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The Buried Lead

(pronounced LEED) – a Features blog of Independendently Reported/Written Stories

By Mark McHugh

Without hesitation, Allison Silberberg stated the topic most on Alexandrians’ minds when she meets them.

And it’s not The Economy.

“Every voter won’t even let me speak before they ask me about the waterfront,” she said. “I can’t even finish saying my name before they say: ‘What’s your opinion on the waterfront?’”

Silberberg is one of 14 Democratic candidates running for six seats on Alexandria City Council. The primary election is June 12.

At last month’s debate between Silberberg and her counterparts, the waterfront development plan was among the most-discussed topics.

The council in January voted 5-2 to approve the controversial plan, which originally called for the construction of three hotels. The January decision limits the number of hotel rooms onsite to 300, with no more than two hotels with 150 rooms per hotel.

Many citizens have criticized the city’s decision for not being transparent – even dismissive – of their concerns during the waterfront plan decision-making process. “People are angry across this city, and rightfully so,” Silberberg said.

To Silberberg, the waterfront plan’s progress is about more than just politics. The way it’s carried out could set precedent for future development, with potential to bulldoze over citizens’ concerns as similar future endeavors are considered.

Such a precedent, she said, holds this historic city’s future in a historic pendulum.

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post last December, she wrote that new incoming revenue (from a responsibly developed waterfront area) and historic preservation can co-exist – as long as careful, creative development plays a role.

In that written piece, and in her campaign platform, she calls for construction of a “people’s waterfront” plan, and a permanent, small arts venue in Oronoco Bay Park for events and gatherings.

Silberberg agreed with former Alexandria Mayor Patsy Ticer, who felt that the plan in January was ‘not ready for prime time,’ and Silberberg would have voted against it. “I feel that the waterfront plan, while improved, was not visionary enough,” she said. “And our city deserves something that is bolder and more creative.”

At play in City Hall is a transportation initiative, in which the city proposes a free trolley route from the King Street Metro into the Arlandria neighborhood. The trolley is slated to travel north on Mt. Vernon Ave., and turn at Reed Ave. before returning downtown.

Last week at a candidates’ forum sponsored by the New Latino Movement, Silberberg was the only candidate to raise the issue of the Del Ray Trolley.  She wants it to go further into the heart of Arlandria, extending at least to Russell Rd. before taking its return route. “I find it incredibly short-sighted, and even insensitive, that right now it is slated to stop at the edge of Arlandria,” she said. “And it would be good for the businesses there, too.”

BRAC Effect

Just as controversial as the waterfront development plan, the Mark Center Building (also known as BRAC-133) was built leaving many issues unresolved – one of which is its effects on traffic flow in an already saturated stretch of highway.

A public rallying cry (“Don’t BRAC the Waterfront”) took hold as citizens collectively drew comparisons between the waterfront plan and BRAC.

The Mark Center Building is not Metro-accessible. Located on 16 acres at Seminary Rd. near Interstate 395, it holds over 6,000 employees.

She describes the public dissatisfaction that’s been expressed to her regarding the behemoth-like Mark Center Building: “Yes it’s built. But we want to know – how did this happen, and how can we prevent this from happening again? A building that size being built without a Metro stop is not acceptable,” she said.

Political History

A self-described “scrawny, short kid,” she practiced daily to place third on a Dallas tennis team of her youth. “I practiced every day and I ended up number three, against all odds, with a racket that we bought used for thirty bucks,” she laughed. “I am a person who perseveres.”

Silberberg is proceeding with the same kind of tenacity, backed by a long history of community activism, her own brand of friendly thoughtfulness combined with the skill and sophistication of an individual who not only understands how things should work, but actually do work.

An Alexandria resident since 1989, she is chair of Alexandria’s Economic Opportunities Commission (2010 – present) where she’s been a member for the past eight years. She has led and managed several charity events that have netted over $50,000 for local nonprofits in the region in the past decade. She is the recipient of two community service awards.

L to R: Va. State Senators Adam Ebbin and Richard Saslaw, Allison Silberberg, and former Alexandria Mayor/former State Senator Patsy Ticer at Allison Silberberg for Alexandria City Council kickoff in March. Photo: Lloyd Wolf

Her candidacy has received endorsements from The Hon. Patsy Ticer (former Alexandria mayor and former State Senator) and Va. State Senators Richard Saslaw and Adam Ebbin. She is also endorsed by former City Councilwoman Joyce Woodson, and former School Board member Eileen Cassidy Rivera.

A longtime Member of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, she was also Virginia Coordinator of ReDefeatBush in the 2004 election.

Her career began under the auspices of luminaries such as the late U.S. Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Lloyd M. Bentsen (D-Texas). Her sense of political optimism has roots back in the early 80s, while interning in Kennedy’s office.  She was the only intern at the time not from Massachusetts.

“Every day I walked into that office I felt this sense of mission and I knew right then and there that I wanted that sense of mission every day of my life. And ever since then I have been trying to fulfill that dream,” she said.

She was in the Senate galleries one day in the fall of 1983 to hear the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) give excoriating and racially charged remarks against the establishment of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a federal holiday.

As Silberberg looked on, Kennedy abandoned his prepared speech, stood up and said that Helms’s vitriolic statement was exactly why the U.S. needed a holiday as this to honor the slain civil rights leader.

Twenty-five years later, she recalled these moments in a column published by the Washington Post, titled “The Moment that Carried This Day.” In it, she wrote: “It was his [Kennedy’s] finest hour, and Helms’s worst.”

Ordinary People

Silberberg’s platform calls for a city-wide beautification jobs initiative program by coordinating with The Corps Network, mirroring President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps program.

Her platform also highlights tutoring, after-school programs and apprenticeship programs. As a leader, she wants to focus on GED and ESL programs for students, which she says would lead to more education and therefore more economic opportunities.

Additionally, “I would like to see us teach entrepreneurship at T.C. Williams in conjunction with the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship,” she said. Much more about her platform is at:

At the height of the “Crack Wars” in 1993, Silberberg founded Lights, Camera, Action! (LCA!), a nonprofit devoted to mentoring and helping youth in Anacostia realize their potential through filmmaking.

Silberberg wants to form partnerships with nonprofit organizations, such as the Enterprise Foundation, to build and provide affordable housing for Alexandria residents. “Affordable housing is at a tipping point,” she said.

Currently, the city is embroiled in conflict surrounding redevelopment plans, particularly over the Beauregard Corridor debate. The plan, if carried out, would displace over 2,000 residents in a 30-year period, according to news reports.

Silberberg has authored Visionaries In Our Midst: Ordinary People who are Changing our World, a book about individuals who are making a difference in America. Visionaries has received endorsements by Studs Terkel, Pete Seeger, Helen Thomas, Marvin Kalb, and  Paul Loeb.

She is grateful to the volunteers who have helped her campaign thus far. With donations ranging from five dollars to $1,000, she makes calls

Photo: Lloyd Wolf

to all donors, no matter what the size of the donation. “Every donation means something to me. It is important for me to thank them,” she said.

An April finance report from the Virginia Public Access Project showed funds raised by city council candidates from January 1 through March 31. Silberberg’s campaign, which officially kicked off in late March, has raised over $15,000, with about $6,200 cash on hand, according to the report.

This is an all-volunteer campaign that is not driven by huge funds, but it has garnered a wide spectrum of support, Silberberg said. “I have nothing but my heart, and my ideas, and my commitment and my passion.”


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