The race for the Democratic nomination for mayor can be viewed as the latest iteration of a centuries-old debate about democracy.
On one side is the theory that democracy should be as “direct” and “pure” as possible, that government should be “by the people.” Ancient Athens approached this ideal, at least for free male native Athenians.
On the other side is the theory that, in a democratic republic, we elect leaders who are expected to consider public opinion but to ultimately use their judgment. Edmund Burke said over 200 years ago that “your representatives betray you rather than serve you when they sacrifice their judgment to your opinion.”
In practice, democracies and elected officials have arrayed themselves along a spectrum between these two theories.
In Alexandria, elected officials ignore public opinion at their peril. We are blessed (for the most part) by the presence here of internationally-renowned experts on every issue imaginable. Our citizens are often very well-informed, articulate and politically savvy.
We have also, however, been blessed (for the most part) by many elected officials who were real students of public policy, deeply immersed in the details of policy considerations, and devoted to “doing the right thing”.
Allison Silberberg clearly leans hard towards the direct democracy side of the debate. She cares deeply about the number of communications from citizens for and against the issue of the day. Her views often seem to shift as expressed public opinion seems to shift.
Justin Wilson is one of those real students of public policy. He listens to the public — he is famous for his responsiveness to calls and emails and for reaching out to thousands of Alexandrians for dialogue. In the end, however, after studying an issue in great depth, he tries to do the right thing, using his best judgment, even at political risk.
I think Alexandria has benefited greatly from a series of mayors who were also students of public policy, like Jim Moran, Patsy Ticer, Kerry Donley and Bill Euille. I’m supporting Justin because I think he is from that tradition and it’s a great tradition. Elected officials should strike a balance between considering public opinion and using their well-informed judgment. I think Justin strikes that balance.