Letter to the Editor: Sierra Club endorsement tainted by donations

Letter to the Editor: Sierra Club endorsement tainted by donations

To the editor:

When I learned the local chapter of the Sierra Club had endorsed Justin Wilson in Alexandria’s mayoral contest, I thought it was a hoax. A statement, issued by the chapter, reads: “We highly value your dedication to the protection of the natural resources of Alexandria, and we are confident that you will safeguard the quality of the land, water, and air.”

Given Wilson’s voting record on environmental matters, it is impossible to imagine why the chapter would think that he would safeguard Alexandria’s environment. He led the charge to eliminate dedicated funding for the Open Space Fund in 2013. His vote on the Karig Estates is an affront to environmentalists, including the Sierra Club, which lobbied council against the project so that the wetland, stream and fragile woodland on the property would be protected. Wilson voted for the development, ignoring the Sierra Club and the environmental regulations.

In contrast, Mayor Allison Silberberg was the only vote to keep the dedicated funding for the Open Space Fund in 2013, and, if re-elected, she will work to reinstate it. Wilson is against reinstating it. She was the lone vote in supporting the position of the Sierra Club and voted against the Karig Estates proposal.

Silberberg fought for our city to protect our waterways, finally addressing the flow of sewage into the Potomac, an issue that was neglected for more than 20 years. Others sat on this problem; she worked toward a resolution of this unacceptable water pollution.

Dean Naujoks of The Potomac Riverkeeper Network has thanked Silberberg for her critical leadership on this issue. As a Climate Mayor, Silberberg has pushed our city to commit to work toward 100 percent renewable energy. No mayor in my memory has done more for our environment than Silberberg. The differences between her and her opponent regarding the environment are enormous and clear as day.

Like me, you might wonder why a group of local “environmentalists” representing the Sierra Club would endorse the anti-environment candidate over the pro-environment incumbent mayor.

The answer may lie in recent campaign finance disclosures that are a matter of public record. These disclosures show contributions to Wilson by members of the local Sierra Club chapter’s board leadership: Pat Soriano, the political co-chair, and Seth Heald, the legislative chair. Both played major roles in the endorsement process. Both had given to Wilson’s campaign long before they sent questionnaires to the candidates or interviewed them. Their donations should have precluded the local Sierra Club from endorsing any candidate. Their actions show a complete lack of integrity.

I wonder if the general membership of the local chapter is aware of this obvious conflict of interest and breach of ethics. I would think its members would be very troubled by the fact that their leadership has undermined the credibility of the brand of one of the country’s most influential environmental groups by tainting a process that should have been based solely upon environmental records.

Those of us who really care about the environment in Alexandria – and who have been paying attention – should vote to re-elect Silberberg on June 12.

-Ernest J. Lehmann, sustaining member of the Sierra Club