Though only eight miles from Washington and all the machinations that take place in our nation’s capital, Alexandria normally seems a world apart: we do things in a more polite, more genteel manner. We have our garden tours, our parades, our heritage festivals and our charity events.
The Democratic Party rules here, but they are generally cordial toward city Republicans, whom they seem to view more with pity than contempt. The gloves seldom come off.
It is rare for an established, Democratic incumbent in the Port City to face a serious primary challenge. It didn’t happen in all the years Jim Moran held the 8th Congressional District seat. It didn’t happen in all the years Patsy Ticer held the 30th District seat in the Virginia Senate. But it’s about to happen to Mayor Bill Euille in this year’s Democratic primary.
Euille faces one declared challenger in former Mayor Kerry Donley. There is also speculation that Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg and possibly other city councilors are mulling mayoral bids.
The interesting question is: “Why?”
Euille hasn’t been involved in any scandal, nor does he have any boorish behavior on his ledger. He tirelessly represents the city at charity events — often several in one evening — and at schools and sporting events. Alexandria has prospered under his watch.
So why are several members of Alexandria’s Democratic establishment poised to rock the boat in what could be a divisive primary contest? Do they smell the proverbial “blood in the water” following his primary defeat in the race to succeed Moran?
It’s a tough break for a dedicated long-time public servant — and could prove to be a shift from the city’s usual collegial atmosphere.
On the other hand, a true challenge should lead to an open airing of issues. With no competition, an incumbent doesn’t have to answer for much, at least not until the general election.
It’s a general rule of economics that the consumer benefits from competition. The more brands there are to choose from, the pickier the consumer can be about what matters to them. Alexandria’s political consumers, our voters, will have the opportunity to kick the tires on at least two and possibly three or more Democratic mayoral candidates before choosing their 2015 model.
The contest would be fascinating as well, pitting the incumbent Euille — Alexandria’s first black mayor — against Donley, who preceded Euille in the post. And if Silberberg, who was a political newcomer when she burst on the scene in 2012 but garnered more votes than any councilor to become vice mayor, also jumps in the fray, watch out.
Whether it’s a two-, three- or even four-way race, this year’s Democratic primary is shaping up to be like none in recent memory. It will be interesting, fun and hopefully informative. But it’s also somewhat sad that the city’s collegial atmosphere may be in retreat.