One of the crucial differences between the two candidates for the Democratic nomination for Alexandria mayor is sharpening as the June 12 election draws nearer.
Throughout the primary campaign, Vice Mayor Justin Wilson has hammered Mayor Allison Silberberg for often being on the losing end of 6-to-1 votes. He objected when she took credit for the passage of certain bills that she had voted against.
Silberberg persistently tried to put her votes in context, arguing that although she may have opposed the version of actions the City Council adopted, she had backed similar measures that didn’t pass.
It’s a distinction as old as politics: Should a candidate be measured by her intention or by her last vote?
At a Democratic Party debate Wednesday night, Silberberg accused Wilson of “perverting” and “distorting” her voting record over the past two years on funding for school construction, expanding affordable housing and allowing a “memory care” facility for seniors to be built.
“I don’t distort your record and I don’t think you should distort mine,” she said.
Wilson said Silberberg’s initial “no” vote on allowing the redevelopment of the Ramsey Homes public housing project cost the city “millions and millions” because it delayed construction. He called it a symbol of her “failure of leadership.”
“Just last week, the council had to vote to add an additional $1.6 million for Ramsey Homes. That delay was a consequence of the mayor’s opposition to that project,” he said. “She voted against St. James Plaza [an affordable housing complex] then changed her mind a few minutes later. She voted against Jackson Crossing. She voted against new parking standards to incentivize affordable housing. On almost every case, the mayor has been against affordable housing.”
Silberberg said she worked out a compromise with neighbors who were threatening to sue over putting a more dense affordable housing complex on the site. That compromise gave the city a way forward, she said. Her vote against the St. James complex, she said, was because the developer planned a swimming pool available only to market-rate renters but not those in affordable housing. “That’s discrimination,” she said.
The rivalry between the two Democrats has grown ever more pointed throughout Silberberg’s time as mayor.
Their significantly different personal styles are easy to see, and that difference was on display again Wednesday night.
After the debate, Wilson walked up the aisle of the George Washington Middle School auditorium and began a friendly discussion about the Potomac Yard Metro station with voters; Silberberg spotted a front-row supporter who was almost overcome by the heat, and spent the few minutes before her next appointment comforting the older woman and trying to get her to drink water.
But when the two candidates face off, they don’t offer one another friendly gestures.
Silberberg dismissed the local Sierra Club board’s endorsement of her opponent by noting: “It’s a free country. This water bottle can endorse someone.”
She attacked Wilson’s successful sponsorship of two tax rate increases, and called his proposal to combine the two boards of architectural review for two historic districts into one as “insensitive to the African American community leaders who fought for the Parker-Gray” district because he did not consult with some older members of the community.
Wilson, whose father is African American, said that the idea to combine the boards came from other Parker-Gray board members and that he raised the issue to initiate a discussion.