By Denise Dunbar (File photo)
I surely am not alone in viewing the just concluded Democratic mayoral primary as the most fascinating local election in recent memory. For sheer circus atmosphere, 2012 may have edged it out, with 12 mostly credible candidates vying in the Democratic primary for six slots to run for city council. But this year’s contest between three likeable, capable heavyweights — incumbent four-term Mayor Bill Euille, Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg and former Mayor Kerry Donley — was unique in my experience.
Because there was no clear front-runner, speculation on the horse-race aspect of the election abounded. Would Silberberg and Donley split the “change” vote, enabling Euille to earn the shot at another term? Would Donley and Euille split the “fast development” vote and let Silberberg, champion of the “thoughtful growth” crowd, squeak through? Would Donley’s backing by much of Alexandria’s Democratic political establishment be enough to propel him to the slot?
In the end, as we now know, it was the second scenario, and Silberberg fairly won a close, mostly positive and hard fought victory. Whether you love her or dread the thought of Silberberg as mayor, she won fair and square, which is why the idea of a write-in campaign this fall for Euille really bothers me.
Speculation began swirling on election night as soon as it was clear Silberberg had won that Euille might challenge her in the fall as a write-in candidate. Though Democratic Party Chairman Clarence Tong released a “unity statement” last week intended to consolidate party factions and Euille has said he would not support a write-in campaign, he has yet to endorse Silberberg, effectively leaving the write-in door open. There are many reasons why a write-in campaign would be bad — for Euille, Alexandria’s Democratic party and the city.
I have known Euille for 20 years and both like and respect him. Though there have been a few hiccups, he has been a good mayor. This newspaper’s editorial board endorsed him for re-election, albeit with some reservations.
But Euille competed in the primary system set up by his own party and lost. That should be the end of the story. To run as a write-in candidate against the fairly selected Democratic nominee in my opinion diminishes a long and distinguished public service career. Don’t do it, Mr. Mayor. You can make a meaningful contribution without being mayor.
The same goes for those are those who are encouraging Euille to run as a write-in. It is juvenile to say, “I don’t like this outcome; therefore, I’m not going to accept it.”
Was Silberberg elected with votes from Republicans who voted in Alexandria’s open Democratic primary, as those some Euille supporters have said? Possibly. She certainly got some votes from Republicans. But I know for a fact that Donley and Euille did too, because Republicans have told me they voted for them. Republicans tend to be pro-growth, so it’s quite possible Silberberg didn’t get a majority of Republican votes in this election.
Are these write-in whisperers so determined to block Silberberg’s path because they’re afraid she’ll be a bad mayor — or is their biggest fear actually the opposite, that she will succeed and become a beloved, popular leader? In politics, the desire for control at times can trump finer motives. As mayor, Silberberg will not do the bidding of the local establishment. Is that why many of them are so opposed to her?
What is the worst-case scenario for Alexandria? It’s that the Silberberg naysayers are right. In that case, she would not be able to garner consensus on council for her initiatives and would not be effective at drawing development to Alexandria. If that happens, she likely will be voted out of office in three years and someone else will take the helm. This happens all the time in politics. Life goes on.
If they truly are worried about Republican voters having a say in determining their nominees, perhaps Alexandria’s Democratic leaders should petition the state party to switch to a caucus system, where party leaders have more control over nominees. The Democratic Party of Virginia has chosen candidates this way before.
I hope they don’t go this route, as the Democratic Party has long emphasized inclusion as a core value. Such a change of heart would also be curious, given that nary a peep was uttered by local Democrats when Don Beyer won the 8th District Democratic primary for Congress last year — receiving many Republican votes en route.
But even if they do change their election process, that would be for the next election cycle. Silberberg won this one, fairly, playing by the rules in place. That should be the end of the story.
The writer is the publisher of the Alexandria Times