Williamsburg Mayor Jeanne Zeidler M.A. ’76 announced Jan. 8 that she will not run for a fifth term in the Williamsburg City Council elections this spring. Zeidler has served as the City of Williamsburg’s first female mayor since 1998. She was elected to the city council in 1994, having previously served on the Williamsburg-James City County School Board.
“Together with my colleagues on city council there have been many accomplishments over the past 12 years that have made this city a better place,” Zeidler said in an e-mail. “One of those accomplishments is improving the town-gown relations. That has also been one of the biggest challenges.”
Zeidler’s tenure as mayor saw the purchase and renovation of the city’s Transportation Center as well as the creation of Williamsburg Area Transit, which improved bus routes and provided schedules to Williamsburg residents. Other expansions to the city with which Zeidler was involved include the Prince George Street streetscape project and the High Street development on Richmond Road.
“Mayor Zeidler has been a serious, pragmatic mayor for the past 12 years,” Josh Karp ’11, founder of Students for a Better Williamsburg, a student-run, non-partisan political action committee, said in an email. “Over her nearly 20 years in city government, she’s earned the respect of every member of the Williamsburg community.”
Zeidler spoke with students last October as the last speaker in SBW’s “Meet Your City Councillors” series. The series brought council members Paul Freiling ’83, Clyde Haulman, Judy Knudson and Bobby Braxton to campus in the weeks prior to Zeidler’s appearance.
“I always enjoy interacting with William and Mary students and always feel welcome,” Zeidler said. “My appearance last fall was one of many that I have had on the campus with student groups and classes over the past 16 years.”
According to Zeidler, the atmosphere between students and the city has changed substantially in the past decade.
“Twelve years ago there were no regular meetings between the [College] and the city,” Zeidler said. “Now the [College] president and his chief of staff and the city manager and the mayor meet once a month. One or two times a semester, the mayor, vice mayor and key city staff meet with the leadership of the Student Assembly. Twice each year the president and the mayor, along with their leadership teams, meet.”
In addition, the Neighborhood Council of Williamsburg holds regular meetings with College officials in Morton Hall, and for the past several years the city has produced a special student edition of the new resident’s handbook.
“Mayor Zeidler made the best choices she could given the difficult political climate here in town,” Karp said. “In the past year she has tried very hard to solve town-gown problems, with the Focus Group on Rental Housing and recent legislation increasing occupancy to four people in certain areas around town. I think that she understood how to fix the problems around town, but she wasn’t able to overcome town-resident opposition.”
The city charged residents of nine houses with violating the three-person rule last November. Students proceeded to protest the rule during the Grand Illumination Dec. 6 in downtown Colonial Williamsburg.
“My advice for the next mayor is this,” Zeidler said. “Leadership is restraint; you are first among equals; build consensus and avoid polarization. The most important idea to keep in mind is respect — respect the citizens, respect the institutions, respect the city staff, and respect the other members of the city council. All have perspectives that need to be considered.”
Zeidler’s replacement has yet to be announced. Braxton has not announced whether he will seek the position of mayor. He is one of five city council members who may be selected to fill the position.
Zeidler may be ready to move on, but some are not ready for her absence from city affairs.
To Zeidler, however, it is important that a new face is given the chance to serve as mayor.
“When my term is over on June 30, I will have served the citizens of Williamsburg for 20 years — 12 as mayor, 16 on city council, and before that [four] as a member of the school board,” she said. “I am proud of the accomplishments of the city government and the school division during my service. I believe that an important principle of our democratic system is that others should have the opportunity to serve.”