Mayor Bill Euille stands by his record after four terms in office

Mayor Bill Euille stands by his record after four terms in office

By Erich Wagner (Courtesy photo)

One might think that after more than a decade at the helm of Alexandria’s city government, Mayor Bill Euille would grow tired of the many responsibilities, both political and ceremonial. One would be wrong.

“I don’t sleep,” Euille joked. “But why do I still want the job? It’s not about me. It’s about the community.”

Euille is seeking his fifth consecutive term as mayor, and for the first time in nearly a decade he has challengers from within his own party. Also vying for his job are Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg and former Mayor Kerry Donley.

The mayor said his record in office speaks for itself. He pointed to his guidance of the controversial waterfront plan to fruition after more than 40 years of discussions; the approval of a preferred site for the Potomac Yard Metro station; and the closure of the GenOn coal-fired power plant during his tenure.

“I think some people may feel, ‘You know, four terms — almost 13 years — enough, let’s have some freshness,’” Euille said referring to his primary challengers. “It’s not unexpected that I would be challenged. … ‘Great, time for a change,’ but I say: Hey, stick with the person who brought you to the dance, because all is well.

“There is not a huge outcry at all in the community that says this city has gone down the wrong direction. Those issues aren’t out there.”

Euille stressed that he tries to combine strong leadership with a focus on listening to and taking cues both from residents and other stakeholders.

“My style has been to not only provide the vision, but provide leadership in terms of being a listener, being a team player, a collaborator and moving forward after we’ve all agreed on what we want to see happen, then we implement,” he said. “It’s not just: ‘It’s got to happen, tomorrow.’ I’ve been successful in life and business and politics by being patient, being a team player and a collaborator.”

He stood by controversial decisions, like threatening eminent domain against the Old Dominion Boat Club after promising it would never be on the table.

“Enough was enough,” he said. “We tried behind closed doors, but we needed to get them more serious about negotiations, so we had to go public, and part of that was the threat of eminent domain.

“The boat club knew it was always on the table, but I assured them I would not invoke it during serious negotiations. But each time we all thought we had a deal, we got the yellow light: the goalposts just kept shifting.”

Looking ahead, Euille said a Metro station at Potomac Yard, the arrival of the National Science Foundation and a new plan for development in Eisenhower West all will help spur commercial development. But he warned residents to be realistic about the speed of development.

“The commercial market just has not been there; in Northern Virginia the vacancy rate is like 15 percent and in the D.C. region overall it’s around 18 percent,” Euille said. “The fact is: there’s 3 million square feet of already built office space sitting vacant, with 2.5 million square feet already planned and in the pipeline. The estimates are it will take at least two, three or four years to burn off that backlog before new commercial space can go on the market.”

Euille acknowledged that preserving affordable housing — or “housing affordability,” as he likes to call it — is a difficult task. But he said innovative thinking when dealing with both developers and nonprofit groups can produce strong results. He cited how he and the developer at Potomac Yard were able to provide both workforce housing and needed infrastructure in a high-density neighborhood by placing housing above a fire station.

One of the biggest issues facing the city outside of development is the approaching enrollment crunch in Alexandria City Public Schools. He noted that city council and school board members are preparing to finalize a new long-range plan for its facilities, but warned that officials will need to have a frank discussion with residents in the coming years.

“We can now commit to saying, ‘This is how many schools we need and where,’” Euille said.  “How we pay for it: that’s the next big challenge. We’ll need to have a more holistic, broader discussion with the taxpayers.

“It’ll probably take some tax rate increases to get there. It could be as many as eight or nine cents, but the question is: Will residents go for that? That’s the type of conversation we’re going to have to have with the community.”