By Alexa Epitropoulos and Missy Schrott
Change was the story of Tuesday night’s Democratic primary.
Vice Mayor Justin Wilson unseated incumbent Allison Silberberg when he won the Democratic Party’s nomination for mayor. After a hotly contested campaign, the vote tallies were neck-and-neck for most of the evening as results from Alexandria’s 29 precincts rolled in over the course of more than two hours. Wilson ultimately defeated Silberberg 52.91 percent to 47.09 percent.
As with the mayoral race, Alexandria voters ushered in significant change in the contest for city council, as four new Democrats will be on the ballot this fall along with incumbents Del Pepper and John Chapman. Though there were two vacancies on council following Wilson’s decision to seek the mayoral seat and the retirement of councilor Tim Lovain, voters turned over two more seats when they declined to re-nominate incumbents Willie Bailey and Paul Smedberg.
The leading vote-getter was Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, the youngest candidate in the race at age 32, who tallied 13.30 percent of votes cast and would have emerged as vice mayor if this were the general election. Chapman was second with 11.67 percent, newcomer Mo Seifeldein was third with 9.08 percent, Canek Aguirre finished fourth with 8.67 percent, Pepper was fifth with 8.63 percent and Amy Jackson came in sixth with 8.53 percent.
While the evening started out relatively quiet at Wilson’s results party at Pork Barrel BBQ in Del Ray, the crowd grew as the night went on and the cheers became gradually louder with each precinct Wilson won.
“If you’re looking for crowds, this is the place to be,” the restaurant’s owner, Bill Blackburn, told a patron as he entered the restaurant around 7 p.m.
“As the results come out, I think a lot of people will come here,” he said, “or possibly down the street, because every[one] wants to be with the new mayor. It’ll be interesting. There’s been a lot of build-up to this.”
Silberberg’s party took place a few blocks up Mount Vernon Avenue at Los Tios Grill.
The first few precincts went to Silberberg, setting the stage for a tight race. Silberberg and those who gathered at the party were optimistic as election results began to roll in at 7:30 p.m.
“I’m grateful for the support all across our city,” Silberberg said early in the evening. “We await the results together. I’m proud of my record. Under my leadership, we’ve moved forward on a number of issues and I’m honored to serve.”
Party attendees said they supported her for her stances on livability, development and environmental issues.
Michael Cox said he supported her, in part, because of her 6-1 votes and her steps to include people.
“She includes people who wouldn’t normally be included,” Cox said. “If you include people, you can’t go wrong.”
Mario Velasquez, who lives in Old Town, said he supported her, in part, because of her opposition to the Waterfront Plan.
“The reason we live in Alexandria is we want to be in a livable city,” Velasquez said. “We want a mayor who is accessible to residents, not developers.”
By the time about a third of the votes had been reported, the two were separated by single digits – Silberberg leading by 10 votes one moment and Wilson leading by seven a few minutes later.
Throughout the evening, Wilson’s supporters were excited to talk about his accomplishments, citing his stances on schools, economic development, the environment and affordable housing as reasons they supported him.
“I like Justin because, particularly in today’s gridlocked climate of government at all levels, I want someone in my local government who will get things done, and I think he’s the best candidate for that,” Kate Campbell Deglans said.
Susan and Bob Kapsis said they supported Wilson because they had grandkids in Alexandria City Public Schools and supported his vision for school progress.
After helping work the polls, they came to Pork Barrel to watch results come in with their kids who live in Del Ray.
“It’s a family thing,” Susan Kapsis said. “We’re all for Justin, and we all wanted to be here together to hear the results, and we’re very excited.”
Bob Kapsis said most of the people he came across at the polls knew who they wanted to vote for upon arriving.
“I think it’s great that so many people turned out [to vote],” Blackburn said. “I think that it exceeded the expectations of what was expected in terms of number of voters.”
