Morning Notes

Alexandria boxer Troy Isley to compete in Olympics — “Troy Isley, 22, is a middleweight boxer from Alexandria, a T.C. Williams High School alumnus and part of the Alexandria Boxing Club. He secured his spot on the Olympic team on June 7, USA Boxing confirmed.” [Patch]

Alexandria Police helped chase down suspect Friday — “Alert:: APD assisted PG County Police and Fairfax County Police with chasing down a suspect. The chase originated in PG County and came through our city via Fairfax County. No injuries to report. The suspect was taken into custody.” [Twitter]

Emmy Squared Opens in Old Town — “After a soft opening this weekend, Emmy Squared will open its doors Wednesday, June 30 at 124 King St., in the heart of Old Town Alexandria, near the waterfront.” [Alexandria Living]

New uses coming to original Mount Vernon High School — “The building was originally built in 1939 on land that used to be part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. It was used as a high school until 1973 and then a middle school until 1985. The building was then leased to the Islamic Saudi Academy in 1989 until that school relocated to a new building in 2016.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s weather — “Sunny (during the day). Hot. High 94F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph… Clear skies (in the evening). Low 74F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Tour guide — “Seeking a responsible, punctual, and social tour guide/driver to help with winery and brewery tours on weekends. Must be comfortable driving large groups (driving minivan or 15 passenger van). Clean driving record is a Must!” [Indeed]

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The controversy over the Seminary Road Diet has been front and center this election season, with a majority of City Council candidates saying they will vote to reverse it if elected.

Council candidates have been peppered with questions on the road diet, in addition to their general philosophies on roadway development and community engagement.

Even Mayor Justin Wilson seems open to tweaking the plan, while his opponent, former Mayor Allison Silberberg is for fully returning the four travel lanes on the one mile of roadway next to Inova Alexandria Hospital.

Currently, the City has no plans to widen Seminary Road nor any estimates on how to do so, according to an email from the Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. The stretch between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street was reduced from four to two lanes, and a center turn lane, bike lanes, crosswalks and medians were added. Sidewalks were also installed on both sides of the street.

The City received thousands of emails and messages against the plan. Shortly after its approval in 2019, City Councilwoman Amy Jackson even tried to get it reversed, although her motion failed for lack of a gaining a second.

City staff estimated after the road diet’s implementation that fully reverting it back to its former self would cost up to $700,000, according to a Feb. 2020 presentation to Council. Replacing the two standard islands with mountable islands would cost $40,000, and it would also cost $300,000 to erase the roadway markings and re-patch the areas with asphalt. Additionally, it is estimated that micro-surfacing the roadway would also cost $500,000.

Shortly before the road diet’s 4-3 Council passage, however, city staff also presented a $150,000 alternative.

“Staff provided this estimate before a conceptual alternative was adopted and before the City’s interdisciplinary team developed detailed design plans,” City staff told ALXnow. “The $300,000 to $700,000 range of estimates were developed post-construction with current (at that time) costs and design plans that were implemented to reflect what would need to be demolished and removed to revert to a four-lane cross section. Further estimating and actual quotes will need to be developed based off the specific Council direction.”

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It’s been nearly ten years since Republicans had a spot on the City Council, but Republican City Council candidate Darryl Nirenberg is hoping several divisive issues that have cropped up over the last couple years can help break the blue stranglehold on the city this November.

“Prospects for a Republican are better now than they have been for years,” Nirenberg said. “The issues facing our city, such as divisive plans to house adults on school grounds; road diets; promoting more density in the midst of a pandemic; neglect of our storm drains and infrastructure; and destroying green space — are not partisan.”

Nirenberg also has a personal tie to the legacy of racism within the Republican party. From 1992-1995, he was chief of staff to Senator Jesse Helms, who is largely known for his fierce opposition to desegregation and his derision of Martin Luther King Jr.

