Albemarle County Supervisor Chris Dumler heads to jail Friday, the first stint in the weekends-only 30-day sentence he accepted when he pleaded guilty to sexual battery in late January. In the weeks since the plea deal, the calls for his resignation have grown louder, and now, in the wake of a string of interviews in which the embattled Scottsville rep dug in his heels and said he wouldn’t step down, the leaders of his own party are pushing him to quit.
Dumler issued a statement last Wednesday saying he wanted to “clear the air.” In a 1,000-word press release and then in a marathon day of interviews with every major Charlottesville media outlet, he apologized to the woman whose accusations of unwanted anal sex led to his arrest for forcible sodomy in October.
“Obviously, my actions—as evidenced by her reaction—left her upset and distressed, and I certainly never meant for that to happen; I am sincerely sorry,” he wrote. But he also maintained his innocence.
“I remain confident that had this gone to trial, I would not have been found guilty,” he said in an interview, claiming he couldn’t afford another $45,000 in legal fees on top of the tens of thousands he’s already on the hook for.
But he conceded he faced an uphill battle when it came to winning back the support of the public.
“There’s a certain amount of public trust in this job, and clearly, that’s been breached, he said. “I need to work to mend those fences, rebuild those bridges, and work even harder than I was already working.”
It’s unclear whether he’ll be able to. The day before he went to the press, Ann Mallek and Dennis Rooker—the two supervisors who refused to vote in favor of a February 6 resolution calling for his resignation—publicly said they wanted him to step down.
The county can’t make Dumler resign, said Rooker, an independent who usually votes with the Board’s Democrats. But he’s hoping Dumler will anyway. “I do think this will make it very hard for him to perform his job, and I also think the impact on his life is greater the longer he stays in office,” he said.
Dumler’s apology tour may only have made things worse. After an interview with radio host Coy Barefoot, listeners called in to blast him, including a woman named Meredith who claimed to be the victim who brought the suit and called Dumler’s statements “emotionless and insincere.”
The next day, more former allies started falling in with his detractors. Delegate David Toscano joined the chorus of calls for his resignation, saying he was “increasingly concerned that Mr. Dumler’s continued service on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has become a distraction.”
And late this past weekend, two bodies that had remained silent spoke up. His own political organization, the Albemarle County Democratic Party, dumped him from its steering committee and called on him to quit the county Board, saying “the behavior for which Mr. Dumler has accepted responsibility does not reflect Democratic values and standards, nor the standard to which we hold our elected officials.”
The statement was coordinated with one from the city Democrats, who also urged Dumler to quit.
County Democratic Party chair Valerie L’Herrou said many in the party didn’t know what to think in the wake of his plea deal. Her committee had held off on a public announcement because members had hoped Dumler would “do the right thing” on his own.
“But since he released that statement last week, it was clear he wasn’t going to do that,” L’Herrou said.
Toscano echoed that sentiment. “There have been a lot of discussions, both within the party and outside the party, about whether somebody could take his place that would reflect the views of the voters of Scottsville,” he said. “He’d been thinking about those options, and I’d been encouraging him to do that,” so his very public announcement of his intent to stay took everyone by surprise.
Charlottesville party co-chair Linda Seaman said some city Democrats were reluctant to push for the resignation of an official who wasn’t one of their own. Worries over who would fill the void should Dumler give up his seat didn’t help. From the budget to stormwater funding, there are a lot of issues facing the county Board that Democrats—even those watching from the city—don’t want to risk losing on.
“I can honestly say that we are concerned about the potential concerns in replacing him,” Seaman said. “But it comes down to values trumping politics,” she said.
“I think the Democrats do feel concerned that there are some important votes coming up, and they would want to know there was somebody who represented their interests” taking over Dumler’s seat, L’Herrou said.
But the fact that some of the loudest calls for the Scottsville supervisor’s resignation have come from his political opponents—and the fact that Republican Board member Ken Boyd publicly said he was opposed to working on a deal to encourage Dumler to step down—suggests a truce isn’t likely.
And if Dumler sticks to his guns, he won’t be listening to the wishes of party leadership anyway.
“I swore my oath of office to the people who elected me, not to the Democratic Party, and not to the other five members of the Board,” Dumler said. “And my responsibility is to my constituents. Yes, I’ve heard from some people. But I’ve heard a lot of other people saying, ‘I disagree with what you did and what you may have done in your personal life, but at the end of the day I still believe in the ideals and the beliefs you espoused on the campaign trail, and nothing has changed my opinion on any issues. Please stay out your term, and become a better representative for it.’”
And for now, he said, it’s those voices he’s heeding.