When one door closes another door opens, and on Tuesday night the doors opened at MetroStage to say thanks to former Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg and City Councilors Willie Bailey and Paul Smedberg.
“We do not often have the opportunity to stop and thank and recognize the contributions of those who serve on city council,” ADC Chair Clarence Tong told the packed house. “Their business is not typically as glamorous as the halls of Congress or the Virginia Capitol. In fact, I would say this is a thankless job.”
The event, which was sponsored by the Alexandria Democratic Committee, was a who’s-who of current and former local elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th), members of the General Assembly, the mayor, all the current members of city council and a few members of the school board.
Beyer said that when God closes one door he opens a window.
“For example, this mayor guy (Wilson) got booted off council a number of years ago, and came back as mayor. My pal Jim Moran resigned from council, came back to be mayor and then served in the U.S. Congress for 24 years. I serve with Rep. Bobby Rush (D-GA), who crushed Barack Obama in a primary back in Chicago all those years ago and I spent nine-and-a-half years of my life, 700,000 miles in a Volvo running for governor, lost and ended up Ambassador to Switzerland, which is a much better job than being governor.”
Silberberg, who served as mayor from 2016 until this January, said she was proud of the progress the city made under her leadership. She was first elected to city council in 2012 as vice mayor, and then in 2015 won a stunning victory in a three-way primary against incumbent Mayor Bill Euille and former Mayor Kerry Donley to win the Democratic nomination.
“It has been an unbelievable time to have served as your mayor,” Silberberg said. “The new council will carry on and do great things and keep the momentum going forward, but we are really poised to do great things.”
Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne thanked Bailey for selfless public service, and recalled one Christmas Eve when he realized that his staff was short on toys to give to the children of inmates at the Alexandria Detention Center.
‘We were really short on toys. I called Willie around dinnertime, he showed up at the door with a van full of toys. So, once again dropped everything that he was doing to come and help the kids,” Lawhorne said. “Throughout his campaign. Willie would often say to me, ‘I’m not a politician. My actions speak louder than my words.’ I would often remind him that he has entered a political arena and he better get busy acting like a politician. So every now and then you will see some evidence of a politician, but not often.”
Bailey, who is also a Fairfax County Fire and Rescue battalion chief, served one term on council.
“The city has done a lot for me and I promised myself after I raised my kids that I was going to give back,” he said. “And so these last three years serving on council were really three of the best years I’ve had in my life.”
Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said that the hours and attention needed to effectively govern are difficult, and that he misses Smedberg’s passion at the dais. He also said that Smedberg’s work on the waterfront and toward the shuttering of the GenOn power plant in 2012 will positively impact future generations of Alexandrians.
“There is definitely a little less passion on the dais without Paul there,” Wilson said. “Regardless of where he wanted a policy issue to end, he would require that you have the due process, that we make sure we involve people and he would vote against something – even if go to him something even something that he would support – if he didn’t feel like we’d been appropriately inclusive, if he didn’t feel we had done the right thing by the process and making sure that the community was heard.”
Smedberg, who served on council for five consecutive terms, is currently the second vice chair of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board of directors.
“It really has been a really amazing experience,” he said. “The diversity in this community is incredible, and all that you learn in your interactions is all very rewarding. I just want to say a big thank you for giving me this honor and opportunity to serve you the last 15 years.”