Transformative leaders attempt to inspire and unite us.
Think John F. Kennedy and his call to service: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Think Ronald Reagan’s admonition to lead by example: “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom loving people everywhere.”
President Joe Biden’s inaugural words were of that ilk: “We celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of democracy. … We must put aside politics and face this pandemic as one nation.”
When leaders call us to be our best selves, they ask us to work with rather than demonize those who disagree with us.
Conversely, when people in positions of power resort to demagoguery or bullying or attempt to deny basic rights to those with whom they disagree, they appeal to our worst selves and deepen existing divisions.
Unfortunately, two members of Alexandria’s city council have recently fanned the flames of discord: Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilor Mo Seifeldein.
Bennett-Parker, who last week announced her candidacy for the state legislature, recently waged a campaign to pressure local hotels into denying rooms to supporters of former President Donald Trump during inaugural week. In a letter she released on Twitter, Bennett-Parker urged Alexandria hotels to refuse reservations to members of the pro-Trump group the Proud Boys, saying that by denying the “violent and armed white supremacists” lodging, hotels would “send a message that there is no place for hate in Alexandria.”
Perhaps Bennett-Parker genuinely fails to see the contradiction between this self-righteous statement and her refusal to condemn the actions of her own legislative aide, who was arrested last year for allegedly breaking through a police barrier and assaulting a D.C. police officer during a protest that, like that of the Proud Boys, began peacefully.
Additionally, the words of Seifeldein during the Jan. 12 legislative meeting about models for a potential civilian police over-sight board were like gasoline on the flames of racial discord.
Seifeldein launched into a rant about the “miraculous, bloody and gruesome” history of our country and accused his fellow councilors of paying lip service to the fight against police brutality. This came during a discussion about what kind of civilian police oversight board to establish, not whether one was needed in the first place, in a city where the police department does not have a history of egregious use of force incidents.
To his fellow councilors who dared voice support for models of the review board that differed from his own preference, Seifeldein pitched the equivalent of a City Council temper tantrum that at times left his colleagues in the virtual Zoom meeting speechless.
There’s currently a whisper campaign circulating in the city that Seifeldein is pondering a challenge to incumbent Mayor Justin Wilson in the up-coming Democratic primary. Perhaps Seifeldein believed he was leading with his outbursts, or perhaps his passion for the issue at hand simply got the better of him.
Seifeldein’s actions at the council meeting and Bennett-Parker’s campaign to deny lodging to Trump supporters are not what positive leadership looks like. In fact, at the council meeting, it was Wilson and Councilor Amy Jackson who tried to find middle ground and who showed actual leadership.
On Wednesday, President Biden told us, “Without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.” Amen.