Williamsburg’s elected officials addressed residents Thursday night in the biannual State of the City, calling for the local community to rise above the political fault lines that divide the country.
Mayor Paul Freiling thanked the community for turning out for the State of the City before turning the spotlight back on the community he serves.
In his 2016 address Freiling called for the community to remain a “caring, concerned and inclusive community,” and Thursday night his remarks echoed those sentiments.
“We still are very much that place, but the same does not seem to be true always about the world around us,” Freiling said.
Freiling said the tenor of public discourse in all levels of American society has deteriorated since his 2016 address, and cited the hate-fueled violence in Charlottesville and Pittsburgh over the last year-and-a-half. He said it has been disturbing to see prejudice and intolerance become a political movement in the United States.
He then asked what has happened to the voices of reason in society.
“Fortunately they are here in Williamsburg. We have seen how this community can rise in support of our brothers and sisters and we will continue to do just that,” Freiling said. “Unfortunately, we have little chance of making an impact on the national scene, but we can do our part here at home.”
The mayor mentioned the helicopter crash in July, when two people were killed and many more displaced from their homes. He said he was proud of the response from the Williamsburg community to assist those left homeless or impoverished by the crash.
“If someone is down, lift them up,” Freiling said. “If someone is suffering, offer aid.”
He also called for the civil and fair treatment of neighbors and demanded an end to bullying, especially bullying behavior perpetrated by adults.
“Let’s commit to getting to know better those who are different from ourselves, both within and without our community,” Freiling said. “We should all strive to be models of civility…We may or may not be a shining city upon a hill, but we can certainly be a beacon of hope for the future.”
The other council members, including Vice Mayor Doug Pons, Barbara Ramsey, Benny Zhang and Ted Maslin, took turns noting the city’s changes and accomplishments over the past two years, including the Midtown Row redevelopment project, the implementation of Senate Bill 942, and maintaining the highest possible credit rating for a city of its size.
The council members also spoke of the changes they would like to see over the next two years, such as improving housing affordability, driving economic growth in the Capital Landing Road corridor, reducing the city’s carbon footprint and increasing transportation options.
“I am pleased to report the state of the city is healthy, strong and energized, while the state of our community is empathetic, warm and welcoming,” Freiling said.