By David G. Speck, former city councilor (File photo)
To the editor:
Last month I celebrated my 70th birthday. I have spent my entire life living, working and serving in Alexandria, and I can never fully express how much I care about this community without sounding corny. From that perspective and with some trepidation, I write regarding the decision facing Alexandria voters next week.
I supported former Mayor Kerry Donley in the Democratic primary. He lost, but I respect the process. That’s life — and that’s politics. Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg received more votes than either of her opponents, and the griping that some of her voters may have been Republicans is just that: griping. It was an open primary and she won.
But I am also a big believer in competitive elections, and I abhor elections by default. I wish that the city’s Republican Party had nominated a candidate for mayor or that an Independent candidate had run. Until now, I have neither supported nor opposed Mayor Bill Euille’s write-in effort, but the griping that he has no right to mount such a campaign because lost the primary is just that: griping. He has chosen to run because he believes that his vision and ideas are better than Silberberg’s. Voters now have a choice. That’s good politics.
Some people like to frame election choices as “good versus evil.” This election is anything but that. Two serious, caring public servants with different skills and visions for Alexandria both want your vote. I have decided to support Euille and to write in his name on the ballot, and I encourage others to do the same. Three important considerations led me to this decision.
First and most important is municipal finance. This may seem harsh, but any candidates for public office who focus their campaign on the supposed danger of Alexandria’s current debt, in my opinion, disqualify themselves from serving. Alexandria is not even remotely in fiscal danger because of debt, and when current or aspiring office holders throw out numbers without context, they are either deliberately misstating the facts or woefully uninformed. Arguing about how the city is managed is always going to be part of political debate, but let’s argue about the right things.
What we spend our capital on is fair game, from new schools and parks to fire stations and recreation centers. Those should be questioned because capital projects obligate the taxpayers well into the future, but by any measure — independent bond rating services, comparison to other jurisdictions or the proportionality of debt to the city’s overall finances — Alexandria has been conservative and well-managed.
My second concern is Silberberg’s unwillingness to engage in a general election debate. If she believes that her vision and ideas are the correct ones for the city’s future, then she should not be afraid to present them and defend them in public and under challenge. Silberberg became the Democratic nominee for mayor with 37 percent of the primary voters, or about 3 percent of the city’s population. If she succeeds in the general election, then she would enhance her credibility by going out and earning it.
Finally, I watched a recent city council meeting where the vice mayor proposed a change in the disclosure requirements for elected officials. Her explanation was confusing, imprecise, lacked consultation with any colleagues, and sounded like a solution in search of a problem. This is an embarrassing, but recurring pattern throughout her time on city council. Being the lone dissenter in 6-1 votes may make you a hero to some people, but you become an outlier to most. This is not leadership. Leadership is persuading others to join you. That has not been Silberberg’s modus operandi on council and is a disturbing signal for the next three years if she is elected.
I know some will agree with my decision and some will not, but this was not an obvious choice. These issues were crucial in my decision to support Euille, with whom I served on city council for a number of years. The city’s progress has not been without some bumps, but there is no question that we are thriving and prospering.
But there are some warning signs about the city’s continued financial sustainability and they are not going to be resolved by wishing for it. While the city has made real progress in recent years, Euille may suffer from so-called voter fatigue after 12 years in office. But if Euille is re-elected next month, here are a couple ways to fix that.
The job of mayor is a part-time public service. It is not a career. Come to meetings on time and stay for the duration. And don’t read speeches written by others: Talk from the heart, and keep it short.
Simply stated, just do your job. That’s all I — and the voters — ask because, on the substantive issues facing Alexandria, you’ve done well. The stakes are too high not to have an experienced, steady hand at the wheel, and that is why I will write in Mayor Bill Euille on November 3.