According to a biography at his employer’s website, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Nirenberg listed his work with Helms as dealing with banking, financial, and judicial issues. Before that, from 1987 to 1992 he was a counsel and deputy chief of staff for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and from 1983 to 1987 he was a staffer on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Nirenberg, a graduate of The George Washington University Law School, said he has experienced prejudice himself firsthand and, despite working for a segregationist, that he has always supported civil rights:

Having known and experienced prejudice myself growing up Jewish in rural New York, I have always supported civil rights, and I believe everyone has the right to marry whomever they wish regardless of gender. I have worked for Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R-NY) and Sen. S.I. Hayakawa (R-CA), served on the staff of two Senate Committees, and practiced policy advocacy for Tom Boggs. Instead of talking about these jobs and a long deceased Senator for whom I worked over a quarter century ago, I’d much prefer to focus on what’s at stake in this election and how we can work together to improve the quality of life for all who live in our city.

Even within the Democratic primary, housing co-location at schools, the Seminary Road diet, and stormwater infrastructure have been contentious issues between candidates. Nirenberg said he hopes the frustration with incumbents can lead to local citizens throwing more support behind Republican candidates in November.

“There is a growing recognition that the process is broken; that 100% one party rule over time does not produce the best results, and that there is a need for checks and balances,” Nirenberg said. “We all know the best decisions are reached when there are people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse perspectives sitting around the table.”

Along with Nirenberg’s City Council bid, Annetta Catchings is running as the Republican candidate for mayor. The last Republican City Council members were Alicia Hughes and Frank Fannon, who were ousted in 2012. The last Republican Mayor was elected in 1872 — years before the party’s staunch opposition to the Civil Rights movement starting in the early 20th century led to party realignment.

“We need to plan for our future, not muddle into it,” Nirenberg said. “These policies aren’t divisive or partisan. They are just common-sense.”

So far, Nirenberg has raised $42,807.

His top issues are:

  • “The learning gap and reopening schools — not housing adults there.
  • “Restore Seminary Road and end road diets.”
  • “Save Chinquapin Park and preserve our green space.”
  • “Fix our storm drains now.”
  • “Stop spending tax dollars to promote more density until our schools and infrastructure catch up and there is a plan to accommodate more density.”

Photo via DarrylNirenberg.com

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With no more mayoral debates, now it all boils down to the Democratic primary on June 8.

Like the main event at a boxing match, Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg on Thursday night maneuvered through a series of questions in the final of four Seminary Ridge Civic Association candidate forums.

This is the final debate or forum for the two candidates until the June 8 Democratic primary.

Wilson is leading in fundraising and endorsements, while underdog Silberberg has gotten support from groups like the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook page for agreeing on a number of its pet issues, including government transparency, reversing the Seminary Road Diet, and curbing developments.

Fifteen City Council candidates participated in the Seminary Ridge conversations, opining on density, affordable housing, government transparency, flooding, and, their opinions on making changes to the controversial Seminary Road Diet.

After a 4-3 Council vote in 2019, the road, which is next to Inova Alexandria Hospital, was reduced from four to two lanes in exchange for a center turn lane, bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the street, crosswalks and medians. A majority of Council candidates are now in favor of taking a look at bringing travel lanes back from two to four lanes on the 0.9 mile stretch of roadway between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street.

Wilson said that he is in favor of tweaking the plan, although has been accused of ignoring the opposition of 13 civic associations.

“It’s unfortunately we couldn’t get everyone in the community on the same page on this issue,” Wilson said. “I believe the improvements that we made were good ones. I’m hopeful that in the future we can continue to tweak as necessary.”

Silberberg said she would restore the four lanes.

“This is a major arterial road that leads to our only hospital,” she said. “I’ve seen it and many residents have seen it and told me about it that they’ve seen ambulances stuck. I think we have a chance to right this wrong, and, of course, keep the pedestrian improvements, but I wouldn’t have voted for it and I will restore the travel lanes if I can get everyone together on that.”

Transparency

Silberberg said she’s been saddened to hear reports of residents not trusting their government, and defended recently pledging herself to an accountability pledge labeled the Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights. Silberberg lost to Wilson in the Democratic primary in 2018, and says that she worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week during her single term.

