The Council Contest

Besides the three federal positions that Virginians will elect in November, citizens of Harrisonburg, Virginia will also choose members to serve on city council.  This year, three of the council’s five seats are up for grabs.

There are eight candidates vying for these positions.  The three Democratic candidates are: two current council members Richard Baugh, who also serves as the current Mayor of Harrisonburg, and Kai Degner, a realtor, as well as Deb Fitzgerald, an associate professor of economics at Blue Ridge Community College.  The three Republican candidates are: Christine Johnson, the owner of the University Outpost Bookstore, Anthony Bailey, the Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, and Rodney Eagle, owner of Eagle Carpet and former Harrisonburg Mayor.  The two independents are: Abe Shearer, a math teacher at Skyline Middle School, and Roger Baker, the former City Manager of Harrisonburg.

Now, unlike most federal or state elections in the Shenandoah Valley, city council seats are not a virtual lock for any particular political party or individual.  For example, on November 4th, 2008, the three Democratic candidates swept all of the seats besting three Republicans and two independents including both Rodney Eagle and Roger Baker.  One should note that Barack Obama also won the city that day.   In 2010, the next time seats were available; there were six candidates running, two Republicans, two Democrats, and two independents.  In that election, one Republican and one independent emerged victorious.

However, as was the case in 2008, I would expect the outcome of the city council race to hinge heavily upon the up-ticket races, especially the presidential.  Left untouched, there will be a large number of voters who will be heading to the polls solely to vote for or against Barack Obama.  I assume that they will know little, if anything, of the council candidates and will end up voting for all of the Democratic candidates if they support Obama or for all of the Republican candidates if they oppose him.

As a result, I would argue that the two party candidates enjoy a significant advantage, but also a distinct disadvantage, when it comes to their independent opponents.  If their presidential candidate does well, then that result should bolster their chances of victory.  Conversely, if their candidate does poorly in the city, then it will make their success all the more difficult.

At this point, any of the candidates should have a reasonable chance of being elected.  But a strong campaign is a critical element that ought not be neglected.  Should a candidate surround him or herself with competent advisors, have a strong organization for fundraising, a base of volunteers loyal to the candidate, and a coordinated plan for voter contact and organization, he or she should do well.  On the other hand, as stated earlier, should a council candidate rely heavily upon the outcome of the presidential race and party activists, trouble could be in store.  If the winds of fortune favor his or her party’s presidential nominee, he or she ought to do reasonably well.  But, if national current runs contrary, and the candidate makes little independent effort on his or her own, he or she shall be destroyed.

All voters in Harrisonburg owe it to themselves and their fellow citizens to educate themselves about their eight choices for city council.  Sure, it might not be as glamorous or high profile as the well-known races, but I assure you that the men and women we select to help run the government of our city will make a tremendous impact, either for good or ill, upon all of us.

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