By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Incumbent Mayor Allison Silberberg announced in early January she will run for reelection this year to continue fighting for a “livable Alexandria.”
Civic engagement has been the backbone of Silberberg’s leadership since she was sworn in as mayor in January 2016.
“My biggest strength is that I care deeply about our beloved historic city and the people here,” Silberberg said.“I seek advice from people I know and don’t know and listen very carefully … I want us to continue to expand meaningful citizen participation and continue to fight for that.”
In the city’s charter, Alexandria’s mayor is classified as a part-time position, but for Silberberg the role is well more than full time. She said she dedicates her time to researching the issues that council addresses, meeting with key players within and beyond Alexandria and attending events throughout the city.
“I represent the city in an official capacity at a number of things, whether it’s here in the city, or on the Hill, or in Richmond, and it’s very meaningful to serve,” Silberberg said. “We’re a city that’s very blessed in countless ways, and I’m committed to making it even greater and tackling issues to get things done.”
Reflecting on her two years in office, Silberberg cited several areas where the city moved forward of which she is particularly proud, such as increasing the city’s budget for schools, acquiring the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House, accelerating renovations of various parks and making progress on environmental and infrastructure issues.
“It’s unbelievable how much we’ve tackled in two short years,” she said.
Silberberg said her accomplishments as mayor include initiating and drafting the council’s statement on inclusiveness, sparking the conversation on ethics reform, establishing a senior advocacy round table and instituting a clergy council.
Silberberg drafted the statement on inclusiveness, which all of her council colleagues also signed, after the divisive 2016 presidential election. It declares Alexandria a hate-free zone, “committed to diversity and to fostering an atmosphere of inclusiveness.” It was brought up often after the incident last May when a Georgetown professor confronted alt-right leader Richard Spencer in an Old Town gym.
The senior advocacy round table is a collaboration of nonprofit foundations, the commission on aging and city staff to help meet seniors’ needs.
Silberberg said she established the clergy council to create a network of faith leaders throughout the city who could come together to strengthen the community in good times and support it in tragedy. She said the group helped her respond to the shooting at Simpson Field in June and the riots in Charlottesville in August.
“If anything happens in our city or in the country, when we come together, we already know each other, or we’re a phone call away, whereas you can’t build something overnight if, God forbid, something happens,” Silberberg said.
Ethics reform was one of the first topics Silberberg addressed after taking office in 2016.
“A big part of it was to have a community discussion about how we promote an ethical culture,” said George Foote, chair of the Ad Hoc Code of Conduct Review Committee.
“I think there was an appreciation around the city hall, around the community, that we had our elected officials paying attention to how to be better at what they do and not just they only strictly comply with the law,” he said.
Silberberg’s initial plan was to institute an ethics commission for citizens to go to should they have concerns about the ethics of elected officials. Eventually, Foote said council adopted a less ambitious code of ethics that had been “watered down” by Silberberg’s now opponent for mayor Vice Mayor Justin Wilson.
Wilson announced his run for mayor in early November. His decision to challenge Silberberg did not come as a surprise to many, as the two have disagreed on a number of issues since they stepped into their roles as mayor and vice mayor in 2016.
Silberberg and Wilson have held opposing stances on a number of issues, including ethics reform, a 5.7-cent real estate tax increase, the proposed Old Town business improvement district and parking standards.
“I have at times taken a different position than some of my colleagues, whether it was the recent vote regarding the development proposal at Seminary Hill … or the parking issue,” Silberberg said, referring to two recent 6-1 council votes, the first on the Karig Estates development and the second to reduce parking requirements throughout the city. Silberberg was the lone dissenting vote in both instances, as she has been on numerous issues since coming into office.
Foote said he was proud of Silberberg voting in the minority.
“The series of 6-1 votes, here’s how it may be cast: someone might say, ‘Well gosh, there’s somebody who can’t get along.’ It’s quite the opposite. That’s somebody who is voting the way people in the community want her to vote,” Foote said. “She’s speaking up for, in some cases, individuals against government.”
“When we elected Allison, we elected somebody different,” he said. “People came out in droves to vote for her to do something different. Her votes have been entirely consistent with that … Even though [sometimes] she’s lost on the dais, my view all along is that she’s voting very consistently with what our community wants.”
Despite often disagreeing with colleagues, Silberberg said she tries to set a tone of civility on the dais and to be careful and measured in her remarks.
State Sen. Adam Ebbin said in the campaign, he will look to see both Silberberg and Wilson address consensus on council.
“I think for any elected official, particularly an executive, it is great to build that consensus with colleagues. You may not get them where you want to be, but you could get more out of it,” Ebbin said.
“I don’t think it’s important to have unanimity,” he said, “but they can … talk to colleagues about their priorities and see what they can do for each other to implement conservations that are not at direct odds with each other.”
If reelected, Silberberg said she plans to focus on a range of issues, including solving the ongoing combined sewer outfall problems, reestablishing the open space fund that was eliminated in 2013, diversifying Alexandria’s economy to reduce reliance on federal spending and continuing to fight for a “livable Alexandria.” “It’s going to be an exciting race,” Ebbin said. “At a certain level, it can be a healthy dialogue for the city, and I hope that is what it turns out to be.”
Silberberg’s reelection campaign kick off event will take place Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. at Los Tios Grill in Del Ray.
“I think people can see that my heart is committed to doing everything I can for the citizenry whether they’re young children or elderly or everyone in between,” Silberberg said. “I ask for everyone’s support and, as always, I welcome input from all – I not just welcome it, I ask for it.”