Several competitive races highlight local election slate
Henrico voters will cast their ballots for a number of local and state candidates Nov. 8, although most races offer little or no competition. But voters will have choices in four county races, as well as a race for a seat in the House of Delegates.
The most prominent local race is that for Commonwealth’s Attorney, which pits Delegate Bill Janis (who entered the race as an independent) against Republican nominee Matt Geary and Democratic nominee Shannon Taylor.
Another critical race – for the Varina seat on the Board of Supervisors – also features three candidates: Republican incumbent Jim Donati, a 20-year veteran on the board; Democrat Tyrone Nelson; and independent Reese Haller.
In the Brookland District, voters will choose from one of three candidates – Beverly Cocke, Herb Dunford and Darrell Jenkins – to replace two-term School Board member Linda McBride, who is stepping down.
Voters also will select three members for the Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District Board from a field of five, including incumbent Robert Brewster and challengers Nicole Anderson-Ellis, John Ficklin, Gil Miles and Lynn Wilson.
Henrico Sheriff Mike Wade is running unopposed for his fourth term in office.
In the General Assembly, only one member who serves a portion of Henrico – Democrat Joe Morrissey in the 74th House District – will face opposition (from incumbent Dwayne Whitehead). Republican Manoli Loupassi, whose 68th District now includes several Henrico precincts, was expected to face a challenge from Bill Grogan, but Grogan failed to qualify for the ballot.
Political newcomer Peter Farrell won the Republican nomination to seek the 56th District House seat vacated by Janis, and he faces no opposition.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s race has proved the most interesting on the campaign trail and could do so at the polls as well. Geary, a former three-year chief deputy prosecutor in the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office who also has served as a defense attorney for more than 13 years, seemed to have the position locked up earlier this year after earning the Republican nomination for a position that historically has been a party stronghold.
But party leaders later asked him to withdraw after he admitted to an extramarital affair. When he refused, many pulled their support and convinced Janis, a 10-year state delegate, to vacate his House seat and run as an independent.
On the filing deadline, Democrat Shannon Taylor, who worked with Geary in the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, also entered the race. Taylor has the most prosecutorial experience of the three, having spent more than 12 years as a prosecutor and earning assignments as a special assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Richmond and as the special counsel for the Richmond Multi-Jurisdictional Grand Jury for four years. She would need no on-the-job training, she said.
Janis has championed himself as the most qualified candidate from a character and leadership perspective, citing his years as a high-ranking delegate and 11 years of service in the U.S. Navy, as well as his breadth of relationships with lawmakers and other public officials in the county and region.
Geary and Taylor have painted Janis as lacking the prosecutorial experience to serve as the chief prosecutor for the county. Geary has maintained that his combination of experience as a prosecutor in a leadership role during his time in the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office – during which he oversaw 41 prosecutors and 60 staff members and victim witness advocates – sets him apart from both Taylor and Janis.
Varina District Supervisor
In Varina, the three-way race has centered on a familiar debate: Does the district get its fair share of resources from the county or not? Challengers Nelson (the pastor at Richmond’s Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church) and Haller (a retired Henrico police sergeant) contend that whether or not it does, the perception exists among many residents that it doesn’t – and that in itself is indicative of a problem.
But Donati has cited statistics that show the district actually received more money for capital improvement projects from 1999-2011 than any of the other four county districts ($340 million). At two candidates forums last month, Donati implied perceptions to the contrary – “myths” about Varina being treated unfairly, as he termed them – stem in part from apathy.
“It’s easy to say these things if you don’t know the facts or you don’t want to learn them,” he said.
Nelson, who finished second in a three-way race for the Varina School Board seat in 2007, has maintained throughout the race that despite statistics that may show otherwise, the district doesn’t get what it deserves.
“I disagree with Mr. Donati,” he said. “I see the bar charts and I see the graphs, but I also see and hear from the citizens of this district. There is a fundamental difference between Varina schools and schools in the western part of the county. To me, we do not get our fair share.”
Nelson’s experience as a prominent local pastor, community volunteer and board member on several county and regional groups, combined with his desire to reach out to the diverse group of residents throughout the district, make him best suited for the job, he said.
“I will be a strong advocate for Varina,” he said.
All three candidates have pledged to make funding for a new high school – which will be built adjacent to Elko Middle School – their top priority. That’s likely to occur through a bond referendum in 2012. Nelson said he would be a vocal advocate for the school and make sure that it was the first capital project built with bond money. Donati told the audience at both candidates forums (Oct. 24 at the Henrico Theatre and Oct. 26 at Varina High School) that the recession forced the county to delay plans for a new bond referendum, which in turn has delayed construction of the school. In addition, he said, the county must be able to afford $10 million annually in operating costs for the school once it opens and a $9 million bond service payment annually for 20 years before proceeding with construction.
Each candidate also vowed to aggressively protect the district from pollution from the East End Landfill on Darbytown Road. The landfill recently has been cited for hauling tons of impermissible ash to and from the site, and the county and Department of Environmental Quality are now involved in a case that will be heard by courts later this year.
Donati has championed the recent purchase of land for a new 40,000-square-foot Varina Library on Route 5, near the Pocahontas Parkway, as more recent proof that the district is earning its share of services. The project will be the final one from the 2005 bond referendum to be completed.
Haller, who ran against Donati in 2007 and won about a third of the vote, has not been shy to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers, but told citizens in both forums last month that if elected, he’d work hard to find them. He pledged that he would look to the 2026 Land Use Plan as a strong form of guidance when deciding on land use issues as supervisor and suggested that a smart growth approach for the district would be to preserve green space while focusing development in the district’s urban portions.
“We need to follow the Land Use Plan and put some teeth to it,” Haller said.
Though he has praised the current board for its work, Haller also is leery of the fact that its five members have served together for 16 years, arguing that voters should change its makeup gradually rather than all at once (when multiple members eventually decide to retire). As supervisor, he said he would listen to any ideas from citizens and weigh them according to three primary standards: “If it’s legal, if it’s moral, and if we can afford it.”
Write-in candidate Gerald Baker of Sandston is also attempting to win votes in the race.
Brookland District School Board
Three candidates with a wealth of experience, both in schools and in the public spotlight, are vying for the Brookland District School Board seat.
Cocke is a fifth-generation Glen Allen resident and two-decade PTA volunteer in the district who also serves as chair of the Henrico Historic Preservation Advisory Committee. She also has served as an appointee on the Keep Henrico Beautiful Committee and an elected member of the Henrico Christmas Mother Council. She has pledged to institute her “three ‘A’s” policy (able, accountable and accessible) as a School Board member. If elected, she would become the second member of her family to serve on the board, joining her grandfather, E.Q. Hunter, who served in the 1930s.
Dunford has served on the Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District Board for 25 years, including 17 as chairman and also on six other county, regional or state boards and committees, including the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission for three years. His “ABC” plan would focus on improving academics, reducing bureaucracy and budget and involving the community in the process. He has championed his experience leading an elected body and overseeing an annual budget as the on-the-job experience that gives him an advantage over his two opponents.
Jenkins spent his entire 26-year career as an educator in Henrico County, beginning as a teacher at Hermitage/ Moody Middle School and continuing as a teacher and coach at Henrico and hermitage high schools, before becoming director of student activities at Deep Run High School. He retired three years ago and decided to run in an attempt to put to use the real-life experiences he’s had in Henrico schools.
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