“I think they [City staff] should sign the pledge as well,” she said.

Silberberg also criticized the performance and six-figure salary of City Manager Mark Jinks.

“It is a lot of money, frankly. I brought this up (when mayor) but nobody agreed with me, but for the City Manager to have a car allowance. It sounds minor, but I don’t think we should have that for him. I think we should revise that.”

Wilson said that Jinks’ salary was in the middle of the pack when compared to the salaries of neighboring jurisdictions, and that he is appropriately paid given the organization that he runs.

Colocation of affordable housing

Wilson said he does not want to colocate affordable housing on the grounds of Alexandria City Public Schools, a position echoed by Silberberg on another controversial issue.

I don’t support putting affordable housing on our existing school properties,” he said. “We need more instructional space.”

Silberberg said that the school system is bursting at the seams as it is.

“I would certainly support an ordinance to say no to putting housing on our limited school properties,” she said.

Stream restoration

Wilson said that the city’s Environmental Policy Commission is full of “good science minds” that can look into the city’s stream restoration projects, including at Taylor Run, Strawberry Run and Lucky Run. Last month, Council opted to send aspects of the projects back to the drawing board in light of widespread public criticism.

Silberberg says that Alexandria has few forests left, and that she has long been opposed to the plans, as well as Wilson’s “unending pursuit of overbuilding”.

Transit lanes on Duke Street

Speaking of road diets, Wilson and Silberberg agreed that the Duke Street Transitway project should not result in fewer traffic lanes between Landmark Mall and the King Street-Old Town Metro station.

I personally don’t think the volumes on Duke street would allow us to remove any traffic lanes on Duke Street,” Wilson said. “We’re gonna have a lot of community engagement to figure out the best alignment, as well as looking at the intersections to try to reduce some of the cut-through traffic that we see in a lot of our neighborhoods.”

The city is embarking on the public engagement part of the project next month.

On $60 million in federal COVID funding

Silberberg said that the nearly $60 million in COVID relief funds coming to the city should be handled carefully, and after all of last year’s flooding that the funds should be spent on stormwater infrastructure.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment from the federal government, and we need to be extremely careful and good stewards of this money,” she said. “Think about what is mission critical. First and foremost, I think we clearly have to focus like a laser beam on this flooding, the sewage and stormwater flooding that’s attacking, and stalking, really, our residents every time it rains.”

Wilson said he’s proud to have led the city through the most significant public health crisis in a century, and that the city needs to invest more in the social, emotional and academic losses experienced by Alexandria children.

“We have an opportunity to make generational investments in our community around our infrastructure, around our facilities, around some of the systems around workforce development and things that are going to ultimately benefit our community for generations,” he said. “We got 1,300 suggestions from the community, and we’re going to be working in June and July to apply those suggestions in figuring out how to use that first tranche of money.”

Image via Seminary Ridge Civic Association/Zoom

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Morning Notes

James K. Polk Elementary School paraprofessional Nadine Brown dies — “It is with great sorrow and sadness that we share late Sunday night, our beloved Nadine Brown, Kindergarten and Special Education Para-Professional passed away. For years, she served as a one-on-one for one of our students; the two were inseparable and had a genuine love for each other. Ms. Brown was a loved and valued member of the JKP Family and knitted countless blankets and quilts for the staff. Ms. Brown exuded a very quiet demeanor, but she was a fighter and battled cancer for years. For years, she came to work ill and often said, ‘The kids inspire me, I need to be here.’ Ms. Brown was an inspiration to us all. She always brought joy and she will forever be in our hearts. We send our deepest condolences to her family and friends. Rest in peace, Ms. Brown.” [Facebook]

Community invited to meet two candidates for principal of John Adams Elementary School — “Parents and Community members are invited meet the two finalists for the position of principal via a Zoom virtual meeting on Thursday, May 27, 2021. You can submit your questions for the candidates via the online Q&A during the session. There will be a form for you to offer feedback after the session. The Zoom link and more information can be found on the John Adams Class Dojo page. Thank you for participating in this selection process.” [Facebook]

