By Duncan Agnew | [email protected]
City council is back in session after the summer recess with a full slate of issues and a number of council members planning to tackle significant docket items before a new council is inaugurated in January.
Mayor Allison Silberberg, who is entering the last four months of her term after losing to Vice Mayor Justin Wilson in the Democratic Primary in June, said she remains focused on passing legislation and doing what she can to fulfill her promises to city residents.
The city is also primed to elect an almost entirely new city council in November, with incumbents Paul Smedberg and Willie Bailey losing their seats to newcomers in the primary and fellow incumbent Tim Lovain retiring. Despite the impending turnover, Silberberg and Wilson said a busy council schedule is ahead.
One of the key issues Silberberg hopes to address before leaving office is ethics reform, one of the first issues she pursued as mayor in early 2016.
“We will have a docket item on ethics set for the fall,” Silberberg said. “While the Commonwealth of Virginia has its own fairly lax standards regarding ethics, I continue to believe that we should set our own high bar and continue to reach and push forward.”
Wilson is more focused on redevelopment efforts and land-use measures that will come before council in coming months. He said he anticipates working alongside the Howard Hughes Corporation as the city begins its Landmark Mall re-planning project. On top of that, he said council is preparing to address contentious land-use matters, including a decision on whether lights should be added to T.C. Williams’ Parker-Gray Stadium.
“We also have some very controversial land-use items coming forward — the potential of improvement of the athletic stadium at T.C. Williams and the discussion of whether lights are going to be part of that revision of that stadium, so that’ll be part of the conversation this fall,” Wilson said.
Silberberg said transparency and respect should be top priorities for all city officials. She said in a climate where incivility has grown rampant on the national level, council has an opportunity to set a higher standard for Alexandria.
Silberberg also said she’s excited to discuss other important items such as overcrowding at T.C. Williams and construction of the Potomac Yard Metro. The removal of the southern entrance at the planned Metro station sparked fireworks in the midst of the primary in May.
“I have been pushing for us to reinstate the southern entrance, and I will continue to speak out for that,” Silberberg said.
She also emphasized her focus on advocating for the desires of existing communities and neighbors when it comes to development in Alexandria.
“We need to ensure that we take into account the impact on the quality of life of the neighbors,” Silberberg said. “We have to think about the quality of life for others as developers create these projects.”
When reflecting on her time as mayor so far, Silberberg said she wants to leave behind a legacy of hard work, proactivity and a willingness to both hear and act on the concerns of local citizens.
“I’ve really pushed for residents to come forward and speak out and to be more engaged, and I think they have been, and that’s exciting,” Silberberg said. “… This has been a term where we got things done. We got so much done that was just either neglected or allowed to fester, and we’ve been very proactive.”
On the other hand, as Wilson looks ahead to what he hopes to accomplish as mayor, he said his long-term goals revolve around the three pillars of his campaign — economic growth, working to combat the achievement gap in Alexandria schools to provide every child the means to be successful, and improving the city’s basic infrastructure.
“Those will be areas that I’ll certainly be talking about over the next three years and working with my colleagues on the next council to make some significant progress,” Wilson said.
Members of council will be pursuing their own agendas during the remainder of 2018. Lovain, for instance, said one of his major focuses would be searching for ways to fund the city’s increased spending. As the city faces increasing expenditures relating to education and affordable housing, Lovain said council must have significant discussions about how to pay for such changes.
“If we’re going to be talking about spending increases, we should be talking about how to pay for them and not just slewing that off to staff, which sometimes council members try to do,” Lovain said.
As he thought back on his time serving Alexandria, Lovain said he’s proud to have fought for pertinent issues like education, smart growth and efficient transportation in the city. However, he pointed out the challenge the incoming council will have of finding new members to address transportation concerns. Lovain and Smedberg, who will both be leaving city council at the end of the year, fill all but one of the council positions on local transportation boards.
“One of the challenges for this new council will be which member or members will step up and take a leading role on transportation,” Lovain said.
Perhaps Councilor John Chapman, who tallied the second most votes in June’s primary behind first-time candidate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, will embrace that leading role. Chapman said questions regarding how to decrease congestion on the roads while maintaining affordable, efficient transportation alternatives will be essential problems to solve both now and over the next several years.
“One of the issues we’ve been discussing is how do we take care of and really get traffic moving on our main corridors?” Chapman said “… It’s something I want to tackle with this group and hopefully tackle with the next council.”
Chapman also identified high school capacity, city services for youth and families and business development as crucial items for council to address moving forward.
Ultimately, even as a large transition looms on council, outgoing members are more committed to finishing the job than ever before.
“I’ve certainly been incredibly honored to serve as mayor, and I will serve right until the end of the year,” Silberberg said. “And I will run right through the tape.”