Silberberg unseats Euille in dramatic primary election

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Silberberg unseats Euille in dramatic primary election
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By Chris Teale and Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)

This article has been updated to reflect votes in the 45th District from Arlington and Fairfax counties as well as the city of Alexandria.

Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg triumphed in the Democratic primary for mayor of Alexandria, according to unofficial poll results, defeating incumbent Bill Euille and former Mayor Kerry Donley. Mark Levine also was victorious in his race for the 45th District in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Silberberg finished with 5,044 votes and 37.54 percent, while Euille finished in a close second with 4,732, 35.22 percent. Donley came in third with 3,661 votes, amounting to 27.25 percent of ballots cast. In the House of Delegates race, Levine took 2,674 ballots for 27.81 percent of the vote, with Craig Fifer in second with 2,340 (24.33 percent). Julie Jakopic came in third with 2,240, 23.29 percent, while Clarence Tong finished fourth with 1,664 (17.30 percent), and Larry Altenburg came fifth with 698 (7.26 percent).

As the tallies from the final precincts poured in, Silberberg’s supporters were uproarious with cheers at her Election Night party at Los Tios in Del Ray.

“I’m very honored to stand before you as the next mayor of Alexandria,” she told revelers. “I’ve said it time and again: I ran for my vision and not against my competitors. I think all of us honor their service.

“We want three things: Thoughtful, appropriate development. We need to focus on the city’s debt, which has grown exponentially over the past decade. And third, we must rebuild the people’s trust with more openness and transparency.”

Meanwhile, Levine was delighted to have fought off his four opponents for the Democratic nomination, something that he said owed much to a grassroots campaign.

“I’m ecstatic, I’m pleased,” he said. “It was all the people who came out to support me, going door to door. I’m so pleased that people listened and understood. It was going from living room to living room and talking in detail, not just about Medicare expansion, raising the minimum wage, but how to do it, going through the details.

“People were willing to open their minds and their hearts and listen, this is a complete grassroots job, and that’s what makes it so beautiful. This is a victory for everyone in the 45th. This wasn’t ordered from up on high; this was from the grass up, and that’s what makes it so wonderful. I didn’t do this alone at all, I didn’t do half of this, all the people that helped me, I really appreciate it.”

The mood early on at Euille’s Election Night party was buoyant and confident, although it quickly turned sour as results began to trickle in. When all 28 precincts’ results were posted, the disappointment was clear on the face of the four-term mayor as he came to the podium to address those present after the second electoral defeat in as many years — in 2014 he lost the Democratic primary for the 8th Virginia District of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I’d like to thank the voters for their confidence in me, and coming out today to express themselves with their votes,” Euille told supporters. “Certainly while the outcome isn’t what we expected, that’s why we have a democratic process.

“The reality of it all is, we worked hard; we ran a very, very excellent campaign, we had a lot of broad-based sup- port, but when you run in an election like this, particularly in a primary where people aren’t focused because there’s so much going on, the outcome in terms of the turnout was going to be very low.”

Donley thanked his supporters at the Alexandria Democratic Committee’s unity party at Red Rocks in Old Town and congratulated Silberberg.

“The great thing about Alexandria is we have a strong Democratic party that also does a good job of governing the city,” Donley said. “It may seem like a family food fight at times, but I’m a guy with five daughters: I’m used to a family food fight.

“We’re the Alexandria Democratic Committee. … The Democratic slate is complete; the Republican slate is complete. Let’s go at it.”

Although poll watchers had anticipated an average turnout of around 8 percent in Virginia’s local and state legislative elections, Alexandria saw around 16 percent of registered voters go out to the polls. Veteran political analyst Geoff Skelley of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said having two competitive races in the city drove the higher than expected figures.

“One of the data points in these primaries is that turnout is law and it’s always going to be low,” Skelley said. “But surely [the Alexandria results] have something to do with the fact that there was a very competitive local election there.

“A general truism of elections is if there’s a competitive race, turnout will be higher. So in the case of Alexandria, the fact that you had two very competitive contests in the Democratic primary made it even higher, comparatively speaking.”

Attendees of Silberberg’s post-election party were clear in their reasons for voting for the vice mayor: they want their neighborhoods insulated from unwanted development. In addition to residents and campaign volunteers, Republican City Council candidates Townsend “Van” Van Fleet and Bob Wood also enjoyed the festivities.

“I think she’s energetic, a hard worker, and someone who wants to get things done for all of the neighborhoods,” said Jean Westcott. “She’s a community person, and she believes in that so strongly.”

Sally Z. Harper said she supported Silberberg because of her stance in opposition to a number of proposals to come before city council over the last three years.

“She’s the only one to vote ‘No’ to anything, and we need more no’s,” Harper said. “Like a 120-room hotel at Union and Duke [streets]? No. Like EYA building retail, apartments, condos and townhouses at the end of Duke Street that look like a prison? No.”

Ken Hill also lauded her willingness to oppose proposals she disagrees with.

“I like what she’s said about city priorities as she has fulfilled her term [as vice mayor],” Hill said. “And I liked her willingness to say, ‘No, damn it; that’s not the right thing to do.’

“I respect the other candidates. I’ve worked on each of their campaigns over the years, but I just thought she was the best qualified one to lead us into the next decade.”

Supporters at Euille’s election night party were enthusiastic about the mayor, emphasizing the continuity he would bring in a fifth consecutive term.

“I judge people very quickly, and Mayor Euille seems like a very genuine, sincere, thoughtful, intelligent person who’s given a lot of his time to the community,” said Robert Giroux, a Euille supporter and campaign volunteer. “Many times I do think that it might be time for a change, especially at the state and federal level, I think the more change the better sometimes. But in this case, continuity I think is important.

“There’s a lot of things in motion right now and there’s stuff that needs to be finished. I don’t think the mayor intends to stay forever, but I think it’s not the right time to leave, I think there’s things to be done and finished that he’s already got in motion and the continuity is probably helpful. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen without him, were it to be the case, but I don’t see a compelling reason to change. He’s doing a good job.”

Despite the loss, Euille was bullish on what he can still accomplish in his remaining months as mayor, even with a general election in November to come and a sign from voters that they would like to see a change.

“I congratulate Allison Silberberg on her win, and certainly I’ll continue to do my job as mayor and do all the great things I’ve been doing with this city as we move forward,” he said. “We’ll just see what happens and where we go from here. I still feel good about how we did tonight. I say stay tuned, and we’ll see what happens from here. I want you to know that it’s not over until it’s over.”

But he did not completely concede the race Tuesday night.

“Not conceding. Not at all,” Euille told reporters. “There are opportunities in terms of what we can do as a team to move forward, and I’ll talk to my campaign advisors and we’ll decide in the coming days how to do that.”

But on Wednesday, Euille said he will not mount his own write-in campaign for November’s general election at this stage, in the interests of maintaining Democratic party unity. However, he noted that he could not prevent any campaigns mounted by residents in his favor. He also said he would meet with his campaign staff over the weekend to determine what other steps are available to him going forward.

Silberberg told reporters she wants to bring more residents into the process ahead of policy and development votes.

“We need to represent all the people of this city,” she said. “People have lived in their homes for decades, and they come out to speak [at city council], and we need to listen. And we need to rebuild the people’s trust and have fewer executive sessions.”

Silberberg was coy about what the first order of business would be if elected in November.

“Top priority? I’ve got many top priorities,” she said. “We need to address the city’s debt, for one. I’m just very excited.”

But she also said her victory still felt somewhat surreal.

“Has it sunk in yet? A little bit. But not completely, no.”

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