Beach Voters Look for New Leadership and Priorities
Yesterday less than 20 percent of Virginia Beach
registered voters turned out at polls. Those that did vote elected an
eclectic group of candidates that had one thing in common – each had
distanced themselves from the leadership style and priorities of the
current City Council. The big loser in yesterday’s race was
Mayor Meyera Oberndorf. The big winner was Bayside Councilman Louis
Mayor Oberndorf heavily backed Page Lea who
came in a distant third in the at-large race. Oberndorf, who four years
earlier backed Councilman William W. (Billy) Harrison Jr., cut radio
spots for Page Lea that ran
extensively on local stations during the morning and evening rush hours
for the last several weeks. The mayor has strongly supported
building a hotel at 31st street, and has shown a deaf ear to the public
when asked to honor the public’s referendum in favor of a park.
Oberndorf, over the last eight years, has allied herself with Will
Harrison, and Linwood Branch in raising taxes and fees to support
unprecedented annual increases in city spending.
The defeat of Barbara Henley by Jim Reeve and
the retirement of Nancy Parker leaves the mayor without a base of
support on City Council. Richard Maddox, councilman-elect for the
Beach District has been highly critical of the mayor’s leadership
style or lack of leadership. While Oberndorf's candidate, Page Lea,
lost, Councilman Louis Jones backed a winner, Ron Villanueva.
Councilman Jones (unopposed in
Tuesday’s election) joined State Senator Wagner and machinery of the
local Republican Party in supporting Villanueva. Councilman Jones is not
a big risk taker, but he has clearly been frustrated with how the mayor
and her now retiring team have been running things. Jones, a
fiscal conservative is not one to take his disagreements and concerns
public unless he can change the outcome. Watch for Councilman
Louis Jones to emerge as the new vice mayor (the vice mayor is elected
by a City Council majority). A majority of the new Council Members per
their public statements and campaign materials are more closely aligned
with Councilman Jones position on the 31st Street Park and City spending
than with Mayor Oberndorf.
Mayor Oberndorf is up for re-election in
two years. The fact that the voters rejected the priorities and
direction of City Council under Oberndorf’s leadership will not be
overlooked by her peers and future candidates for mayor. The first
leadership test will come on the final resolution of the 31st park.
Councilman Jones in a television interview conducted at Ron
Villanueva’s victory party said with regard to the 31st Street Park,
“The public is sick of it.” Odds are the contract will not be
amended; therefore, Ruffin and Thompson will not be able to execute it,
and thus allowing the contract to be voided at no cost to the City.
Outgoing Councilman Billy Harrison promised
developers Ed Ruffin and Bruce Thompson in an email that he would
conclude the 31st Street Hotel contract modification prior to leaving
council. It is a promise Louis Jones may preclude Billy Harrison
from keeping. Billy Harrison tarnished by his questionable
behavior in dealing with Ruffin and Thompson, and further crippled by
the public revelation of his settlement of a sexual harassment complaint
is more pawn than power broker. Professional insiders say keep your eyes
on Louis Jones.
Jim Reeve Narrowly Defeats Incumbent Barbara Henley
Jim Reeve by 51 percent to 49 percent was elected as the new Princess
Anne District Council Member. Barbara Henley with twenty years of
City Council experience was well respected for her independence and
subject matter expertise. A low turnout usually favors an
incumbent, and Tuesday’s election was a very low turnout – less than
20 percent of Virginia Beach registered voters went to the polls.
What happened to Ms. Henley?
Clearly there was the sentiment to “throw the bums out”, but bums in
this case – Billy Harrison, Will Sessoms, and Linwood Branch did not
seek re-election. The closeness of the election proves that Ms. Henley
was not lumped in with the “three amigos”. However, Ms. Henley’s
voting record for tax and fee increases coupled with personal property
tax assessments that went out the week before Election Day did
contribute to Jim Reeve’s support.
A strange assortment of interest groups endorsed Jim Reeve. He was
supported by the city and School Board employee associations – read
public employee unions, and the Citizen Action Coalition, the polar
opposite of City employee unions. Ms. Henley’s detached
leadership style denied her campaign the energy to clearly articulate
the case for her re-election.
Jim Reeve now faces the challenge of making good on his commitment to
provide better compensation (salaries and benefits) to City employee
unions and his commitment to provide real estate tax relief and to
cap real estate tax rates for senior citizens. Jim
Reeve, who will take office July 1st will quickly learn, how tough it is
to balance public and private interests in developing south of the
city's imaginary no-development Green
Line. In today’s fiscal climate, the public honeymoon will be over
before the new Council takes office.
Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance
Gain Potential Ally on City Council
Councilman At-Large elect Peter Schmidt adopted the recommendation of
the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) in a direct mail campaign brochure
Schmidt sent out the weekend before the election that stated, “ As
your councilman, I will work tirelessly to find the meager 2% savings
that would avoid this increased tax on our property.” This was
the position recommended by the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance
earlier at the two public hearings held by City Council on the city
manager's proposed budget.
John Moss, VBTA chairman and former two term City Council Member,
said, “I was glad to see that Councilman-elect Schmidt had adopted
VBTA’s position of holding the real estate tax rate at $1.15 versus
the $1.22 proposed by the city manager.” Mr. Moss went on to
say, “We look forward to working with Councilman Schmidt on a motion
he can put on the agenda after July 1, 2002 to reverse any real estate
tax increase adopted by the current city council.”
Moss added that since Vice Mayor Sessoms was a supporter of Schmidt's, and appeared in picture with Schmidt in the direct mail
brochure, it is only logical the Sessoms would also support a real estate
tax rate of $1.15. The VBTA will appear at the next City Council meeting
on Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. to make this recommendation again for the