The political game always heats up in a presidential election year, but it’s fixin’ to boil over this time around. Virginia is being touted as an important battleground state in the Obama/Romney duel, but we’ve also got a crucial U.S. Senate race underway. The Commonwealth’s seats of political power may be in Richmond, Norfolk, and NoVa, but some of its deepest pockets—on both sides of the aisle—reside in this part of the state and these days you can’t even get in the election game at any level without a fistful of dollars. Local political leaders double as important fundraisers for statewide and national candidates, and don’t think they won’t be joining the fray with the stakes as high as they are right now.
David Toscano (Photo by John Robinson)
1. David Toscano
State Representative, 57th District; Virginia House of Delegates Minority Leader
Up until last year, David Toscano was an extremely popular local politician with a successful law practice, and a major force in Charlottesville’s Democratic power structure. But when he accepted the position of House Minority Leader in the fall of 2011, he took on the role of ideological leader for the state’s blue power movement on the eve of a crucial election year. Historically, Toscano has brought a litigator’s mind to the Assembly floor and pushed hard for stuff that his constituents wanted. With a statewide audience, he’s had to become a more outspoken foil to Governor Bob McDonnell’s political steamroller on social issues like reproductive rights and health care. It’s also worth mentioning that Llezelle Dugger, a political protégé who got her start in his law office, became the Charlottesville Clerk of Court. Might not sound like a big deal, but politics is all about growing an organization and that’s just what Toscano has done for the past 22 years.
2. Richard Baxter Gilliam
As we mentioned before, candidates need money to win elections, and when GOP candidates need money in our part of the world, they knock on Richard Baxter Gilliam’s door. Between 2010 and 2012, the Keswick resident gave a whopping $437,500 to state Republicans, including $10,000 to Ken Boyd for his reelection run last year and $125,000 to Governor McDonnell’s Opportunity Virginia PAC. In 2010, he gave at least $250,000 to Republican strategist Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to renewing America’s commitment to individual liberty.”
Gilliam lives in a lavish residence, enjoys buying properties with links to Civil War history, and owes his considerable wealth to King Coal. He founded Cumberland Resources Corp., one of the largest privately held coal producers in the United States, in Abingdon, and later sold his company to Massey Energy for $960 million.
3. Ken Boyd
Albemarle County Supervisor (Rivanna District)
Ken Boyd is the unapologetic voice for business and development in Albemarle County. And while the battle over the 29 Bypass isn’t over yet, his ability to wrangle with the McDonnell administration to revive the deal and the subsequent scramble to line up the swing vote he needed to get it passed are a testament to his powers of persuasion.
Boyd, who started his career in politics as a concerned parent in 1999, understands how to apply Tip O’Neill’s famous “politics is local” mantra to a tee, and the Rivanna District he represents will be a major destination for campaign fundraisers this year. Boyd withstood a fierce and expensive re-election campaign against challenger Cynthia Neff last year, so he’ll be around for a while longer to see his development plan for the 29N corridor take shape. The only thing in his way? Chris Dumler beat Lindsay Dorrier and Boyd doesn’t have the votes to push an agenda.
4. Sonjia Smith
Sonjia Smith has been a major donor to local and Congressional candidates in Virginia, and unlike Richard Baxter Gilliam, Smith bleeds blue. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, she’s steered $69,200 of her and her hedge fund manager husband’s money directly to Virginia Democrats in the past two years. Those who have benefitted from her largesse include Tom Perriello, Eric Cantor’s 2010 challenger Rick Waugh, David Toscano, and Ken Boyd-challenger Cynthia Neff.
Smith’s local influence doesn’t stop at political donations, either. As a past or current member of the boards of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, the Legal Aid Justice Center, and UVA’s College of Arts and Sciences, she’s put her stamp on Charlottesville’s nonprofit scene. Favored causes include women’s rights and teen education, and she’s poured a lot of time and funding into Planned Parenthood and the Child Health Advocacy Program.
A Wahoo through and through, Smith received both her bachelor’s and law degrees from UVA (she practiced law for six years before retiring when her first son was born). Her husband, Michael D. Bills, is the founder and president of Bluestem Asset Management, LLC. and the chairman of the board and director of local news nonprofit Charlottesville Tomorrow.
Chris Dumler (Photo by John Robinson)
5. Chris Dumler
Albemarle County Supervisor
Democrat Chris Dumler became the youngest Albemarle County Supervisor ever elected when he took 54 percent of the vote in the Scottsville District last year. Now 27, the Atlanta native is quietly making a name for himself in local politics.
Dumler graduated from Georgia Tech in 2006 with a chemical and biomolecular engineering degree, and received his JD from UVA’s School of Law in 2009. He’s also an Army JAG officer and part-owner of a new Scottsville brewery.
He got his start in politics running campaigns for local Democrats, and ultimately decided to run for office himself when his predecessor, longtime Supe Lindsay Dorrier, announced he wouldn’t run again in 2011. Dumler won his seat the old-fashioned way, knocking on nearly every door in his district, and he’s since gone from tireless candidate to shrewd politician. He’s put an emphasis on land preservation and appears ready to breathe life into the fight against the all-but-inevitable Western Bypass.
That puts him squarely at odds with No. 3 above—and we’re looking forward to seeing how the battle plays out.
IF I HAD THE POWER…
Sarad Davenport (Photo by John Robinson)
Director of City of Promise, age 32
“If I had the power, I would make service the standard by which people’s lives were judged. I would make self-sacrificial love an expected norm in all interpersonal relations. Hatred would be frowned upon and mutual respect would be commonplace. We as a human community would operate in the renowned ideal that ‘All men [people] are created equal.’
It is this framework that, I believe, would allow us to see the inherent value in all humanity. It would be visible in the workplace, the marketplace, and the classroom, and in our daily interactions with those who are different. Our approach would be to seek to understand rather than to fundamentally change—to authentically listen, and then to speak.
I have to admit that this assignment left me quite perplexed for some time. My faith tradition reminds me that I have the power to move mountains, but what I speak of can be done only through a power much greater. Though I acknowledge this is somewhat of a Utopian ideal that may be considered unrealistic to many, it does not prevent me from operating in it and living it—however flawed the attempt —on a daily basis.
In essence, my attitude towards political power boils down to the Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ This maxim could be applied to education reform, human rights, and geopolitics. If I had the power to change the paradigm, which I do, self-sacrificial service and love would be model human attributes and the recognition of our equality would be evidenced in how we speak to and treat one another.”