Democratic Tea Party? Alexandria write-in fight pits Democrat against Democrat

ALEXANDRIA, VA. – Democrats hold every seat in this Washington, D.C., suburb, but they still aren’t happy as Mayor Bill Euille, who has held office for 12 years, fights to hold on to his seat in a write-in campaign.

Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg narrowly defeated Euille in the Democratic primary in June. There is no Republican candidate for mayor, although four Republicans are vying for at-large seats on the city council.

But Euille, the first black mayor in the city’s history, isn’t going gently.

“I’m a write-in candidate to keep my job as mayor of this great historic city,” Euille told a crowd of about 20 supporters Sunday at a gazebo in a townhouse development. “It’s a job I’ve held since 2003.”

The mayor avoided conceding after the primary and went on to mount a write-in campaign that has peppered all neighborhoods of Alexandria with placards, mailers and doorhangers. Euille’s team has shown technical strength in distributing how-to bracelets and flyers to overcome the substantial hurdle of mounting a write-in challenge.

And in a true bare-knuckles assault, Euille’s supporters whisper that Silberberg, a lifelong Democrat and non-profit organizer, may be a Republican fellow traveler.

The independent write-in campaign has run afoul of the Democratic Party at state, local and national levels. Silberberg boasts an armload of endorsements from prominent Democrats as well as the support of the party and government employee unions.

But Euille is untroubled to be running what is effectively a challenge to his own party’s primary results.

“The people of Alexandria voted, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity, when you have an election, to have another option,” the incumbent told AMI Newswire Sunday.

Although the city is awash in campaign signs, turnout in the overwhelmingly Democratic town is expected to be low, as it was in the primary. Silberberg received 5,055 votes in June, while Euille pulled in 4,737 and former Mayor Kerry Donley drew 3,662.

Donley has since joined Euille’s independent effort and appeared at one of his events Sunday.

“The fact that Bill Euille is not the Democratic nominee does not mean he’s not a Democrat,” Donley told supporters. “It’s not Bill Euille who is being highlighted in Republican campaigns. It’s not Bill Euille who voted against [public funding for] a Memory Center. It’s not Bill Euille who voted against more money for our schools.”

By most accounts, Alexandria has flourished in recent years. Its vacant-property rate is markedly lower than those in other northern Virginia cities. The end of federal spending caps is expected to be another shot in the arm for a local economy that, thanks to federal money, is already effectively recession-proof.

Euille argues forcefully for having developed key parts of the city – the very point on which opponents hit him hardest. All four of the Republican candidates for city council told AMI Newswire the Euille era has seen excessive and inappropriate development of retail and living space, while Silberberg said she would pursue a policy of “thoughtful development.”

Euille makes no apologies for his record. The city has spent generously on development and services, he said, while maintaining its AAA bond rating.

“We have diversified the city’s tax base so we can reduce our reliance on real estate taxes by residential homeowners,” Euille told supporters. “With those opportunities we can continue to do the things that are important to residents of this great city: We can continue to invest money into our kids’ education, particularly improving our preschools. We can continue to improve housing affordability and quality of life. When we really measure quality of life, it’s about how safe is your city. We are at a 44-year low in terms of our crime rate.”

Ideological lines are not sharp in Alexandria. The Republican candidates accuse the all-Democratic government of running up debt, ignoring local concerns about large construction projects and adding to congestion. But all four generally support the “smart” growth, transit-hub development philosophies that hold sway in creative-class Democratic cities.

Silberberg also does not see herself as departing broadly from the Democratic Party consensus. She shrugs off both Euille’s supporters and the GOP candidates who favor her over Euille.

“They can say whatever they want. I’m a lifelong Democrat,” Silberberg told AMI Newswire Monday. “I interned for Sen. Ted Kennedy. I am a member of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. I am active at the state and local levels. I started and led a nonprofit to mentor youth in Anacostia. I was a volunteer tutor at MacArthur Elementary School. I am proud to be at the top of the ticket. I am the Democratic nominee.”

In the final days before Tuesday’s election, Euille was passing out hot dogs and hamburgers at an Old Town housing project, while Silberberg was managing what she calls a grassroots door-to-door effort by an all-volunteer “Allison Brigade” numbering about 60 people.

If Euille and Silberberg supporters have anything in common, it is their stated preference for a democratic system of government rather than a non-democratic or totalitarian system.

“That’s the beauty of our system – that it gives people the opportunity to support who they think is the best candidate,” Delegate Michael Futrell, a Euille supporter who showed up for the burgers-and-dogs event Sunday, told AMI Newswire. “I understand we have party designations and alignments, but at the end of the day, I’m looking at who is the best person to get the job done, who can I trust and who is able to accomplish things. And Mayor Euille has done that with me in the past.”

Asked about the kind words her campaign has received from Republicans, Silberberg was also ecumenical.

“I welcome any and all support,” she said. “This is not the Soviet Union.”

The position of Alexandria mayor pays $30,500.