AHDC updates design of Seminary Road development — “Plans for new, affordable townhomes and condos are in the works for a development on Seminary Road.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria’s 43rd Annual Jazz Festival in Old Town Saturday is sold out — “Thanks for ordering! Remember, all guests must be on named the list to be admitted, including children. If you need to edit or amend your order at any time, please log into Eventbrite to make changes.” [Eventbrite]

Today’s weather — “Generally sunny (during the day). High 86F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph… A few clouds from time to time (in the evening). Low near 65F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Newspaper carrier with The Washington Post — “Looking for people interested in delivering newspapers in Alexandria, VA.” [Indeed]

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Monday night was a clinic in anti-establishment thinking, as the final group of City Council candidates opined on such issues as transparency, the Seminary Road Diet, the elimination of school resource officer funding and shifting from an at-large to a ward system.

It was the third and final Council forum with the Seminary Ridge Civic Association, which last week featured two virtual panels with the other candidates.

City Councilwoman Amy Jackson said that she voted against the Seminary Road Diet, and that if there is enough support will vote to reverse it in January.

“If I’m reelected and we get the votes of course that’ll be one of the first things I’m going to look at in January,” Jackson said. “City Council, for as much as they say they listen to everybody’s voice, then they go and vote in a way that honestly shows that they weren’t listening.”

Candidate Mark Shiffer said that the concerns of 13 civic associations opposed to the road diet were not taken into account, and that the decision to move forward was predetermined by Council, despite the legislation’s 4-3 Council vote in 2019.

“What we saw was a decision that had already been made, and that’s why we’re seeing that there was an appearance of not listening,” he said, adding that Council also overstepped its bounds with its decision to eliminate school resource officers (SROs) from Alexandria City Public Schools. “I don’t think the City Council should have overruled overruled the (School) Board. That’s why we have a Board to make those decisions, and if you don’t like what the Board does vote them out. If you want City Council to run the schools, well let’s get rid of the School Board, right?”

Jackson said that she held her ground against the 4-3 SRO decision, and that it undermined the School Board.

“I did not want to take $800,000 away from the police because they didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.

However, candidate Kevin Harris is in favor of the elimination of SROs.

“You have to understand me being a young man of color, and attending schools that have had school resource officers,” he said. “I’ve seen so many times how minor, minor disciplinary issues have turned into criminal issues, I’ve had friends personally who have been put sent to juvenile detention centers for things that don’t even make sense.”

Harris also said that colocating affordable housing on school grounds should be kept on the table, while Jackson, Shiffer and Independent candidate Florence King are against the concept.

On ward representation, Jackson said that it would lead to further inequities.

“When you’re a public servant to the city, you really should know everything that’s going on everywhere because one puzzle piece in your neck of the woods may connect and usually does to something else somewhere else,” she said. “I would hate for anything to fall through the cracks just because we have a ward system, and maybe someone who is really not as engaged in that one Ward and then those people don’t have the representation that they need.”

Shiffer said that the at-large system is absurd.

“It’s very difficult to represent 160,000 people,” he said. “My personal favorite is a solution where the mayor is at-large, we have one or two council members at large, and I think in that way, we make sure that all parts of the city are represented.”

The Seminary Ridge mayoral forum between Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 27.

The Democratic primary is on June 8.

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(Updated 5 p.m.) Statements on the Seminary Road Diet and government transparency were the highlights of Thursday night’s Seminary Ridge Civic Association candidate forum.

Thursday night’s forum (the second of three events) included City Councilman John Taylor Chapman, former School Board Member Bill Campbell, Meronne Teklu, Republican candidate Darryl Nirenberg and Bill Rossello.

The group was first questioned on the role of civic associations in policymaking discussions, since 13 civic associations were opposed to the road diet, which was approved in a 4-3 Council vote in 2019.

Chapman voted against the road diet, and previously said he would vote to reverse it.

