By Chris Teale (file photo)
She has been hailed as the “voice of reason” by former Alexandria Mayor and state Sen. Patsy Ticer, but Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg is running as far more than that in the Democratic mayoral primary.
The vice mayor was elected to city council in 2012, and is part of a three-way race in the Democratic primary on June 9 against current Mayor Bill Euille and former Mayor Kerry Donley.
Silberberg emphasized that she is running for her vision — not against others — and believes the city is at a crossroads, advocating for greater transparency in how it makes decisions. She cited the recent controversy over whether officials considered selling City Hall as one area where city council and Euille have fallen short, an event she says shows a difference between her and the mayor on “what is sacred and what is unfathomable.”
Euille has repeatedly said City Hall is not and will not be for sale, but rather the property has value in terms of tools like refinancing to fund a needed renovation. And the whole of city council — minus Euille and Silberberg — have written letters to the editor affirming City Hall is not for sale.
“Our city deserves leadership that will be straightforward,” Silberberg said. “I’m grateful that the mayor has stated publicly, though as he laughs about it, that we’re not selling City Hall. At the first debate, he said again that we’re not selling City Hall and he kind of laughed, this is what he’s been doing.”
Silberberg said her desire is to see development that is what she describes as “thoughtful and appropriate,” a common campaign refrain. She said new buildings must fit in with their surroundings in look and scale, especially in the Old and Historic District, something she says did not happen at the waterfront.
“I am in favor of replacing the warehouses at the Robinson Terminals, but where I differed with my colleagues is that the design of the buildings: it’s very high-modern, high-contemporary design,” she said. “But it doesn’t reflect the historic district, and that was a tremendous opportunity to put something there that fit in and was to scale.”
Silberberg said she would look to work with developers from around the country who specialize in building within a historic district. In addition, she spoke of her excitement at the possibilities for development in Eisenhower West. With the National Science Foundation set to move there, Silberberg sees it as an opportunity for the city. She is also excited by the possibilities in Potomac Yard, but emphasized that the funding sources and figures must be secured.
“What I want, and what I think we all need and want, I want to know for certain and I want to lock it down as far as the financials and the money that is coming in from various sources,” she said. “We need to lock that down. Before we proceed, I’ve been asking for more definitive information to be responsible.”
One of Silberberg’s biggest priorities is to do all she can to grow Alexandria’s stock of affordable housing. She said she is concerned by the tremendous loss of units over the last decade, and is determined to find ways to reverse that trend.
“I feel really strongly about affordable workforce housing, because it enables our city to have a vibrant, diversified economy in terms of those who live here,” Silberberg said. “I’ve had meetings with folks who are nonprofit developers, people who specialize in that arena. The city’s housing department needs to continue to be very proactive. It sends forth a signal to developers and to the community that this is a priority, this is something we value.”
Another of Silberberg’s great passions is education, and with an enrollment crunch looming for Alexandria City Public Schools, she believes she can help the district evolve.
“We already have capacity issues,” she said. “It seems that in the past, when folks were developing sites, they didn’t take into account that they might need a school. The Nannie J. Lee [Memorial Recreation] Center used to be a school, as I understand. We might need to revisit that.
“I think there needs to be more direct communication [between schools and council], so once a month it could be an email from each school’s PTA. You all pick one [issue to deal with] per month. Focus on that one thing and email us directly. Frankly, I think it should come directly to us in an email once a month, and you [copy] the school board.”
In her time on city council, Silberberg has been the lone dissenting vote in a number of council decisions, from the threat of eminent domain against the Old Dominion Boat Club and the controversial waterfront redevelopment plan to the extension of parking meter hours and Robinson Terminal South. She says this shows that she is prepared to take a stand on issues, and if elected, city councilors have to be aware of the message sent by voters.
“If I’m lucky enough to be elected mayor, I think the other members of council have to weigh in their minds what the people have expressed through their votes,” she said. “We have a democracy, and it’s a good process. I would have preferred that they agreed with me, but they caused the community a lot of strife and in the end I think they’ve caused themselves some pain. Just because it’s a 6-1 vote, it doesn’t mean that one is wrong.”