Nine months before the alleged meth-for-sex scandal that would end his political career and humiliate his Virginia home town, Mayor Scott Silverthorne stood in the middle of the Fairfax City Council chambers, his hands clasped and his grin wide.
Next to him on Nov. 17, 2015, council member Jeffrey C. Greenfield was reading a proclamation in honor of Silverthorne’s 50th birthday. The document detailed what made him so special to the community he had led since 2012: a lifelong resident, son of another mayor, product of the local high school, first elected to the council in his mid-20s. The proclamation called him “a consensus builder,” “a passionate leader” and “the best politician the city ever had.”
It was an emotional night for Silverthorne, who had also announced that he had a malignant but curable tumor on his neck. He told the crowd he would lose some weight and, maybe, his neatly coifed salt-and-pepper hair, but — ever the politician — he stressed that his health wouldn’t prevent him from running for another term in 2016. Silverthorne had debated whether to go public about his illness and concluded that he owed his constituents the truth.
“I think,” he said, “transparency is the better policy.”
Silverthorne had not been transparent, though, about so much — his lost job, his mounting debt, his foreclosed homes.
And then, this month, came the most shocking sign that his life had unraveled.
On Aug. 4, he was charged with felony distribution of methamphetamine after police said he attempted to exchange drugs for group sex. His arrest outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Tysons Corner resulted from an undercover operation conducted by Fairfax County police, who received a tip alleging he was using a website to make illicit arrangements with men.
His friends and colleagues knew he was gay, but he didn’t often discuss it. If Silverthorne used drugs, according to those interviewed, he kept it hidden. His inner circle is still trying to determine whether his alleged involvement with drugs extends beyond the parking lot incident, one close friend said.
Last week, he resigned from office under intense pressure, and on Tuesday, the council named former member Steven C. Stombres his replacement until a new mayor is elected Feb. 7.
Silverthorne — whose tactics sometimes exposed an edge beneath his charm — has made no public statements and has declined repeated requests for an interview. That silence has left the city struggling to comprehend his dramatic downfall.
Most baffling to the people of Fairfax is how Silverthorne could so carefully manage his image as a focused, devoted and charismatic mayor while his personal and financial life imploded.
“There was a Scott that the public knew,” said Beckie Reilly, a close friend. “And there was a Scott living a different life.”
Scott Silverthorne never stopped being the mayor of Fairfax City.
Even when he worked at the National Association of Manufacturers — based in the District, 20 miles from his home town — that’s how he introduced himself, according to a former colleague.
“I think a lot of Scott’s affirmation as a person came from this small community where he grew up and where he had lineage,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said. “There was standing and status and acceptance.”
Nowhere did Silverthorne appear more comfortable than in his cushioned chair at the center of the council dais. He personified the deep sense of pride Fairfax’s 23,000 residents have for their home. “The best small city in America,” said his Facebook page, and he believed it.
Despite never making more than $812.50 a month in the nonpartisan job, Silverthorne was a fixture at ribbon-cuttings and groundbreakings, the Turkey Trot and the Fairfax Four Miler. He had a reputation for sending people thank-you notes after even casual encounters. At P.J. Skidoos restaurant, he had a menu item named for him: “the Mayor Scott Cheeseburger.”
Portraits of Fairfax City mayors hang on a wall outside the council chambers. He and his father, Frederick, a Navy veteran who served from 1978-1982, bookended the bottom row.
“The City’s Son,” people called him.
Silverthorne was first elected to the council at 24, the youngest person in city history to win that office.
“He was a boy wonder,” said former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).
His political potential extended beyond the city’s six square miles, Davis and others said, but his ambition never did. Fairfax was always enough.
And no one had a better sense of the community’s mood than Silverthorne, said former mayor John Mason.
“What are people thinking?” Mason, now 81, routinely asked him.
Silverthorne served on the council from 1990 to 2008, then returned to the job in 2011. He became mayor the next year.
But as his political life peaked, his personal life collapsed.
In June 2015, he lost his job at the manufacturers association, where he worked as the director of recruitment. Silverthorne, once vice president of government affairs for MasterCard and director of government relations for Capital One, does not even list his association position on his LinkedIn profile.
In his Sept. 3, 2015, bankruptcy filing, he cited numerous creditors — JPMorgan Chase, American Express and others — and debts of more than $245,000.
The same day he sought bankruptcy protection, his five-bedroom home on Towlston Road, on which a bank had foreclosed, was sold at auction for $578,000. It was the second home Silverthorne had lost to foreclosure: In October 2014, a Palm Springs, Calif., house he’d bought for $355,000 in 2005 was also auctioned off.
Silverthorne was so desperate he couldn’t even afford the fee to file for bankruptcy, so he asked for and was granted a waiver. He claimed he made only $450 a month and had $4,000 in monthly expenses.
The more chaos he faced, though, the more he immersed himself in his public role.
Two days before he filed for bankruptcy, Silverthorne beamed at the first council meeting since the body’s summer break.
“Delighted to have everybody back,” he said, then delved into zoning minutiae.
Days later, a photograph of Silverthorne tossing balloons at a picnic was posted to his Facebook page. Weeks after that, an image appeared showing him atop a red convertible as it led a local homecoming parade.
