Last weekend, Mayor Bill Euille chaired the final city council hearing of his term. He will relinquish his post on January 4, 2016, following his losses to Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg in the June Democratic primary and again in the November general election after he ran as a write-in candidate.
As this phase of Euille’s life draws to a close, it affords Alexandrians an opportunity to reflect on his many accomplishments.
In many ways, Euille’s life is the quintessential “local boy makes good” tale. Born and raised in Alexandria, he returned home after college, got a job in the private sector, started his own business and entered public life. He served on the school board, city council and was eventually elected mayor, a post he has held for 12 years.
But Euille’s story is more layered and complex than that. Raised by a single mother, he grew up in public housing. He was part of the second graduating class of T.C. Williams High School and experienced the tumult of racial integration there.
He watched on TV in 1963 as a teenager when Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech and wrote eloquently about that experience in these pages two years ago. Euille was a keynote speaker at his high school graduation in 1968, two months after King’s assassination, and used the opportunity to reflect on the life and words of the slain civil rights leader.
Euille’s election as mayor in 2003 held special significance: he was the first black mayor in the history of the former Confederate-sympathizing city. He has set an example for the city’s children, particularly minorities, in both the office he attained and the man he became. A generation of young people now see what they can become if they dream big.
Euille has a long list of accomplishments from his 30 years of public service. A number of capital improvement projects have been enacted during his term as mayor, including the rebuilding of T.C. Williams and Jefferson-Houston School, the new police headquarters on Wheeler Avenue and a new fire station in the Eisenhower Valley.
Despite a continued decline in the city’s affordable housing supply, Euille has made the issue — “housing affordability” as he calls it — a priority. He has taken creative approaches to developing new affordable housing units, such as building apartment atop a fire station at Potomac Yard.
The mayor has also supported many nonprofits, with both his time and money, including Hopkins House, the local Boys and Girls Club, the American Heart Association, ACT for Alexandria, NOVA Urban League, INOVA Alexandria hospital and the United Way.
Yes, there have been controversies along the way. The BRAC 133 relocation to the Mark Center, which occurred during Euille’s tenure as mayor, was widely viewed as a negative for the city. Controversy over redevelopment of Alexandria’s waterfront has yet to abate, and it has included the perception that the mayor is too close to builders who stand to profit from development. Euille also came under fire for threatening the use of eminent domain in the city’s ongoing battle with the Old Dominion Boat Club.
But as we look back on Euille’s time in public office, the body of his work is overwhelmingly positive. All Alexandrians owe the outgoing mayor a debt of gratitude for not just his accomplishments, but also his love for our wonderful city. We wish him well in the next phase of his life.