Vice Mayor Justin Wilson defeated first-term Mayor Allison Silberberg Tuesday in Virginia’s Democratic primary, all but ensuring that he will replace her in the city’s top political office after the November general election.
Wilson, 39, campaigned on a platform of more economic development and infrastructure investment and won by several hundred votes, according to unofficial returns, after the lead see-sawed all night.
A large turnout in Wilson’s Del Ray neighborhood appeared to put him over the top.
More than 1,900 voters, twice as many as three years ago, voted absentee, said Alexandria voter registrar Anna Leider.
The primary, which in Alexandria is tantamount to the election because Democratic voters are a significant majority, was the culmination of three years of disagreement between the city’s top two elected officials.
Their differences were in both policy and personality. Silberberg, who won support from residents by nearly always seeking neighborhood consent before supporting or opposing redevelopment projects, accused Wilson of distorting her record. Wilson, who built alliances on the council that thwarted Silberberg’s stances and blocked nearly all of her initiatives, said the mayor lacked leadership because she was often the lone “no” vote on land-use decisions.
They differed on many major issues — including property tax increases and the timing of school construction — and on minor matters, such as how long to allow the public comment period to run at monthly council meetings, and whether to admonish city employees from the dais.
Alexandria’s mayor and council are grappling with numerous fiscal and economic challenges: overburdened schools, costly repairs to Old Town’s combined sewer system, rising Metro costs and regional competition for tourists and shoppers among them.
Both Silberberg and Wilson were stung by revelations in the final weeks of the campaign that the city and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority agreed to remove one entrance from the planned Potomac Yard Metro stop.
Nearby residents were furious, especially when they discovered that city officials knew of the elimination as early as last summer but did not inform the public. Silberberg said she did not know of the potential for the elimination until it was a done deal in late March; Wilson, along with the deputy city manager and others, said the entire council was briefed on the possibility a year ago.
The last pre-election financial contribution report showed that Wilson raised $139,895 for the campaign in 2017 and 2018, while Silberberg raised $102,711.
The mayor, who has limited powers in Alexandria, will lead a city council that saw two incumbents lose in the primary Tuesday night — Paul Smedberg and Willie Bailey.
Twelve candidates sought the six seats — two were open, because of Wilson’s mayoral bid and Timothy Lovain’s decision not to seek reelection.
According to unofficial returns, the top six finishers in the primary were Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, incumbent John Taylor Chapman, Mo Seifeldein, Del Pepper, Canek Aguirre and Amy Jackson.
They will face two Republicans and one independent in November’s general election.
In nearby Arlington County, two newcomers sought the Democratic nomination to run for the sole seat up for election this year on the County Board.
Matt de Ferranti, 44, decisively beat Chanda Choun, 30, and will challenge incumbent John Vihstadt (I) in the general election, according to unofficial results.
De Ferranti, 44, legislative director for the National Indian Education Association, had been endorsed by many Arlington elected officials. He promised to return the county government to its progressive roots by focusing on transit improvements, encouraging the construction of more affordable housing, strengthening the schools and preserving parks.
Choun, 30, a cybersecurity manager with a private technology firm, leaned heavily on his Cambodian immigrant roots and his Army service to argue that the county leadership needed more youth and diversity on the board.