Candidate profile: Darryl Nirenberg runs for council

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Candidate profile: Darryl Nirenberg runs for council
Darryl Nirenberg
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By Olivia Anderson | oanderson@alextimes.com

Darryl Nirenberg is a man with a plan. Not only does the Republican City Council candidate have grand aspirations for the future of Alexandria, he said he also has concrete strategies for how he’d get them done if elected to office in the Nov. 2 general election.

“Over the past several years, we’ve seen our city government lose its focus, proposing divisive policies that will transform our city,” Nirenberg said. “More and more, we’re all left scratching our heads thinking, ‘What are they thinking?’ So I’m running because I think it’s time to turn the page and bring some common sense government to our city.”

Nirenberg said his campaign is predicated on addressing quality of life issues, eliminating the one-party political control that has existed for more than a decade in the city and advocating for neighborhood representation through the formation of districts or wards.

Nirenberg laid out specific solutions to address these quality of life issues in the city, which range from rolling back council’s recent decision to eliminate school resource officers to returning Seminary Road to four lanes of traffic instead of two and preventing future road diets. Nirenberg also said he would aim to prevent co-location of housing on school grounds, preserve green spaces and fund public safety.

“These policies aren’t divisive or partisan; they’re consistent with the longterm tradition of Alexandria, our community,” Nirenberg said. “ … They’re just common sense and after all, potholes are not red or blue – they just need to be filled.”

The only Republican running for City Council, Nirenberg said that even though he does not view the issues facing the city as partisan, his party affiliation is necessary to bring a diverse lens to council. He faces a slate of six Democrats and two independents.

“There is a growing recognition that 100% one party rule over time is just unhealthy and that there’s a need for checks and balances,” Nirenberg said. “Plus, keep in mind, there are six Democrats running. I am the only Republican. So it will be a Democratic board. The question is: Do we believe that diverse voices lead to better choices? I’m finding that most voters, independents and Democrats included, would agree.”

Nirenberg, who resides in the Northridge neighborhood, developed his comprehensive list of ideas for Alexandria over 22 years of living in the city, but the longtime resident originally hails from a small town in upstate New York.

When he was 14, Nirenberg’s father sat him down and said that due to financial issues Nirenberg would have to figure out a way to pay for college himself if that was an avenue he wished to pursue.

“So, I got to work. I started a paper route, mowed lawns, delivered groceries for a convenience store, worked at a grocery store, was a painter and bussed tables,” Nirenberg said.

Through these gigs, Nirenberg paid his way through college and eventually graduated from Colgate University. He then secured a job as a U.S. Senate staffer on Capitol Hill and waited tables at the Marriott to save for law school. Nirenberg graduated from George Washington University Law School and later entered private practice. He has worked with D.C.-based international firms for the past 25 years.

By day, Nirenberg is a partner at Steptoe & Johnson focusing primarily on tax policy, financial services, government affairs and public policy.

These experiences have equipped Nirenberg with vital tools he said he would carry to the dais, if given the opportunity.

“From the first day I started on the hill until my last day, I always focused on the same thing, which was: How do you reach an agreement to solve problems?” Nirenberg said. “My role was figuring out how to pull the levers to come to solutions which meant working across the aisle, figuring out what peoples’ concerns were and then finding a path to create agreements. To this day, it’s the same thing: figuring out what peoples’ positions are, hearing what they have to say and trying to find the path for compromise.”

When it comes to applying these tools to city governance, Nirenberg emphasized his preference for a ward-based election system, noting that similar systems already exist on both a federal level and within many cities of Alexandria’s size. Although Alexandria has districts for School Board elections, the city has elected the entirety of City Council at-large since 1950.

“I think that is something that has been missing from our city: the idea that neighborhoods have someone on the council who is elected by them and accountable to them directly,” Nirenberg said. “Representation is the absolute core of our democracy, especially when it comes to city impact, which is having a daily impact on the daily lives of residents.”

Another one of Nirenberg’s top priorities on council would be fixing the city’s storm drains, which Nirenberg asserted have grown into a colossal problem area in the city today because of three contributing factors: aging infrastructure, overdevelopment and climate change.

Nirenberg argued the city has not made flood mitigation enough of a priority, and that its years of deferring maintenance is now having adverse effects on residents.

“Ask residents whose basements flood time and again with no end in sight whether they believe the city has done its job here,” Nirenberg. “There is no excuse in a city our size and with the wealth in the city for raw sewage to be flowing into resident zones year after year.”

According to Nirenberg, the issue requires a very specific plan of attack. For him that means a three-pronged approach that involves appointing a “stormwater czar” who is directly accountable to the mayor, City Council and residents, creating a detailed plan with deliverables, timelines, priorities and projected costs and developing a strategy for obtaining federal funding.

Nirenberg pointed to the $550 billion infrastructure bill that Congress is currently discussing, expressing hope that the bill will include funding for water-related infrastructure.

“We need a strategy to go to our representatives in Congress and government agencies to get funding out of that program to help us pay for the repairs that are needed,” Nirenberg said.

Nirenberg also said one of his goals is pausing density – a long-time controversial topic for Alexandria, which, at 159,428 residents over 9,466 square miles, is currently the densest city in Virginia.

Instead of throwing more tax dollars toward promoting density, Nirenberg argued the city should place a higher priority on “catching up” schools and infrastructure to meet the needs of current residents.

“[The city is] promoting density in the midst of a pandemic without a plan as to how our schools, infrastructure and public safety will handle the growth,” Nirenberg said. “We need to manage our growth because we need to plan for our future, not muddle into it.”

Above all else, though, Nirenberg stressed that his goal is to simultaneously enhance and preserve the city that he, his wife and two children have called home for so long.

“Having spent 22 years here, I realize how fortunate we are to have what we have here, that the idea of distinct and diverse neighborhoods that operate in a cohesive, caring, diverse community next to one of the most exciting cities in the world is really unique,” Nirenberg said. “I’ve learned what a great city this is and what a special and unique place it is, and I’m running to keep it that way.”

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