With early voting underway in Virginia’s primary elections, one of the more competitive races is in deep-blue Alexandria, where the city’s pro-development mayor is battling for the Democratic nomination against the slow-growth ex-mayor he unseated three years ago.

In a D.C. suburb that gave President Biden 80 percent of its votes last fall, whoever wins the June 8 primary contest between Mayor Justin Wilson and former mayor Allison Silberberg will have an easy path to victory this November. Annetta Catchings, 52, is the sole Republican mayoral candidate.

Wilson, who is seeking a second three-year term, defeated Silberberg in 2018 with 53 percent of the vote after a bitter primary election that hinged on how fast the city should grow amid problems with school crowding, affordable housing and an aging storm water and sewer system that has led to neighborhood flooding and sewage discharging into the Potomac River.

Now, Silberberg is reviving the debate, casting the primary as a referendum on Wilson’s ability to control rampant development in Alexandria before the community of 158,000 fell into the grip of a coronavirus pandemic that has sickened 11,624 residents and killed 133.

With worries about the virus prompting moves nationwide toward less densely populated communities, appeals to a small-town mind-set might gain more traction this time around, said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

“The pandemic has caused people to think differently about many different policy priorities,” Rozell said. “Does there need to be as much growth in a community where more people are going to be telecommuting and adopting a flexible work schedule and where office buildings aren’t going to need as much capacity?”

Since she announced her bid in late March, Silberberg, who served one term as mayor, has raised $65,000, compared with the $91,000 Wilson has raised since Jan. 1.

Both Democrats were first elected to the city council in 2012, with each serving as vice mayor before they were elected mayor.

Silberberg, 58, accuses Wilson, 42, of neglecting the interests of local residents on big development projects, such as a 2019 council decision he championed to narrow Seminary Road to make room for bike lanes, which surrounding civic associations argued would lead to traffic.

She is also critical of how the city has managed stream restoration projects along the eroding banks of Taylor and Strawberry runs, part of a regionwide problem with urban runoff that has sparked debates over how best to minimize the pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.

Currently, the city’s plans — which are still under review and cost $6.1 million altogether — require removing as many as several hundred mature trees to carve out enough space to stabilize the streams.

While the plans also call for nearly 3,000 trees to be planted, the short-term effect on the environment does more harm than good, argues Silberberg, who supports a less invasive approach to stream restoration.

“We all know climate change is here,” she said. “I’m deeply concerned about the direction the city has taken during the last two years.”

With Amazon’s new headquarters in nearby Arlington County likely to spur interest in more local development, “we’re really at an inflection point as a city,” Silberberg said. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post).

Wilson said he’s helped position Alexandria to compete economically with surrounding jurisdictions and to absorb its steady population growth, projected to reach 182,000 in the next decade.

He touts his role in securing plans by Inova Health System last year to build a $1 billion medical campus on the site of the vacant Landmark Mall on the city’s West End. The project, which will include a walkable urban village with housing and a central plaza, follows several failed redevelopment efforts for the mall site in years past that have left it a local eyesore for two decades.

Under his leadership, Wilson said, Alexandria also purchased the former slave pen known as Freedom House — saving it from private development — and secured state funding to turn the site into a museum. Alexandria has also started plans to build five new schools over the next decade.

Going forward, Wilson said, he wants to focus on rebuilding the 15-square-mile city’s infrastructure, including a $500 million project to upgrade the city’s combined sewer system in Old Town. Just as urgent will be a need to revive a local economy where local restaurants, hotels and retail stores — and, by extension, the city’s commercial tax base — suffered “a body blow” from the pandemic, he said.

“We’re going to have to rebuild that economy,” Wilson said. “The ability to fund the services that our residents demand is going to depend on that.”

Longtime political rivals, the two candidates accuse each other of being dishonest in their positions.

Wilson said that when Silberberg was mayor, she supported the stream restoration projects that have since become controversial.

“Both projects were initiated prior to my term and were part of an initiative that she supported at that time,” he said. “I understand now that she’s changed her mind and is against it and that’s certainly her right.”

Silberberg called that “a complete distortion.”

The 2018 vote was to agree to apply for a state grant to fund stream restoration projects, but there were no specifics about how those projects would be carried out, she said.

“There was no granularity in the proposal,” she said about the vote. “To say that, to distort the truth, is just unacceptable.”

Rozell said the mayoral election in Alexandria is a crossroads for the city, with Wilson’s path leading toward steady growth and, perhaps, economic vitality, while Silberberg’s hearkens more to the small-town sensibility that drew many residents to the city in the first place.

“These are two very different visions,” Rozell said. “The two candidates could not be more different in many ways.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that 70 percent of Alexandria’s vote went to Joe Biden in 2020. The number was 80 percent. The article has been corrected.