My View: Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should


By Denise Dunbar (File photo)

The Times was able to confirm last week that supporters of Mayor Bill Euille are indeed organizing a write-in campaign for the November election. In case anyone missed it, a three-way campaign for the Democratic nomination for mayor was waged this spring between incumbent Euille, Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg and former mayor Kerry Donley.

In something of a surprise result, Silberberg emerged victorious June 9. Donley graciously conceded and congratulated Silberberg, while Euille offered congratulations but declined to concede. A few days later, the mayor did sign a Democratic unity pledge engineered by party leader Clarence Tong.

Previously, all three primary candidates had signed a Virginia Department of Elections certificate of candidacy that states if they participate in a primary for one party and lose, their name may not be printed on the ballot in the same race. In addition, Alexandria Democratic Committee bylaws prohibit members from opposing nominated Democratic candidates. Doing so could cause their removal from the party.

A handful of Euille supporters apparently decided these bylaws do not apply to the mayor, and ignored both the unity statement and the intent, if not the letter, of the candidacy certificate.

I think these friends have done the mayor no favor. By telling him what anyone would want to hear — that he has a reasonable chance of winning — they have put Euille in a difficult position. He must choose between breaking with the party that has elevated him to Alexandria’s highest elected position and telling his friends to stop the campaign. The first path is not honorable, but tempting.

This begs the question: Does integrity matter anymore in politics?

Americans clearly are disillusioned with our national politicians. Both sides in Washington seem to follow a scorched earth, win-at-all-costs approach on almost every issue. I like to think our comportment in Alexandria is better than that.

The mayor and his supporters probably expected to win the primary. But does not getting the outcome you wanted justify turning your back on people who supported you at least partly because of your party affiliation? Do party bylaws matter only if you win, only to be cast aside if they prove inconvenient?

Running a write-in campaign after losing your party’s nomination is a bit like a child who plays “rock, paper, scissors” and after losing shouts, “Best two out of three.”

In the business world, the bylaws are analogous a noncompete contract. Violators are normally hauled into court. In the political realm, candidates usually support nominees of their own party. Occasionally they don’t. Sometimes, but rarely, write-in candidates win.

I’ve heard two main justifications from Euille backers for a write-in campaign. The first is that because the primary results were close, and Euille and Donley take a similar approach to development, Euille is justified in continuing to campaign because only a bit over 37 percent of Alexandrians supported Silberberg. This is very convoluted logic.

A more realistic way to view it is that there was widespread desire for change in the mayor’s seat, which is why two capable, accomplished challengers tossed their hats into the ring. They split the “change” vote, and between them garnered 65 percent of the votes cast.

The second rationale given for a write-in campaign is the notion that Silberberg’s victory is tainted because she received some primary votes from Republicans. This false concern for Democratic purity is even more bizarre, since waging a write-in campaign would split Alexandria’s Democratic Party and would ask local Democrats to turn their back on their party’s legally nominated candidate.

These friends of Euille have conveniently forgotten the long tradition in Northern Virginia of Republicans supporting Democratic candidates in order to have a voice in this largely one-party region. In the last 14 years alone:

  • U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, in his 2001 gubernatorial campaign, was supported by a group of Northern Virginia Republican business leaders. Warner’s 2014 re-election campaign issued a list of 16 endorsements from Republicans, including former U.S. Sen. John Warner.
  • “Republicans for Obama” was active during Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and many area Republicans voted for him in the 2008 Democratic primary.
  • First-term U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8) was supported by many Alexandria Republicans in last year’s Democratic primary. As far back as 1993, “Republicans for Beyer” helped the then-lieutenant governor win re-election in a year when Republicans swept the governor’s and attorney general posts.

This is not about Republican votes, but about a team that doesn’t want to accept that it lost. And so team members gaze longingly at the apple and the promise, perhaps false and perhaps not, that if they partake of what’s forbidden they can still get what they want.

There’s a devil on one shoulder saying, “Do what’s expedient,” and an angel on the other saying, “Do what’s right.” Which is it going to be?

The writer is the publisher of the Alexandria Times.