2013’s City Council: The Quick and the Dead

There were some surprising results in last week’s Council election, some that will change the character of City Council, so let’s go.

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There were some surprising results in last week’s Council election–some that will change the character of City Council. So let’s go.

The big surprise? The 1st District race between Bruce Tyler and Jon Baliles/Gerald Baliles/Mark Warner. I called this as an easy race for Tyler. But much to my surprise Baliles took an early lead which he still holds, just barely. He currently has a 22-vote lead and the race is headed for a recount. I underestimated the value of an endorsement by a sitting Senator. I also think Baliles caught the coattails of the Democratic sweep last Tuesday: as part of the Dwight Jones administration he probably benefited from some behind the scenes help from the Mayor. The twist in this race was the playground fight between Tyler and Doug Conner. Tyler was furious that Conner called for a hearing on the “green” alley, dubbed the Taj Majal of alleys by Baliles, that the City built behind his West End house. He retaliated by donating $3,500 to Conner’s opponent Michelle Mosby–a total breach of Council etiquette. Councilmen do not campaign against other sitting councilmen. It’s just not done, in part because if they both win they’ll have to work together. In this case they might both lose. Conner was trounced by Mosby and Tyler is hanging on by a thread against Baliles. This cheap trick might have cost him the 22 votes he need to win.

The big winner in all this may be the Mayor. If Baliles wins, the Mayor loses two vocal critics, Jewell and Tyler and gains a key ally, Baliles, a member of the Jones administration for four years. I don’t think the Mayor will get a free ride from Council, but there will be less vociferous opposition. Power is likely to shift to the right side of the chamber where Hilbert, who won a landslide victory, and Samuels sit.

Samuels eked out a narrow victory over challenger Charlie Diradour. Diradour spent $65,000, much of it his own money, to defeat Samuels, costing him about $15 a vote. Samuels spent around $23,000, about $4.50 for each vote. Samuels also may have benefited from the Mayor’s support and unseen influence. He received the endorsement of the Richmond’s two biggest papers and its two leading political organizations, the Richmond Crusade for Voters and the Richmond City Democratic Party (RCDC). In the end Samuels held on for a narrow victory over Diradour, 52% to 48%. A Diradour victory would have definitely upset the Council’s apple cart. Samuels’s victory will likely enhance his reputation among his colleagues.

I have no idea what to expect from Michelle Mosby, I was expecting Conner to win going away. Except for the fact that he didn’t live in the City, let alone his district, I thought he was a pretty good Councilman. Southsiders thought differently and voted for Mosby by nearly a 2-1 margin. She’s a blank slate to me, but will take the seat right next to Samuels.

The biggest shift in this election took place in the 5th District with Parker Agelasto’s stunning victory over three term incumbent Marty Jewell. Agelasto, a political newcomer, took on Jewell in a three way race stacked to benefit Jewell; Jewell won his last election under much the same circumstances. The invisible hand of the Mayor Jones may be seen again with the Agelasto’s endorsements by the RCDC and the Crusade for Voters. Opposition to Jewell then crystallized around Agelasto and he walked away with 49% of the vote, enough to win. Lee Shewmaker, the other candidate in the 5th, received less than 10%. Agelasto is nothing like Jewell. It’s a mirror of the Diradour/Samuels race. Jewell is a bombastic “man of the people,” Alelasto is low-key and well schooled. It’s going to be hard to imagine a Council meeting without Marty, but I’ll try. It will be quieter, shorter, with fewer interruptions. Citizen commenters’ time will be respected and there will be no on-the-spot hearings. Some will miss him, I won’t.

All other incumbents won including Ellen Robertson and Cynthia Newbille who were unopposed. As predicted, Reva Trammell won an easy victory on the Southside.

Did I mention the Mayor? He won against newcomer Mike Ryan, who won what can be considered a moral victory, pulling 30% of the vote. For a beginner he represented himself pretty well. I can see him holding a council seat four years from today. Mayor Jones has four years to look forward to without Marty Jewell hounding him. If Jon Baliles takes the 1st District, he will have another ally. It will be interesting to see how things shake out. Without Tyler and Jewell there will be no dedicated anti-Jones faction. Bruce Tyler’s mayoral ambitions will be on the rocks. Samuels star will continue to rise and Kathy Graziano may just let someone else take the reins as Council President, maybe not.

Come the 2nd day in January we should find out when the new City Council is sworn in.

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Paul Hammond

Paul has been writing about life and politics in Richmond for 11 years. You can often find him walking his dog up and down Franklin Street and yes, he does bite, the dog that is.

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