Our View: Allison Silberberg’s legacy as mayor

Photo Credit: Missy Schrott

When Allison Silberberg was sworn in as Alexandria’s new mayor in January 2016, it was the culmination of a whirlwind three years.

In her first run for office back in 2012, she garnered the most votes of any candidate and became vice mayor. In 2015, she, along with former mayor Kerry Donley, challenged incumbent mayor Bill Euille in the Democratic primary. Silberberg narrowly won that three-way, heavyweight fight, then easily beat Euille, who waged a write-in campaign, in the general election that November to become mayor.

Silberberg remained true to her campaign themes while mayor, though some of them were more successfully implemented than others. In her first week in office, she put forward a plan for ethics reform, which had been a major campaign promise. While council did pass an ethics reform that spring, it was a watered down, mostly toothless, version of her original proposal.

Another of her campaign themes was environmental protection, and, again, while the effort was there, the results were mixed. She made increasing Alexandria’s tree canopy a priority, and helped promote multiple tree-planting efforts around the city. She was the lone council member to vote against the Karig Estates development behind the Beth El Hebrew Congregation on Seminary Road after environmentalists said it endangered an ancient stand of trees and wetlands. That development project is now embroiled in a lawsuit.

Her most significant policy achievement, in which she played a major role, may have been negotiations with the state government on the combined sewer outfalls. While the city initially planned to address only three of the four outfalls, Silberberg advocated for dealing with all four, which the state later required. She also helped negotiate with then Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) and state legislators on the legislation and for state funding for the project.

Numerous other initiatives came to fruition during her term, and she played a role in most of them, including the Amazon HQ2 relocation and new Virginia Tech Innovation Campus announced last month.

Her emphasis has been on community, and no Alexandria mayor in recent memory has attended more events or represented the city in public more than Silberberg. She crafted a city statement on inclusiveness following the arrival of white supremacists in Alexandria two years ago; she founded a council of clergy members that helped bring down silos in Alexandria’s faith communities; she went door to door with Police Chief Mike Brown in Del Ray following the June 2017 shooting at Simpson Field.

Silberberg campaigned with the slogan of being “the people’s mayor” and to a significant degree, she has been. While most city council votes are unanimous, Silberberg has been on the short end of some significant 6-1 and 5-2 votes. In most of those votes, she sided with residents on issues of livability and quality of life in opposition to development projects. An example is her vote against changes to the city’s parking requirements, which allow developers to provide fewer spaces, that passed earlier this year by a 6-1 vote.

Silberberg held monthly “Mayor on Your Corner” coffees and implemented a “Meet with the Mayor” initiative that once a month allowed residents to come to her office without an appointment and meet with her about any topic they wished.

At the conclusion of her final “Mayor on Your Corner” gathering last Saturday, a standing-room-only crowd at Union Street Public House gave her a standing ovation and presented her with a cake. It was a moving moment and a nice tribute.

Likewise, we thank Silberberg for her service and wish her well.