Just in case you haven’t yet had your fill of elections in Virginia, there’s a campaign cycle ramping up in earnest in Manassas City right now. With municipal elections coming up on May 1st that means there’s a Republican convention on January 28th, the outcome of which more often than not determines who is going to get a spot on the council. Three city council Republican incumbents are up for re-election: Johnathan Way, Mark Wolfe and Sheryl Bass as well as five independent members of the Manassas City School Board: Tim Demeria, Patrick Linehan, Reggie Moore, Pam Sebesky and Sanford Williams.
A few challengers have announced that I’ve heard about, and they seem to represent a more qualified bunch than usual, so at least the city council races may get interesting. Ian Lovejoy, a pretty well-known activist with an impressive resume, is running for the Republican nomination and is actively working to win. I know Ian and am thrilled he’s decided to take this on and know he’d immediately be able to make a difference because of his experience on the Architectural Review Board, the Family Services Advisory Board, and because he’s coming out of the rather neglected Point of Woods neighborhood (where he served on the HOA), bringing a perspective from a neighborhood at risk that could be immensely valuable to a city council that sometimes lacks the backbone needed to tackle persistent problems.
Jerry Carman, a conservative activist who is new to city politics, is running as an independent and recently announced his campaign although he apparently has been getting ready for this race since August. Carmen comes with some solid business experience, an evangelical Christian background, and a set of policy convictions that definitely set him to the more conservative side of the council as it exists now.
The challenge for these upstarts is to quickly build a voter base that will show up. Lovejoy has to make it through the Republican convention which is only a few weeks away and those conventions are very tough for challengers. Assuming Ian makes it through, given the low turnout of these municipal elections he and Carman only need to lock down about 1,400 votes to have a strong chance of winning. When House of Delegate candidates typically knock over 10,000 doors in an election cycle, this isn’t an insurmountable challenge by any means, and there’s quite a lot to talk with voters about this cycle as not all the decisions of the City Council have been all that popular.
Of the incumbents, I’d gather that Johnathan Way is pretty safe, while Wolfe and Bass are potentially vulnerable. Wolfe’s position with the Manassas Ballet that receives appropriations from the City Council hurts him with some, as well as some of the votes he’s taken that have upset conservatives. Bass hasn’t done anything that has particularly upset voters other than sometimes not appearing as if she has the intellectual gifts that are really needed to handle policy making in such a complex environment. To top it all off, some voters are concerned about the amount of money dedicated to the sesquicentennial, the timid way the council dealt with the KK Temptations debacle, rising tax rates, and the absurdly frightened manner in which it handled issues with Gaudencio Fernandez and his monument to anarchy in Old Town.
What I haven’t yet seen is a crush of contenders for the School Board, which has governed a school system that is failing and incapable of doing anything to correct the situation. There may be a few out there I haven’t heard of yet, but you’d think that with schools failing accreditation and spending tens of millions of dollars with hardly any transparency at all, a dozen or so parents would be itching to charge into the mix with the electoral equivalent of pitchforks and torches. The school board election is probably of greater significance to the future of Manassas than the City Council elections, yet it has received nearly zero attention. If city residents don’t step up to the plate and offer some actual leadership on that board, they shouldn’t be surprised when the school systems degrade even worse than they are doing now and certainly won’t have any valid reason to complain. You get the democracy you deserve, and so far the city has shown it doesn’t deserve a whole lot in this respect, so it gets little. Very little.
UPDATE: Doug Brown notes MCPS just bought accreditation from some entity I’ve never heard of, in sort of a “we’ll send you this diploma if you send us fifty bucks” scheme. Very troubling, indeed.
UPDATE 2: I have more coverage on the city council candidates here from April 23rd which includes more in-depth information and includes information about all of the candidates, not just those who were trying for the Republican nomination.
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