The race for City Council has begun.
The 2018 Democratic primary will be a competitive one, with two mayoral candidates facing off, four incumbent City Council members running for reelection, and three newcomers. Among both the mayoral and city council candidates, at least one will end the election without a seat.
An Alexandria Democratic Committee meeting on Dec. 4 gave a spotlight to the two mayoral candidates and to the three newcomers to the City Council race. The mayoral race is a showdown between incumbent Mayor Allison Silberberg and Vice Mayor Justin Wilson. Silberberg pointed to the improvements the city governance has made, despite facing heavy opposition, during her tenure as mayor.
“There are a number of issues you probably know all about,” said Silberberg. “We led off with an ethics initiative that I proposed and we passed.”
Silberberg also pointed to advances made in both affordable housing and schools over the last few years, like the replacement of the run-down Ramsey Homes with a new mixed income housing block. Silberberg also highlighted progress made in the city schools, like the city’s votes to move forward on rebuilding Patrick Henry as an elementary and middle school facility and approval of a new West End school.
“There’s been a lot of forward motion in that regard,” said Silberberg.
But her opponent, Justin Wilson, said the city needs to invest even more heavily into public infrastructure.
“I believe that the moment we are in right now calls for bold leadership and difficult choices, and I think we need a mayor willing to do that,” said Wilson. “On the council, I built coalitions to invest in infrastructure … and to make sure we have an economy that’s diverse and endurable.”
Silberberg found expressed support in at least one of the City Council candidates. Robert Ray IV, owner of Cavalier Antiques, and a second-generation shop owner, “The majority of Alexandria City Council members and mayors have also been developers, commercial bankers, Realtors or their representatives,” said Ray. “Silberberg is the exception to the mayoral trend. It is natural that the interests of those professions have shamed Alexandria city government, but I think that can go too far. Recent argument made by some city officials is that development must be catered to in order to [generate] city revenues. My argument is, without community direction, there’s a natural tendency for developers to maximize profit and externalize costs, like the cost of parking or cost of mitigating other negative impact of projects. Unchecked, projects like those reduce livability of Alexandria and reduce property values with the risk of a net loss of tax revenues in the long run.”
The economic future of the city was one of the primary threads through the City Council candidate discussions. Dak Hardwick, former chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee and past chair of the Chamber of Commerce, built a message around working to fix structural deficiencies in the city budget and expanding the focus of governance more equally across the city in what he is calling the Empower Alexandria initiative.
“It’s about moving our city forward in a way that all parts of the city, from Old Town to the West End, Rosemont to Carlyle, feel included,” said Hardwick. “I’m committed to doing that as part of the Empower Alexandria initiative.”
At a basic level, Hardwick says this is about providing public safety, health, and education equally across the city. As former chair of the budget fiscal fairs advisory committee, Hardwick says he’s been through the city’s budget backwards and forwards.
“We have a structural deficiency we have to get at,” Hardwick said. “It is time that we really tackle that problem. Through economic sustainability, understanding where our revenue comes from and how we leverage key investments in the city, we can get there.”
Amy Jackson, an educator, prioritized investment in schools to relieve overcrowding. Jackson, raised in Alexandria and a former high school teacher in Fairfax County, said the city government needs to do more to help Alexandria City Public Schools relieve problems like overcrowding. At the meeting, Jackson said she was focused on specific problems, like pushing for Pre-K funding to lessen the achievement gap and promoting the Vision Zero project. To fund these projects, Jackson says the city is going to have to look at how it can revitalize the economies of Landmark Mall and Old Town.
The Democratic primary will be held on June 12. Candidates have until March to announce their candidacy.