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 Jones.

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 Sessoms, Billy 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 public record.