The longtime mayor of Alexandria is facing his first primary challenge in a dozen years, from a former mayor who is critical of delays in opening a Metro station at Potomac Yard and what he describes as a failure to push forward on other economic development projects.
Mayor William D. Euille (D), 64, has led his hometown almost without opposition since 2003. In pursuit of his fifth term, he points to multiple redevelopment projects now underway, despite the lingering effects of the recession that left the city with repeated budget shortfalls.
But banker Kerry Donley, 59, who preceded Euille as mayor and served on the City Council with and under him, says much more should be happening. Failure to move faster on the Potomac Yard Metro station and development around the Metro stops at Braddock Road and Eisenhower Avenue has left Alexandria short of the tax revenue needed for improvements in schools, affordable housing and basic services, Donley says.
“You can sit back and wait for things to happen or you can try to change things up,” Donley, also a Democrat, said. “You’re elected to be a decision-maker, and you need to be decisive.”
Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg (D) said last week that she is “very seriously” considering a mayoral bid as well. With all six City Council seats also on the ballot, that promises a lively campaign season leading up to the June 9 Democratic primary. The part-time position of mayor pays $30,500 a year; council positions, including vice mayor, pay $27,500.
Alexandria, a city of 149,000, faces a $30 million shortfall in a budget of about $640 million for the coming fiscal year. Residential property assessments are at their highest point ever, according to a report released last week, but commercial property values are flat or declining.
Because of federal budget cuts and reductions in spending related to sequestration, the city is seeing fewer hotel visitors and less revenue from meal taxes, key sources of revenue for the budget. In addition, office leases by federal agencies and contractors have fallen off. For seven of the last eight budget years, Alexandria’s expenses have exceeded revenue, forcing cuts and temporary fixes.
Donley, a former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party and now senior vice president of John Marshall Bank, says he would focus on increasing the tax base through growth. “The single biggest thing we could do is get the Potomac Yard Metro station up and going,” he said.
The project has been delayed by debate over the exact location of the station and the need to coordinate among multiple federal and local agencies. Euille acknowledges that the process took longer than expected but says he has recently been able to accelerate it. A draft environmental impact statement should be ready for public hearings and comment this spring and summer and must be finalized and approved by the federal government before construction — currently slated for 2016 — can begin.
Euille takes credit for negotiating a buyout of the Old Dominion Boat Club last year, pushing through a long-debated waterfront redevelopment plan, helping to launch a water taxi to National Harbor and striking a deal with a developer to build affordable and workforce housing atop and around a fire station in Potomac Yard.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s a lot more to be done,” said Euille, who in addition to being mayor runs a business development consulting firm. “I know Mr. Donley’s out there saying revenue growth should be better. Well, show me. Prove it.”
Donley criticized Euille for erratic attendance at meetings of the Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group and for trips Euille took to Taiwan and Turkey in the fall of 2013. The trips were paid for by the Taiwanese government and a Turkish American federation.
Euille, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year, said he goes to a majority of the Potomac Yard meetings and is briefed by aides when he can’t attend. He said he made connections in both Turkey and Taiwan that could lead to business investments and tourism in Alexandria.
A gregarious politician and the city’s first African American mayor, Euille is a ubiquitous presence at local restaurants, meetings and civic events. He jokes that he is the city’s “most eligible bachelor” and says he eats at home only on Sundays.
Euille is president of the Virginia Municipal League and the longest-serving member of the Metro board. He says the many connections he has cultivated in public office mean he is well positioned to continue to lead. “I’m the engineer on this train, and I want to keep it going and complete our unfinished business,” he said.
Euille and Donley each served stints on the City Council while the other was mayor.
During two terms in the top job after several years on the council, Donley helped to lure the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office headquarters from Arlington to Alexandria and pushed through other commercial development projects.
After a break of a few years, he rejoined the council in 2009 as vice mayor, a title that goes to whichever of the six council members wins the highest number of votes. In 2012, he opted not to run for reelection because of high blood pressure, which he said is now under control.
“The challenge for voters is, what do they want?” Euille said. “Do they want some of the old? Or do they want to continue on the pathway I’ve provided with leadership, teamwork, collaboration to make things happen?”