This year’s local elections for the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council carry the potential for big shakeups.
The county: The new majority
Eight candidates, four empty seats, two incumbents, savvy newcomers, and one vocal leader bowing out. One thing’s for certain in this year’s Albemarle County Board of Supervisors race: Change is coming.
Voters will be electing a majority of the six-person Board on November 5, which is something the Free Enterprise Forum’s Neil Williamson said he’s never seen in the 11 years he’s been covering the area and watching local elections. There’s a reason why localities opt to stagger their races, he said, and electing four out of six members at a time means Albemarle could see a big ideological swing. The two incumbent Republicans, two Democrats, and two Indpendents on the ballot all bring different perspectives and positions to the table, which Williamson said will drastically impact the Board’s discussions moving forward.
Two races are guaranteed to bring new blood to the Board. Scottsville residents will vote in a special election, choosingeither Republican Cynthia Burket or Democrat Jane Dittmar to permanently replace William “Petey” Craddock, who wastemporarily appointed to the Board in July after former Supervisor Christopher Dumler stepped down in the wake of a sexual battery guilty plea and attempted ouster.
But it’s the outcome of the Jack Jouett race that could have the greatest impact. Independent Supervisor Dennis Rooker—who tends to align with the Board’s Democrats and publicly endorsed left-leaning Independent candidate Diantha McKeel—is leaving the Board after serving three influential terms and a year as chairman, which Williamson said will change the Board’s organizational dynamic. McKeel is running against fellow Independent Phillip Seay, who’s been endorsed by the Republican party.
It’s kind of like when a when a giant tree falls in a forest, Williamson said, and sunlight pours in on the surrounding vegetation—somebody’s going to fill the void left by Rooker. Logically, he said, it would fall to either Ken Boyd or Anne Mallek, the only Supervisors whose seats aren’t up for election this year.
“But interestingly, it could be a new supervisor who comes forward in that respect,” Williamson said, “but it’s kind of hard to say who.” Democrats Liz Palmer and Brad Sheffield are challenging incumbent Republicans Duane Snow and Rodney Thomas in the Samuel Miller and Rio districts, respectively, and both the newcomers have proven effective fundraisers, bringing in almost twice what their rivals have in campaign contributions.
Regardless of who wins, Williamson said, the differences have made for a more comprehensive and thoughtful race, which is precisely what the county needs.
“The bottom line is, all these races are contested, which warms my soul,” Williamson said. “When you have a contested race, you have to refine and defend your positions, which makes for better public policy.”—Laura Ingles
The city: Change in the wind?
Democratic party-dominated Charlottesville is hardly a volatile political scene, but 2013’s City Council contest is shaping up to be an unusual race.
Since 2011, two councilors-turned-mayors who embodied a liberal advocacy that had become synonymous with city politicshave dropped away: first Holly Edwards, then Dave Norris, who announced in the spring that he wouldn’t seek another term.
Meanwhile, Republicans Michael Farruggio and Charles “Buddy” Weber, whose party rarely manages to elbow its way too deeply into the local discourse, joined forces this year to create the first multiple-candidate GOP ticket in more than a decade, and have so far managed to out-fundraise their Democratic opponents.
So does Charlottesville stand to lose its lefty lean?
Not likely, said Peter Kleeman, a local lawyer, political commentator, and erstwhile Independent candidate for City Council.Kristin Szakos, whose incumbent status puts her in a strong position in the race, continues to champion many of the same social justice and anti-poverty issues as Edwards and Norris, Kleeman pointed out. And despite the fact that he put more emphasis on his business savvy than his social agenda in his previous unsuccessful campaigns and his primary bid this year, Bob Fenwick has aligned himself with his Democratic running mate this time around. Since at least one candidate with a D by his or her name is likely to carry the day, there’s no reason to expect a big philosophical shift in city governance.
But, said Kleeman, Charlottesville has seen an influx of young professionals, many of them coming for jobs in the area’s growing tech and biotech sector, and their votes are up for grabs. “They’re kind of a wild card,” he said: young, business-minded, educated. It’s hard to say where they’ll fall on the political spectrum.
And campaign platforms have a way of living beyond candidates here, Kleeman said. He saw it after his own failed bid in2007; after he and others pushed for greater communication between the city and its residents, Council started responding to public comments during meetings, and kicked off a year of regular open forums.
Point being: Charlottesville politics may be a slow-moving frigate, but don’t assume the wind will never shift.—Graelyn Brashear