Mark Lucas, 47, had a political gleam in his eye in June of 2009. At the time Chris Head was announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the 17tth House of Delegates and Lucas assisted with some of the details the day of the announcement. Head later came in second to Bill Cleaveland in a five-way primary. Cleaveland resigned after one term and Head is now representing the 17th district.
When asked at the time why he wasn’t running for the office himself Lucas said that he had been asked to enter the race by retiring Delegate William Fralin. He hinted that maybe someday a political run might be possible but business and family were keeping him busy. “The time was just not right,” he said.
With that bit of history it comes as less of a surprise that he is the mayoral candidate that Republican City Committee Chair Chris Walters was rumored to be courting in early January. Walters convinced him “the time was right.”
Delegate Chris Head took time from the 2012 General Assembly Session to praise his friend of 15 years who he had worked with at Xerox. “I know him to be extraordinarily thorough, competent, professional – ethical and above all, principled. He knows how to get things done, how to successfully manage organizations, and how to move efficiently toward a goal.”
Lucas and his wife Wendy, a physical therapist, co-own Lucas Therapies, PC. Lucas also once owned Provox Technologies which he sold in 2002 after their voice recognition documentation system won the Microsoft product of the year award in 2001. He was also a former partner of KMS Holdings and he proudly announced at his press conference that Five Guys Burgers and Fries would reopen soon in Tanglewood Mall.
Other ventures include Flypaper Inc. which places non-profit backgrounds on smartphone screens and DermRX, a veterinary product that has recently received its first contract, he said. Pointing to his extensive business experience Lucas says he has created 400 jobs in the last 10 years and knows how to attract and retain quality people.
Lucas graduated from Virginia Tech in 1986 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing and Public Relations. His two daughters, Claiborne, 17 and Calleigh, 15 sat in the front row with 30 other supporters at the Patrick Henry Hotel Monday. Both attend Patrick Henry High School.
A friend sent him an article titled “The city as a startup – the rise of the mayor entrepreneur.” “It flipped a switch for me … it covered things we should be doing in Roanoke,” he said.
“I’m not a politician – I’m not doing this for my ego and I’m not doing this as a stepping stone to a political career,” said Lucas. He wants to see Roanoke operate more like a startup company and create an environment where local businesses can thrive.
Lucas proposed that businesses get involved in mentoring programs in support of the 70 percent of high school graduates who are not college bound. He advocated for a closer relationship with Virginia Tech’s Corporate Resource Center for entrepreneurs.
“When dealing with city government we’ve got to make sure it is not just a pile of red tape,” said Lucas. He said it took him two years to get approval to expand a parking lot and it cost him as much to garner the approval as it did to pave the parking lot. “That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about … that’s not encouraging economic growth.”
“We need to quit spending thousands if not millions on outside consultants to do things that we could do ourselves.”
Complacency and inaction on controversial issues “is not good.” Lucas complained about the vacant Riverside property with fields that are poorly maintained and called for additional fields that would bring in tournament play. He lamented over the lack of progress with the Countryside property.
He says he will differentiate himself from incumbent Mayor David Bowers with his business experience and pro-job acumen.
As examples of entrepreneurship in Roanoke Lucas read off a laundry list of startups from banks to the Bubblecake Bake Shop. “We need a mayor who is proactive and not reactive – who is a visionary and not a figurehead … not a career politician,” said Lucas.
Lucas would let the two-cent meals tax sunset and doesn’t foresee a need for adding another tax. “It would be a bait and switch on taxpayers” to continue the meals tax. “It served its purpose … I think it was the right thing to do at the time.”
When asked if elected how he would get along with the other all-Democrat council members he said, “I think we all have the same objective that is to do what is best for the city.” At the local level party label doesn’t mean much, he said. For example he said he knows Dave Trinkle and coached his daughter in lacrosse.
Lucas said, “I’m very high energy” as he explained his personality while tapping his foot.
In a call to Mayor Bowers for reaction to his new opposition Bowers said, “ the mayor’s chair belongs to the people – it’s theirs and they get to decide who’s going to serve them. I accept that premise so it certainly is understandable that the public would look them over … the voters will have to make a prudent and wise decision.”
In response to Lucas’ job creation message, Bowers purported that the city has a team already in place for economic development that included the city manager, economic development department and Joyce Waugh at the Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a very active professional group that is working very hard to create jobs in Roanoke,” said Bowers.
Bowers said he thought that even the governor would say that the state itself has limitations when competing with North Carolina and South Carolina. “North Carolina seems to have the funding sources to catch the big catch,” said Bowers.
Bowers also thought that, similar to his primary opponent Sam Rasoul, Lucas didn’t understand local government. “We have a city manager form of government.”
Lucas in response said, “I fully understand the City Manager form of government and Chris [Morrill] is a huge asset to our community. As Mayor, I will be an added tool in the city’s arsenal to drive economic development. I would hope that my opponent would think that it is a good use of the mayor’s time to drive employment in the city as well.”
Lucas plans to use social media and a lot of shoe leather to gain name recognition.
The Roanoke City Republican Committee mass meeting will take place on February 23. Chairman Chris Walters will function as Lucas’ campaign manager.