The final results, which were posted around 9:10 p.m., revealed that Wilson had won by about 1,000 votes, securing the support of 11,442 of the 21,818 Alexandrians who turned out to vote in the Democratic primary. In 2015, just 13,493 people voted in the Democratic primary.
Silberberg called Wilson to congratulate him on the victory shortly after 9:10 p.m. She addressed her supporters at Los Tios after making the call.
“I’m very proud. Serving as your mayor has been the greatest honor,” Silberberg said to the crowd. “I wish Vice Mayor Wilson all the best. It’s all about what’s in the best interest of our city. I’m very proud we’ve gotten many things done that have been neglected.”
Silberberg thanked those who volunteered for her campaign and said she would continue to push forward on transparency reform. She said she would return to public service, eventually.
“I encourage all of you to stay engaged and involved,” Silberberg said later in her speech. “Tomorrow we will continue the good fight.”
Wilson made an appearance at his party around 9:30. He was greeted by camera flashes, chanting crowds, handshakes and high fives from his supporters.
“Thank you, Alexandria!” Wilson shouted.
When he began his victory speech, he immediately commended the efforts of his opponent.
“A few minutes ago, I had the opportunity to talk to the mayor, Allison Silberberg,” Wilson said. “She was extremely gracious, and offered her congratulations for this great victory tonight. Now we clearly had very real differences in this race, differences on important issues before our community. I never doubted Allison’s commitment for our city, and we will work together over the next several months to make sure we have a good transition and make sure we all serve Alexandria better.”
In his speech, Wilson thanked his family, campaign team, supporters and fellow city leaders.
“We were fortunate to have the support of so many elected officials and civic leaders who have served this community for so long, and I’m so grateful to all of them for their support and their leadership, but more importantly, the legacy of leadership that I am now able to inherit,” Wilson said.
Former Mayor Bill Euille was in attendance, and said he felt vindicated from the results of the last primary, when he lost to Mayor Allison Silberberg by about 300 votes.
“I’m very pleased and proud,” Euille said. “I supported Justin out of the gate and we worked hard together and collaborated and communicated and I gave him pointers and advice. I told him day one he could win this.”
Wilson also gave shout outs to the incumbent councilors Smedberg and Bailey, who had lost their re-election bids.
Councilor Tim Lovain made an appearance at the party to celebrate with Wilson. Lovain, along with several other party attendees, said he was surprised by the council nominations.
“I knew that the mayor race would be close, but I thought that Justin would be a slight favorite, and that’s the way it turned out,” Lovain said. “But on the council side, wow. I think it’s really sad that Paul Smedberg and Willie Bailey lost, because they’re both very good people.”
“I just wish all the winners all the best, and hope those that didn’t win don’t feel too badly,” he said. “I’ve been both a winner and a loser, so I know how it feels.”
Bennett-Parker swept the council race, winning the majority of the votes in 23 precincts.
“I’m proud of the campaign we ran and owe a lot of credit to my incredible team. I’m humbled by the support of Alexandrians and look forward to discussing ways to serve our city as we move towards November,” Bennett-Parker said in a statement.
Chapman led in four precincts, and Mo Seifeldein and Matt Feely each won one precinct.
“Alexandrians have nominated six great folks tonight,” Wilson told his supporters. “Obviously we have an election, and we need to make sure those six Democrats win and will serve on the next city council, and we’re going to work together as a team for our community.”
Attendees at both parties were hopeful about the number of new Democratic nominees for city council.
“I’m really happy to see new people on city council,” Boyd Walker, a Silberberg supporter, said. “There’s some diversity, and hopefully there will be diversity of opinion with that.”
McArthur Myers, a Wilson supporter, said the new council, if elected in November, will represent a diversity of neighborhoods – and perspectives.
“The wind of change has come to the city,” he said. “The city is representative of so many diversities of people. And now [city council] has a cross section, and it represents the population of the city.”
Mae Hunt contributed to this report.