We’re going to solve our transportation problem, but it’s going to take a while.”
“The parking problem is a good problem,” said Donley. “We need to get long-term parking off the streets and use better technology for parking enforcement.”
Euille agreed that wayfinding technology is the key to getting cars to the off-street parking in garages. Euille noted that the recently approved Robinson Terminal South Development, while receiving a special use permit for a reduced on-site parking requirement, also banned residents of the new development from parking on the street. Silberberg was the only vote on the council against the development.
“I voted against Robinson Terminal South because the architecture doesn’t respect the historic district,” said Silberberg. “I’ve driven around Old Town looking for parking. I don’t think the parking problem is a good thing. It’s not just intellectual, it’s real. I could not support the [Robinson Terminal South development] last week. Parking in Old Town is serious and real,” said Silberberg. “Too much development will mean more traffic.”
Euille and Donnelly both claimed that Alexandria’s infrastructure is a looming crisis.
“Not everyone wants to talk about [the sewer system], but it’s critical,” said Euille.
“It is the sewers,” agreed Donnelly. “We don’t have a group called ‘Friends of the Alexandria Sewers.’ The two other candidates have kicked the can down the road.”
“Every municipality is facing the same problem we are,” said Euille, saying that the city is currently in the process of creating a panel to explore the issue, “We haven’t kicked the can down the road.”
Silberberg also criticized Euille for suggesting a public-private partnership as an option to finance $53 million in repairs to City Hall. Euille, however, reiterated his statements made during the State of the City address on April 14, which is that no one is considering “selling” City Hall.
“Government is a business, we have to think like a business,” said Euille. “We have to look at issues holistically. Yes, I suggested that we be innovative and think outside the box and consolidate. Any business would do this. That doesn’t mean City Hall is being sold, we’re just looking at opportunities.”
“It’s utter lunacy to think we would sell City Hall,” said Donley. “We have few areas where we come together. That’s a part of our history. I can’t imagine a time where we would dispose of that. It may take a lot of money to renovate, but that’s a choice we make.”
After the debate, several members of the audience said their votes weren’t decided yet but were certainly swayed by the debate.
Sharon Annear said that Euille’s comments regarding Donley’s role in BRAC-133 were one of the topics that impacted her opinion the most.
“This was a dynamic evening,” said Helen Desposses, “I understand differences that I didn’t see before. This was more exciting than expected, we were on the edge of our seats.”
Sarah Pray estimated that there were more than 160 people in the room and was generally impressed with the level of community interest.
“In the future, I would like to see more specificity from the candidates,” said Pray. “I want to see concrete proposals and a platform on education.”
The next debate is scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 5 at Francis C. Hammond Middle School.