Our View: June madness

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Voters chose Vice Mayor Justin Wilson over incumbent Mayor Allison Silberberg at the June 12 Democratic Primary (Illustration by Aleksandra Kochurova)
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We suspect few Alexandrians expected this particular collection of seven candidates to emerge victorious from the Democratic primary held Tuesday. The results, in total, were both unanticipated and a bit schizophrenic.

The mayoral race appeared close throughout the campaign, and it was tight on election night as well. Incumbent Mayor Allison Silberberg jumped out to an early lead as results from the first precincts came in, but shortly before the mid-point of reporting, Vice Mayor Justin Wilson edged into a lead he never relinquished.

Silberberg prevailed in a majority of Alexandria’s 29 precincts, capturing 15 to Wilson’s 14. But Wilson gained large vote margins from the Mt. Vernon Recreation Center and George Washington Middle School precincts, which yielded heavy turnout. He won both precincts by a total of 1,067 votes. This provided the majority of his 1,222-vote margin of victory.

It would be tempting to label this result an example of the establishment prevailing, as Wilson was the candidate of the Democratic establishment, even though he wasn’t the incumbent mayor. Except that three other establishment candidates – incumbents Paul Smedberg and Willie Bailey and challenger Dak Hardwick – all lost.

It’s also tempting to label this result a “year of the woman” moment, as all three women who ran for council – incumbent Del Pepper and newcomers Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Amy Jackson – won. Except that the woman at the top, Silberberg, lost.

Diversity seemed to carry the night. In addition to the three women, Wilson will be joined on the ballot in November by three men: an African American man, a Sudanese immigrant and the son of Mexican immigrants.

This is a diverse group.

Two other trends stand out from these results. The first, that it’s difficult to view this vote as anything but an anti-Old Town expression. Council’s only incumbent who lives in Old Town, Smedberg, came in 10th of the 12 candidates, while the three challengers who live in Old Town – Matt Feely, Robert Ray and Chris Hubbard – all lost.

In addition, Silberberg, though she lives in Parkfairfax, is closely linked to Old Town. Alexandria’s Old and Historic District provided her largest margin of votes, as she carried the City Hall and Lyles-Crouch precincts by a total of 517 votes.

This split between Old Town and the rest of the city bears further analysis and discussion. It’s bad for Alexandria for those who live in the city’s historic district to be at odds with those who don’t; it also begs the question of why we don’t have wards in Alexandria to ensure that all sections of town have representation on council.

The second unmistakable trend of this election is that it was a generational shift from Baby Boomers to Millennials. Our boomer mayor, and boomer councilors Bailey and Smedberg lost, while the primary winners are all in their 30s except for Jackson, who is 47, and Pepper, our ageless councilor.

In fact, the youngest person running, Bennett-Parker, at 32, would be vice mayor-elect if this were the general election rather than the primary.

Her 13,643 votes were almost 2,000 more than Chapman gained in the council race, and 2,400 more than Wilson tallied in the mayoral contest.

Congratulations are due to Wilson, Bennett-Parker, Chapman, Seifeldein, Aguirre, Pepper and Jackson, who all advance to represent the Democratic Party in the general election this November. Thanks go out to all who lost on Tuesday, particularly to incumbents Silberberg, Smedberg and Bailey.

And now we have the worst effect of moving the local elections from spring to fall in a one-party town: our mayor and three incumbent council members will serve almost seven more months as lame ducks.

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