The first contested mayoral primary in Alexandria in 12 years has turned expensive and heated in the final days before Tuesday’s election.
Four-term mayor William D. Euille (D) has raised more than $200,000 to fend off challenges from Kerry Donley (D), who was his predecessor as mayor, and Allison Silberberg (D), the vice mayor.
Donley, meanwhile, surprised and offended some residents with a flier attacking his opponents that at least one voter described as fear-mongering. And Euille is being criticized for taking significant money from real estate developers during a campaign that included heated debates over the pace of growth.
Silberberg, who like Donley raised about $75,000, said she decided without any public announcement not to accept donations from people who do business with the city and has returned two contributions from real estate entrepreneurs.
“I feel that if a developer is bringing business before the City Council, I would be returning their money,” she said. “My actions speak for themselves. What others do with their campaign funds is up to them, but I think it would be of interest to our citizens.”
Euille, who has worked most of his life in construction and contracting, said he’s not bothered by taking money from developers who may do business with the city. Among his donors are Douglas Jemal of Douglas Development Corp., which has 10 properties in Old Town; Alexandria North Terminal, which is developing a waterfront property; and various executives from JBG, part of a group of firms redeveloping the Beauregard area.
“I can’t always weigh when a project will come before the council,” Euille said. “Look, you follow the rules and disclose it if something comes up. If something comes up, I will publicly disclose it as I always have.”
In a city that measures its history by the century, Silberberg has pushed to slow the pace of new projects and protect existing neighborhoods and historic areas.
Donley has made clear on the stump that he thinks development is not happening quickly enough in Alexandria, while Euille says the city is recovering from the national economic slowdown and the pace is picking up.
Euille’s campaign collected contributions from at least 18 donors working in real estate, 15 developers and 20 people from the construction and contracting world, according to an analysis of disclosure reports. His top donation of $5,000 came from Land of Opportunity, a real estate firm associated with the Hoffman family group of companies based in the fast-developing Eisenhower Avenue area.
Euille said he felt he had to raise so much “because I’m being challenged, and I didn’t want to take anything for granted — and I had the ability to raise it.”
He took in about $450,000 last year in an unsuccessful race for the Democratic nomination for Congress. Euille said that some of the contacts he developed during that campaign proved useful for this one.
Donley, who is a banker, received contributions from a dozen people in the real estate business, 11 from developers and two from the construction or contracting world. His biggest donors were $5,000 each from Land of Opportunity and Perpetual Realty East, another Hoffman family affiliate.
Some of his campaign cash paid for a flier that landed in residents’ mailboxes last weekend, jabbing Euille and Silberberg for building a $15 million fire station in the southwest corner of the city but failing to place a fire crew there.
The mailing called the decision not to fund a fire crew — which has since been reversed — “disgraceful” and suggested that it exposed residents to significant risk because of an ethanol transfer station being built nearby.
“Frankly, I am stunned the current Alexandria City leadership let this happen,” said the flier, which showed Donley with a stern — some said glowering — expression.
Donley said he thinks he’s simply looking serious in the photo.
“Fire protection is an essential local core responsibility,” he said. “When you spend capital dollars to build something, you should know you have to budget for operational costs, too.”
Davina Sashkin, an Alexandria resident who had been supporting Donley’s candidacy, said she was “floored” by the mailing and is now undecided.
“I felt it was unnecessarily scare-mongering . . . and inflammatory,” she said. “It kind of gave me a bad taste, and it made me wonder how are you going to work with people you are saying are running our city into the ground.”