“I was one that voted against the Seminary Road diet, and voted against it because I did not feel comfortable with that project,” Chapman said. “I am truly committed to having our civic associations involved. They need to be involved in the policymaking. We need to honestly find a way to not only to get the Federation of Civic Associations, but also a gathering of apartment owners who live here in the city, talking to council, hearing from council members, having us listen to them in order to bring good policy forward.”

Rossello, an early member of the controversial Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook group, said that he has been a leading voice against the road diet.

“We need to maintain road capacity on the major arterial roads,” Rossello said. “We need to restore integrity, transparency and accountability at City Hall, making residents and neighborhoods, the central focus of our government once again.”

The meeting was also one of the first appearances for Nirenberg, who said he would vote to reverse the road diet. He also said that Alexandria City Public Schools should not colocate affordable housing on school grounds, and that the city should return to a ward system and take “a breather on density until the school infrastructure can handle a growing school population.

“I oppose road diets,” Nirenberg said. “I want to see Seminary Road restored. Traffic is bad enough, in our city. The city government should be focused on alleviating traffic, not making it worse.”

Nirenberg continued, “The thing is the issues before our council are not partisan. They’re common sense. So if elected, I will bring a different perspective to the council, and from the outset, I’ll propose stopping all efforts to put adult housing on school grounds, destroying four lanes to seminary road, and ending the road diet, taking a breather on more density until we have a plan as to how we can have our infrastructure in schools while gaining in population, and starting a discussion about returning to wards or districts.”

The first forum was held on Tuesday, and featured City Councilman Canek Aguirre, Alyia GaskinsKirk McPikePatrick Moran and Sarah Bagley. The third and final Council candidate forum will air at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 24, and feature City Councilwoman Amy Jackson, Kevin Harris, James Lewis, Mark Shiffer and independent candidate Florence King.

The mayoral forum between Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 27.

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While much attention is being paid to Inova Health System’s plans for Landmark Mall, the hospital is also slowly moving forward with plans to convert the existing hospital space to houses.

At the June 1 Planning Commission meeting, Inova is seeking to have the land use designation for the hospital at 4320 Seminary Road changed from industrial to medium residential — in keeping with the housing type throughout much of the surrounding Seminary Hill neighborhood.

“The proposed ‘Residential Medium’ land use designation is in character with the predominant residential land uses in the Seminary Hill/Strawberry Hill Small Area Plan,” staff said in a report. “As the hospital is planning to relocate to Landmark Mall, changing the land use designation from ‘Institutional’ to ‘Residential Medium’ will benefit the surrounding properties by reducing the impacts of the existing hospital use.”

The report also said that changing the use will reduce the overall impact of the site on local traffic and on the sanitary sewer capacity.

“Future redevelopment consistent with the RB zoning will be designed to meet current stormwater management requirements, which are much more stringent than when the hospital and subsequent additions were built,” the report said. “New streets, parking, and fire access will be provided with any future redevelopment plan and will be designed to meet all applicable City standards.”

The report noted, however, that any development at the site is still at least seven years off.

“The hospital will remain on the Property until approximately 2028 when the new hospital at Landmark Mall is completed,” the report said. “As such, any additional student generation would not be realized until the construction of the new residential development is complete (approximately two years after 2028) and can be accommodated at that time through renovated and planned school facilities in the West End.”

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What a week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week is on Gregory Elliott, a special education teacher at T.C. Williams High School. Elliot also goes by the name of “Sugar Bear” for the D.C.-based go-go band Experience Unlimited, and their song “Da’ Butt” from the Spike Lee movie “School Daze” was featured at the Oscars, along with actress Glenn Close dancing to it.

This week was full of news.

City Manager Mark Jinks hinted at retiring, there was a chlorine spill at Lake Cook and the Alexandria Fire Department is contending with reports of racism, sexism and favoritism.

