You can’t always mark the exact moment that one era ends and another begins. Most of adult life is being comfortable in the muddled middle of things, epochs seamlessly bleeding into one another such that the passage from daycare to driver’s ed seems both endless and impossibly sudden. Definitive closure is rare and unusual, and the parts of us that expect it grow calloused and rough to better withstand the incremental creep of change.
And then there are moments like Tuesday, when you could actually see the light go out of the eyes of Alexandria’s NIMBYs in real time.
This is not to say that our most recalcitrant neighbors are gone for good (though some of them are petulantly posting in their precious little Facebook safe space that they’re going to move) or that they won’t on occasion sally forth guerilla-like from their caves deep in the hills of our civic discourse, but the results of this week’s primary election put to rest any notion that there was an ascendant and durable anti-progress movement in this city.
The mayor’s 15-point 3,200 vote margin of victory over the former-mayor-turned-road-repaving-aficionado was astonishing in scale even to those of us that follow such things closely. Inaccurately described by the local fish-wrap as a “change agent” (to paraphrase a friend, you keep using that word “change”… I do not think it means what you think it means) Silberberg did indeed change our perception of the mandate for progress our next Council will enjoy, should these results hold in the general election this fall.
And it would be without a doubt, a mandate. Had Tuesday’s outcome been isolated to the mayoral contest it might have been possible to hand-wave it away as a result of the long and intertwined history of these two oil-and-water personalities. But the NIMBY candidates got routed up and down the Council ballot too! The six candidates that emerged from Tuesday as the Democratic slate in November’s general election (incumbents Chapman, Jackson, and Aguirre, along with first-time candidates Gaskins, Bagley, and McPike) all ran positive forward-looking campaigns focused on big ideas to help the whole city. They didn’t pander to fears or lean on culture war rhetoric. They most certainly didn’t run on punch-lists of things they wanted to un-do or re-do. And in the end the preference for their positive vision of Alexandria wasn’t particularly close; you had to plumb the depths of the table to find any kind of constituency for the can’t-do brand of politics offered by others.
To be clear, the reckoning that arrived on Tuesday was not about the right to have bad ideas. That’s what’s great about this country, you’re allowed to believe all sorts of wrong things. You are more than welcome to your belief that no one should be allowed to come within half a mile of the 8,000 sq foot neo-classical monument to Republican lobbying wealth you call a house, unless they’re driving a car past it at 55 miles per hour. No, the reckoning that came this week wasn’t for those awful ideas, it was for the notion that everyone in our city believed them. That most people in our city believed them. That anyone other than the three other people on your private drive believed them. The reckoning that came should lay to rest once and for all the notion that being on the losing side of an issue means no one listened to you. All possible grievances against progress were aired widely over the lengthy arc of our little civic Festivus these past six months. The voters of Alexandria heard the caterwauling “no” from the candidates loud and clear and unequivocally rejected it.
We woke up on Wednesday in a city that wants to say yes to things. We woke up in a new moment, with new opportunities for growth and imagination, new determination to face and solve old challenges. We put our faith in a group of leaders eager to try and help our imperfect city attain every additional bit of perfection that we can, little by little, one vote at a time.
And I for one can’t wait to reckon with that.
– P.C. Publius
June 11, 2021