Alexandria’s mayoral race has split the strongly Democratic city this fall, with partisans lining up to support either the longtime incumbent or a relative newcomer who beat him in the Democratic primary in June.
After losing the primary by 321 votes, Mayor William D. Euille (D) launched a write-in campaign for the Nov. 3 general election. He is relying on his base in the business community and the city’s African American population to propel him to a fifth term.
Democratic nominee Allison Silberberg, meanwhile, is counting on the dominance of the Democratic Party in Alexandria, a weariness with development among some residents — and the fact that her name will be the only one on the ballot.
Silberberg, who is completing her first term in office as vice mayor of the City Council, has refused to debate Euille this fall, saying voters had plenty of opportunities to see them face off during the primary campaign.
But Euille says that contest was distorted by the presence of a third Democratic primary candidate, former mayor Kerry Donley, who is pro-development like Euille and is now supporting the current mayor’s write-in bid.
Euille says he has hired canvassers and national consultants who have worked on successful write-in campaigns elsewhere, and plans to promote his candidacy with a blizzard of mailed brochures and automated calls as the election nears.
He has been attending house parties, campaigning door to door on weekends and visiting three church services each Sunday to try to persuade people to write his name in on the ballot instead of selecting Silberberg’s. He has raised $131,660 this year, compared with $122,916 for Silberberg, according to the latest campaign filings. And he had $118,456 in the bank as of Sept. 30, while Silberberg reported $27,288.
Silberberg has been unable to knock on doors since she tore her Achilles tendon while playing tennis in September. But she, too, is appearing at house parties and turned up to meet voters outside the campaign forums that have been held for council candidates.
Her refusal to participate in debates has drawn criticism from civic leaders, who say it is a disservice to voters for the campaigns to operate on essentially parallel tracks.
“Alexandria has a tradition of extensive debate,” said Dak Hardwick, government relations committee chairman for the Chamber of Commerce and a former chair of the local Democratic committee. “We need a dialogue that average voters can take full advantage of.”
The two key issues in the race are readiness for office and development, with Silberberg wanting to slow the pace of building and Euille saying the city needs to grow its tax base as much as possible.
Carter Flemming, who attended a house party for Silberberg last week, said she has voted for Euille in all his previous races, but won’t this time. She thinks the mayor has become too cozy with developers and too willing to greenlight their projects.
“We build and build and build and say oops, the roads are too crowded; oops, we need a fire station; or oops, the schools are bursting at the seams,” she said.
Flemming said she likes Silberberg’s manner and her pledge to listen closely to constituents, delaying votes until days or weeks after a public hearing if needed, so all testimony can be fully considered.
Euille supporters accuse Silberberg of having vague policy positions on issues including school crowding and government debt and of lacking key knowledge of city government.
“There are concerns about the depth of her understanding of the budget and how policies are made and how they work,” said Rob Krupicka, a former state delegate and council member.
As an example, he pointed to a late September council meeting, when Silberberg said she was unaware of a long-standing rule that requires officials to disclose whether they own 10 percent or more of a company that does business with the city.
When Silberberg then suggested that officials should be required to disclose even a tiny investment in any company doing business with the city, other council members pointed out the virtual impossibility of knowing every stock one holds in mutual funds or real estate investment trusts.
“Experience counts,” Euille said. “I personally don’t feel [Silberberg] has the skills to be a leader and collaborator.”
Silberberg says her years of civic engagement qualify her for the job, pointing out that President Obama served just one term in the U.S. Senate before becoming president. Alexandria voters, she said, are looking for new leadership.
Although she voted against three big projects on the Old Town waterfront during her time in office, she last week joined her colleagues in supporting the construction of a hotel, condos and retail at Robinson Terminal North, the last of the major private projects along the Potomac.
“It’s not what I would have hoped for,” Silberberg said later. But she added that developers are working to address parking concerns of neighbors and that the project is just outside the boundaries of Old Town’s historic district.
With no national races on the ballot, turnout on Election Day is expected to be relatively light. All 140 state legislative seats are in play, as are the six other seats on Alexandria’s council. But while those results should be known a few hours after the polls close on Election Day, the winner of the mayoral race could take longer to determine.
Precinct workers will count the total number of write-in votes on Nov. 3 but will not report how many votes Euille gets until the Electoral Board meets Nov. 4, 5 and 6 to canvass the results and determine which votes are valid.