Additionally, a cyberattack on a gas pipeline resulted in a state of emergency throughout Virginia. We asked readers about it in our weekly poll, and out of 250 responses only 31% (78 votes) considered making alternate travel plans.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Go-go music star-turned Alexandria teacher ‘Sugar Bear’ in the spotlight after Oscars shoutout
  2. Landmark Mall developers to field public question in forum this week
  3. UPDATE: Woman arrested for firing gun near Alexandria Courthouse in Old Town
  4. AHDC proposes nearly 500 units of affordable housing for Arlandria
  5. ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
  6. Here’s which City Council candidates signed the new ‘Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights’ pledge
  7. Girlfriend of murder suspect arrested for breaking into home and beating up witness
  8. Election: Stark differences as Wilson and Silberberg face off in mayoral debate
  9. Racism, sexism and favoritism reported within the Alexandria Fire Department
  10. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  11. Wilson and Silberberg clash over new challenges, old wounds, and The Golden Girls

Have a safe weekend!

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Stark differences were on full display Saturday night, as Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg sparred in a contentious debate on local issues.

Wilson defended his record since taking the mayorship from Silberberg in 2018. Silberberg, however, said she wants to restore the public trust, and that the city is at an inflection point.

“We’ve seen in the last couple of years certain decisions and policies that have been decided that really put our city at risk in many ways,” Silberberg said. “Our visions for the city are different. And our city is at an inflection point… It saddens me to hear so many residents express a profound loss of confidence and trust in our local government. As your mayor, I would certainly be very focused on transparency, and rebuilding the public trust.”

The hour-long debate was hosted by the Alexandria Democratic Committee, and moderated by Robert McCartney, a senior regional correspondent for The Washington Post. Wilson currently leads in fundraising and endorsements, and the debate comes on the heels of Wilsons’ endorsement by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

Silberberg presented herself as an environmentalist in favor of “smart growth,” while Wilson said that the city needs to match growth with transportation infrastructure.

“I’m inspired to turn what I’ve learned about our city’s resilience over the last year into a mission for our city’s future,” Wilson said. “I know that by investing in our kids, investing in our basic infrastructure, and making sure that we have an economy that can support the services that our residents expect and demand, Alexandria cannot only survive in the aftermath of this pandemic, but we can thrive.”

Silberberg’s tenure as mayor was plagued by lone 6-1 votes, and Wilson said that she voted against a number of important issues, including a controversial 5.7 cent tax hike in 2017 that resulted in significant capital improvement funding.

“I speak out for the people and I listen to our residents,” Silberberg said. “I’m certainly in favor of transit oriented development, that has been what we’ve all supported across the many years. But what I’m really for is smart growth. And what that means really, is that you don’t have unabashed out of scale overbuilding on every square inch, that you do keep some open space, which helps with the flooding.”

Silberberg criticized Wilson’s handling of COVID-19, and said that the city’s face mask ordinance needed to be passed sooner that the fall of 2020.

“It’s been a harrowing year for all of us,” she said. “I know a number of folks who have had COVID, and I’ve lost some friends. I don’t think we should have waited till October 1 with the outdoor mask order. Cities all across the country were helping restaurants, but the restaurants in the Bradley Center in the middle of the city and on the West End weren’t helped as much as other places, so we need to look at that across the board.”

Wilson said that the mask ordinance was the first adopted in Virginia, and was replicated by Northam in his statewide executive order. He also said that the city’s vaccination rate for Latinos is higher than for white residents, a result of “aggressive outreach” to the city’s nonprofits.

“I’m very proud of that ordinance,” he said. “Alexandria led the way in providing new small business flexibility using outdoor spaces, sidewalks, closing streets, parking lots and everything to help keep our businesses afloat. I worked with the mayor of Richmond to go down to the General Assembly and ultimately get the governor to include an executive order that allowed carry-out cocktails, which has helped keep our restaurants a floating all around our city. We spent millions of dollars a small business assistance again leading the way in the region, and helping our small businesses providing grants to small businesses all around our city.”

Silberberg also said that she would reverse the Seminary Road Diet, which she said is a transparency issue.

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