by Gene Marrano
In the end Republican challenger Mark Lucas made it interesting, but he couldn’t overcome the Democratic stronghold that is Roanoke City. Incumbent Mayor David Bowers was returned to City Hall on Tuesday night, besting his GOP opponent 52%-48% (4847 votes to 4478). Going back with Bowers for another term, starting in July, is the entire Democratic City Council ticket that ran with the mayor.
Second term Councilman Court Rosen garnered the most votes overall (7223, good for 32% of the votes cast) and will succeed David Trinkle as Vice Mayor in July. Fellow second-termer Anita Price notched 28% of the vote (6567 votes) and Sherman Lea scored 6359 votes, good for 27%. The lone City Council challenger, Independent Brandon Bushnell, was far back with 3105 votes (13%).
“How about that?” exclaimed Bill Bestpitch, another incumbent not up for election this year, when the final vote tallies were announced at Fork in the City, the eatery owned by Trinkle.
Price, who appeared nervous before the results started coming in, said she was happy that voters “have demonstrated their support and belief in what we are doing. This is a stamp of approval. We have all proven beyond a shadow of doubt that we are moving things in the right direction.”
Price said there wasn’t time for bickering and pettiness now, calling it a “working council.” She felt compelled to run again. “There are things that I definitely want to see through [to the end].” Development at Countryside and renovations at Elmwood Park are at the top of her to-do list.
Rosen also noted that money for Countryside redevelopment is in the capital budget, with $1.5 million dedicated towards the city-owned property for improvements like greenways. “We’re getting a lot of good things done,” said Rosen, who believes keeping an eye on the cash-strapped budget is priority number one. “Not getting ahead of ourselves – I think that’s first and foremost.”
Rosen said he would not attempt to float another meals tax hike, which he championed two years ago as a way to support the city school system. It sunsets this July after raising more than four million dollars: “I’m a firm believer that you don’t tax people just because you can.” The school system has become more efficient in recent years, according to Rosen. “There’s really no need to extend the meals tax… right now.”
Bushnell had made doing just that a major plank of his campaign. Rosen called Bushnell and Lucas, “very nice folks. I enjoyed getting to know them.”
“Folks voted for stability,” added Rosen, the Vice Mayor-elect, before he introduced Bowers.
Bowers swamped Lucas in precincts that were considered strongholds for the Democrats based on demographics and traditional voting patterns – capturing 158 of 172 votes cast at the Melrose polling place for example – while Lucas held his own elsewhere, coming close or winning in places like Raleigh Court, where he came out on top at four of five precincts.
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, I guess that’s the message,” said Bowers when asked what the election results meant.
Bowers took a good natured jab at Lucas when he arrived at Fork in the City to give his victory speech, cutting a piece of yellow tape held in front of the door for him. “Tonight we’re going to cut the ribbon on four more years,” said Bowers, tweaking the Lucas campaign, which claimed the Mayor was too focused on ribbon cuttings and other ceremonial activities, and not enough on growing businesses in the city.
Celtic musician Jim Baldwin played the bagpipes as Bowers shook hands and accepted hugs. The mayor, who gave flowers to campaign manager Joan Washburn, his mother Mary and his girlfriend before it was time for the victory speech, started out by chanting “four more years.” He praised Lucas for “running a spirited campaign. He was very competitive. I commend Mark Lucas.”
Bowers talked about “dramatic” changes in the coming years, perhaps a new skyline downtown and the imminent announcement of a new business in the city. “I’m going to do a good job for them… I’m very grateful,” said Bowers, ever the spokesman for his hometown. “This is a great place to live.”
“I’m excited about the next four years,” added Bowers about the newly reelected team of Democrats, “we’ve got a lot to do.”
Editors Note: The third council member reelected, Sherman Lea, also made an appearance at the Fork in the City election night party but arrived after Gene Marrano had completed his interviews.