While there are many fascinating angles to this year’s local election, one stands out: The contest was a resounding show of strength by the local Democratic Party. Correspondingly, it was an indication of just how weak the city’s Republican Party has become.
As most city voters know, Democrats captured the mayoral race and all six council seats. Mayor-elect Allison Silberberg campaigned and won on a platform of inclusion and good governance. That message clearly resonated with Alexandria voters. Her margin of victory over write-in candidate and incumbent Mayor Bill Euille, of 63 percent to 37 percent, signifies considerable support for those issues — as well as a desire for change in the mayor’s chair. City voters should expect rapid follow up by Silberberg, and support from other city councilors for the ethics committee she has promised.
Despite Silberberg’s convincing victory, this can hardly be viewed as a change election, since all five Democratic incumbents plus newcomer Willie Bailey won council seats. Many Alexandrians are puzzling over the seeming dichotomy between the mayoral and council results, given that several Republican candidates echoed her sentiment about development and the city’s debt.
We believe one factor in the result is that the local Republican Party did not give its members much reason to go to the polls. They had no mayoral candidate to support, as Silberberg was unopposed on the ballot. In addition, all four Republican candidates — Bob Wood, Monique Miles, Townsend Van Fleet and Fernando Torrez — had limited support beyond Old Town. Wood and Van Fleet were closely tied to the waterfront redevelopment issue, while Miles and Torrez were little known citywide. Their businesses are both located in Old Town.
The result of Republicans fielding an incomplete slate that lacked citywide support is that voter turnout, which at 32 percent was considerably higher than other recent local-only Alexandria elections, skewed heavily toward Democratic voters. Those Democratic voters, who turned out because of the hotly contested mayoral race, lifted the entire Democratic ticket.
A look back shows that Republicans can be competitive in Alexandria when they field strong, full slates. In 2000, Kerry Donley defeated Independent Bob Peavey (and just-convicted murderer Charles Severance, who ran as an Independent) in the mayoral contest. That year, Republicans fielded a strong team for city council, led by long-time City Councilor Bill Cleveland and former school board member Claire Eberwein, both of whom won slots. In fact, Cleveland was council’s leading vote getter and served as vice mayor, while a third Republican, Judy McVay, was only a few hundred votes away from earning her party a 3-3 split.
In 2003, Cleveland battled Euille and Van Fleet, who ran as an Independent, for mayor and narrowly lost. Republicans failed to take a seat on council that year, as Eberwein’s stance on changes to Lee Street Park cost her support in Old Town, often the only neighborhood to vote Republican. Since 2003, Alexandrians have elected Republicans Frank Fannon and Alicia Hughes to council but have not fielded a mayoral candidate.
Which brings us to 2015. Hearty congratulations are due to Silberberg in particular for defeating a sitting mayor twice in one election cycle, and also to the city’s six Democratic city council candidates. The Democratic Party put forth a strong slate of accomplished Alexandrians, and they ran the table. Next time, if Republicans want to be a part of the game, they need to go all in.