Once a month, Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg hosts a coffee meetup where she talks informally with any members of the public who arrive. She said much of her policy has been informed by the commentary she’s heard from the public at these meetings. This perspective has been evident in her commentary on City Council, it was a key part of her victory in the Democratic primary, and Silberberg said it’s one of the main things pushing her through the pitched battle with incumbent Mayor William Euille who is pursuing a write-in campaign for re-election.
“We must rebuild the people’s trust,” said Silberberg. “We need to continue to push for greater transparency.”
Silberberg said that she has seen a lack of transparency in City Hall cause problems, not just for the Alexandria community, but within the city’s government. Silberberg recalled an incident where the City Council received a staff memo on food trucks, which took months before the Food Truck Task Force was ever made aware of it.
“There’s going to be a new way of doing things,” said Silberberg. “It’s not talking about civic engagements, it’s about doing something.”
Silberberg said Euille’s decision to endorse the write-in campaign wasn’t a surprise.
“The mayor never conceded, even on the night of the primary,” said Silberberg. “He openly discussed the possibility of a write-in campaign that night.”
Silberberg has previously stated that she would not debate a write-in candidate.
“We have 150,000 citizens,” said Silberberg. “Any of them could step up and say they are a candidate for mayor. That’s why we have a primary system, and we had those debates.”
Silberberg indicated that if anyone was really interested in seeing a debate between Euille and Silberberg, the videos of the debates were available online. But this decision hasn’t kept the two candidates from sparring, if indirectly, through their statements.
Two of the primary criticisms of Silberberg from her opposition have targeted her perceived inexperience and have accused her of holding an anti-development stance. Her votes against development projects, most notably those like EYA’s plans for Robinson Terminal South,were on the basis that the height, design, and density did not fit with the character of the neighborhood.
“I am not anti-development,” said Silberberg. “I am for thoughtful, appropriate development that fits into the character and fabric of the existing community or neighborhood.”
Silberberg referenced the plans for the National Science Foundation and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in Eisenhower as development that complements the existing look and character of the neighborhood. The plans the developments on the Waterfront were approved by the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) and the Planning Commission, boards that are designed specifically to decide whether projects fit into the character of a neighborhood and plans for the area. But at the end of the day, Silberberg says she respectfully disagrees with those committees.
“I don’t care for the masts through the roof,” said Silberberg of the design. “Careful, appropriate architectural design is critical to our city, especially in the historic district. We can do better.”
Another vote that came under fire during the primary was Silberberg’s vote against Alexandria Memory Care, a three-story facility adjacent to the Woodbine nursing home on King Street. The plan was ultimately approved by City Council, but during the discussion, Silberberg sided with the neighbors in Taylor Run who were upset about the size and the potential traffic increase along King Street. During the primary, the vote was characterized by her opposition as another vote against development, and worse, a vote against the care of senior citizens in Alexandria.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I feel very strongly about our seniors,” said Silberberg, and referenced her experience as president of the Georgetown Senior Center from 2002 to 2012 as evidence. “I am a fierce defender of our seniors on budgetary matters and led the effort to restore senior tax relief during the budget process. You can always count on my to be an advocate for seniors, but Woodbine was a vote about zoning. A few years ago, city staff said [the plans] would have been too much development for that site. One minute, it’s too much development, but three years later it’s okay?”
Silberberg said the zoning, at Woodbine and across the city, is a promise to the citizens and shouldn’t be changed lightly.
On the topic of promises to citizens, Silberberg turned the offensive back towards Euille. Among the stances Silberberg said she took pride in, one was a stand against Euille’s threat of eminent domain against the Old Dominion Boat Club. Euille, who had previously said he opposed using eminent domain, threatened its use against the Old Dominion Boat Club when their property stood in the way of the Waterfront Plan.
“I felt, and feel that [eminent domain] is anti-business,” said Silberberg.
Silberberg also expressed pride in her push back against the idea of selling City Hall to the developers. In March, Euille and other members of the City Council raised the possibility of a public-private partnership to finance the $53 million in repairs. Silberberg said Euille had raised the possibility of “selling” the building several times, though Euille in the past had responded adamantly that he would not sell City Hall.
Silberberg also laid the blame for the BRAC debacle in the West End at the mayor’s feet.
“This happened under his watch,” said Silberberg. “It is off the tax rolls and it will cost the city over $60 million. That is an economic disaster. It has had a huge impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. That didn’t happen on my watch.”
Though she’s only served on the City Council for three years, Silberberg considers the attack on her lack of experience baseless. Before her council term, Silberberg ran a nonprofit for youth in Anacostia called Lights, Camera, Action!, an organization that mentored youth in D.C. through film. Within Alexandria, Silberberg served for eight years on the Alexandria Economic Opportunities Commission.
“I have 25 years of community leadership and public service,” said Silverberg. “If you want to know what people believe in, look at what they’ve done.”
In regards to campaign funding, Silberberg says she returns money offered to her by developers that she knows are doing business in Alexandria.
“That’s about transparency and integrity,” said Silberberg.
In her all volunteer campaign, Silberberg’s supporters are quick to rebut arguments about her perceived lack of experience.
“I remember people saying that about Obama,” said Eileen Cassidy Rivera, a friend of Silberberg’s since the two attended American University, “but that’s an excuse. She’s been involved in politics her whole life.”
“I have no concerns about Silberberg’s experience,” said George Foote, an attorney in D.C. and a volunteer on Silberberg’s campaign. “For efficiency, you rely on the city staff. But for leadership, you look to the mayor, and she is excellent in that. What you want in a mayor is someone who is leading the tone of policy in the city.”
Foote isn’t a stranger to Alexandria mayoral elections. In the past, Foote has volunteered in the Charles Beatley and Jim Moran mayoral campaigns. Foote says he’s voted for Euille every year since his first campaign, but over the years he’s seen a change.
“After a dozen years, the efficiency comes at odds with the need for transparency,” said Foote. “I’m not knocking Bill [Euille], but his approach turns people off. They feel excluded from the process and that’s what comes from spending so long in office. In council, sometimes Allison wants to discuss an issue and Euille wants to just get on with it. She’s seen as obstructionist, but I really think it’s an opportunity to let the door open to public input.”
Since her victory in the Democratic primary, Silberberg has received a number of endorsements from local political figures, including former Mayor and state Sen. Patsy Ticer and U.S. Rep. Don Beyer.
"As a lifelong Democrat and as an Alexandrian, I am pleased to support Allison's candidacy for mayor,” said Beyer. “Allison is a person of integrity with a vision for the future of our great city. I am confident that she will be ever present in our community, and will do her best to help Alexandria stay balanced and prosperous."
For Silberberg, the campaign’s primary battle is about opening up the city government to the citizens.
“We’re at a crossroads as a city,” said Silberberg. “We’re either a city that’s transparent and a city that holds to its promises, or we’re not.”