Alexandria Vice Mayor Justin Wilson will announce Monday that he plans to challenge Mayor Allison Silberberg in the city’s June 12 Democratic primary, giving voters in this small Northern Virginia city a choice between two distinctly different leadership styles.
Wilson, 38, has spent much of his three terms on the council trying to address Alexandria’s budget problems and its aging infrastructure, from replacing roofs and sewers to providing broadband access. Those issues, and improving school quality, will be the major focus of his campaign, he said.
“All I’m going to ask of voters is look at my record, and I’m hopeful they’ll come to the conclusion that I earned their vote,” he said.
Wilson, a senior director with Amtrak, is known for rapid responses on social media, multiple emails to city employees about budget matters and his lengthy, detailed monthly emails to residents.
A speedy talker with a command of spending and revenue numbers, he has been impatient with Silberberg, who responds at length to residents’ concerns at meetings and who has resisted some development, particularly in Old Town.
Silberberg has said she will run for another three-year term in 2018, when all seven council seats will be on the ballot. The job of mayor is the top political office in the city of nearly 140,000 people. It pays $30,500 a year.
The Wilson-Silberberg clashes, mostly civil but occasionally pointed, began on the dais almost as soon as Silberberg took office in January 2016. She had announced that she planned to set up an ethics commission, and in disregard of the council’s normal way of doing business, she invited supporters to testify. Wilson, working behind the scenes with other council members, pushed through a limited version of an ethics study, taking the new mayor by surprise and leaving her without allies to knock it down.
Not two months later, Wilson said the council’s failure to decide whether to rezone a public housing complex to allow more density there “was a leadership moment, not just for the mayor, but for all of us. And I think we all failed.” He also defended the city attorney after Silberberg publicly blamed him for bad advice.
Wilson twice successfully proposed raising the city’s tax rate, in 2016 by 3 cents, triple the city manager’s proposal, and in 2017 by 5.7 cents, citing the demand for new and renovated schools, higher Metro spending and a costly sewer repair project. Silberberg opposed both increases but lost.
In her first year in office, Silberberg responded to nearly every comment made during the 30-minute “open mic” public comment period that starts the council’s Saturday morning meetings. That delayed the start of the council’s regular business, twice pushing it back by more than3 hours, frustrating many who were waiting to testify or for votes on long-scheduled issues.
In January, Wilson led the adoption of a limit on the number of first-in-the-morning speakers to 15, requiring anyone else to wait until the end of the meeting.
Silberberg called the action “draconian, arbitrary . . . anti-democratic.” Wilson answered that improving the management of the meetings on behalf of all residents “is the definition of democracy.”
The Democratic primary could also attract other candidates for mayor. Those interested have until the end of March to announce their intentions, said voter registrar Anna Leider.