“What a fantastic mayor!” someone wrote beneath the photo.
“Ha. Just the same old Scott,” Silverthorne replied. “I promise.”
Soon after he became mayor in 2012, Silverthorne ran into Nancy Fry Loftus, with whom he had been friends since high school.
Loftus said he encouraged her to get into politics. When she did — but began to criticize his stances — their relationship soured, said Loftus, who worked as an attorney for Fairfax County.
In 2014, after she announced her intention to run for City Council, they met for coffee. During their conversation, Loftus said, Silverthorne told her that she should have asked for his permission first and that she had no chance of winning.
“You come across as a strident woman,” Loftus recalled him saying — an account Silverthorne denied through his attorney.
Loftus also claimed the mayor warned her that, if she did win, he’d raise conflict-of-interest concerns he had over her being employed by the county.
She won the election, but shortly after, Loftus said, she lost her job because her boss determined the council position had created a “conflict of interest.” She has sued senior county officials, claiming her free-speech rights were violated. In an interview with The Washington Post, she questioned whether Silverthorne was involved in her firing.
A Fairfax County spokesman disputed Loftus’s story, saying that there was no evidence to support it. Silverthorne, according to his attorney, Brian Drummond, said Loftus invented the entire confrontation. He said they talked only about issues facing the city.
Silverthorne reveled in his political acumen. In December, after announcing he had cancer, a Post reporter joined him during a treatment at a chemotherapy center. As he watched a television replay of his most recent council meeting, the mayor acknowledged that he intended to leverage his illness.
“If I could use this time period to cajole and arm-twist, where people are hopefully going to say, ‘Well, we don’t want to go against Scott right now because he’s not feeling well’?” he said. “At the end of the day, the mayor has the bully pulpit, and I should use it.”
He had a reputation for taking positions only after he knew the likely outcome of the debate. When Greenfield read the proclamation at Silverthorne’s 50th birthday, he asked the mayor whether he had paint on his pants from having straddled so many fences.
That savvy made Silverthorne as successful as any politician in the city’s history — but it also created enemies.
Just days before the May 2016 election, his opponent, Tom Ammazzalorso, distributed thousands of fliers that detailed Silverthorne’s private turmoil.
“After years of disastrous financial decisions,” Ammazzalorso asked, “would you hire Scott to manage our City finances?”
Although Silverthorne got 58 percent of the vote, the attack seemed to have an impact. His margin of victory was substantially less than the 86 percent he won in 2012 and the 74 percent in 2014.
In advance of the most recent election, Davis, the former congressman, had asked Silverthorne whether he had considered withdrawing from the race to focus on his growing problems.
Silverthorne, Davis recalled, couldn’t bear the thought.
“Politics,” the mayor said, “is the only thing in my life going right.”
Beckie Reilly texted and then called her dear friend as soon as she heard the lurid details of his arrest.
She couldn’t believe it. Silverthorne, she said, assured her he was going to be okay.
Marilyn Larson, who was once Silverthorne’s neighbor and teacher at Fairfax High School, also spoke to him and said he sounded pained “that he hurt people who believed in him. This was the foremost thing in his mind — how he let people down, not what would happen to him.”
She said Silverthorne recounted how he had assured the arresting officers that he understood they were just doing their jobs.
“He was composed enough to say to the police, ‘I have a great deal of respect for you, and I want you to know that,’ ” she said. “He wanted them to know they were doing the right thing, and that he was taking full responsibility.”
Mason, who also talked to Silverthorne, said, “He clearly understands the need for squaring away his personal life and initially going off on a rehab program.”
Larson said she doesn’t believe Silverthorne intended to use meth as payment, as police allege, but his refusal to address the incident has only stoked speculation about what happened.
Drummond said his client “wants very much to comment,” but he has advised him to wait.
“Scott is a good man. . . . However, he has landed himself in legal trouble,” Drummond said in a statement. “He acknowledges this, and knows the consequences — he blames no one but himself. We are making sure that he gets the help he needs.”
The two other men arrested with Silverthorne at the hotel were a married Maryland couple, Caustin McLaughlin and Juan Jose Fernandez. In emails to The Post, Fernandez said he knew Silverthorne only as “Scott,” and McLaughlin said neither he nor his spouse brought drugs with them.
Fairfax City’s reaction to Silverthorne’s behavior is complicated. Many of his former constituents have posted messages of support on his Facebook page, but just as many are furious that he has turned their beloved community into a national punch line.
“I think there’s a sense of betrayal,” Connolly said. “ ‘We trusted you and you’ve broken that trust’ — I think that’s the reaction.
“And that’s awfully hard to overcome.”
Already, his image is being excised.
P.J. Skidoos has erased “the Mayor Scott Cheeseburger” from its online menu.
On its website, the city has deleted his profile page.
And from that wall of mayors outside the council chambers, someone removed his photo, leaving in its place only the mounting screw.
By Tuesday, the portrait had returned, but with an alteration. The engraving marking Silverthorne’s years in office now had a final date: 2016. The tenure of the City’s Son had ended.
Magda Jean-Louis and Tom Jackman contributed to this report