11th House of Delegates Seat Up For Grabs

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It's a crowded field behind Onzlee Ware.
It's a crowded field behind Onzlee Ware.
It’s a crowded field behind Onzlee Ware.

It didn’t take long for several announcements and the rumor mill to crank up on potential candidates after Delegate
Onzlee Ware’s announcement on November 14 that he is stepping down from his 11th District House of Delegate’s
seat. Publicly Ware cited his mother’s declining health and his desire to be by her side but behind the scenes it became clear that Ware is expecting a judgeship appointment according to Democratic consultant and fundraiser Joan Washburn. A judgeship appointment can’t go to a sitting delegate or senator said Washburn.

Ware’s resignation had been in the works for over a month. Only moments after Ware went public with his resignation Roanoke’s Vice Mayor Court Rosen’s team began putting out yard signs and placing media ads. Councilman Dave Trinkle also jumped into the fray and is being backed by Mayor David Bowers and Senator John Edwards according to Washburn who is assisting his campaign. Candidates Sam Rasoul, Trish White-Boyd and Keith L. Wheaton are also tossing their hat in the ring. All have at least some base support and know that a firehouse primary is all about getting “your” supporters to the polls.

Thus far Sheriff Octavia Johnson is the only Republican who has stepped forward to run for the seat.

The Roanoke City Democratic Committee will vote Thursday on the date for a “caucus” that is expected to be on December 7. The voting hours and location are yet to be determined. Here is an overview of the candidates:

Octavia Johnson:
Outgoing Roanoke City Sheriff Octavia Johnson announced her candidacy Friday following the announcement that Delegate Ware would be retiring. She has been Roanoke’s Sheriff for since 2006. “It has been an honor to serve as Roanoke City Sheriff for the past eight years. Working with the people of the Roanoke Valley to make our region a safer and better place has been a true privilege. I hope I can have the opportunity to continue to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. Onzlee Ware has been a great leader for our City. As a member of the House of Delegates, I would follow in his footsteps by putting the best interests of the people of the Roanoke Valley ahead of politics, political parties or anything else. Creating good jobs, keeping our communities safe and building strong schools will be my top priorities.” Johnson said she would promote small businesses, increase access to workforce training and facilitate outreach between the business community and minority groups. She also said she was committed to keeping communities and neighborhoods safe by increasing funding for public safety and law enforcement agencies.

Sam Rasoul: Sam Rasoul has pledged half the salary he receives as delegate to local charities. At his announcement Monday Rasoul said he was pleased to have such diverse support – “not just the color of our skin but backgrounds … people from all socioeconomic classes that really represent all quadrants of the city and that’s what I’m about.” Economic equality is one of three main points in his campaign. Just as important he said was equality of healthcare, gender and sexual orientation rights. Secondly he prioritized education as one of his key issues. The SOLs don’t allow teachers to teach he said. His third campaign point focuses on cooperation, civil discourse and working with other Republican delegates who represent other parts of Southwest Virginia. “We have to get things done,” he said. Rasoul, 32 was raised in Roanoke and lives in the Northwest area of Roanoke City. He ran unsuccessfully for congress against Rep. Bob Goodlatte in 2008 and for Roanoke City mayor in 2012 losing to incumbent Mayor David Bowers in a Democratic Primary.

Court Rosen: Court Rosen is Roanoke City’s Vice Mayor. He was elected to city council in 2008. Rosen is most known for leading the “Eat for Education” campaign. Along with his colleagues on city council he lobbied and won support for a two-cent increase in the meals tax for a two-year period to aid the financial struggling city schools. His term ends in 2016. “I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy my work on Roanoke City Council.  Localities continue to face more mandates with less dollars from Richmond, our next Delegate must understand local government operations and finance and the many implications of decisions made at the state level on localities. Our next  delegate should be someone who understands the needs and interests of citizens and businesses from across the entire 11th District. And the next Delegate should be someone who can work across party lines to pass policies that are in the best interests of Roanoke and the entire region. My experience, commitment and accomplishments qualify me to fill this critical position and I look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of Roanoke,” said Rosen.

Dave Trinkle: Dave Trinkle has been a Roanoke City Council member since 2006 and was Vice Mayor for four years. He served on the  Roanoke C ity School Board prior to being elected to city council in 2006. His current term ends July of 2014.  “I was raised with the Belief that service to the community is one of our greatest honors and have valued that tradition throughout my life. Over  the years, as I’ve traveled the commonwealth as a physician, business owner, city councilman, husband and father – I’m reminded of that legacy and am inspired by the impact individual citizens can have on the future if we calmly listen and actively participate. I will be a strong, experienced and reasonable voice for the Roanoke Region in Richmond with a proven ability to facilitate progress in difficult times.” Trinkle comes from a prominent local family and is the Associate Dean for Communityand Culture at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research as well as a Geropsychiatric consultant to the Geriatric Assessment Clinic at Carilion Roanoke Memorial. He also owns several restaurant establishments in Roanoke.

Keith L. Wheaton: Wheaton is a native of Roanoke, who attended Round Hill Elementary, Lucy Addison Jr. High and William Fleming High School. He says, “It would be a privilege to represent the citizens of the 11th District. Having grown up and lived in Roanoke for many years, I have come to know the citizens and neighborhoods well. My parents, being community minded, instilled in me the sense of obligation to my church, my neighborhood and my fellow citizens to do the best that I can to assist those in marginalized communities as my abilities allow, and to work for the greater good of all people. I continue to reside not far from where I grew up and constantly keep my ears and eyes open to the issues affecting those who may not have a voice.”  Wheaton is active in community service within his church, the NAACP and various Roanoke city boards/commissions. He is the owner of JBT Media Holdings, Inc./ Wheaton Consulting and says he “understands the struggles of small businesses in this very challenging economy, and will work to afford small business owners greater access to capital and tax relief.” 

Trish White-Boyd: At her announcement Saturday Trish White-Boyd said that teacher salaries need to match their responsibilities. “I’m especially sympathetic to the plight of school teachers who constantly share their concerns about having to teach to the SOL’s instead of teaching children how to think.” Boyd has been the owner of the home health care agency Griswold Home Care Office for the past 10 years. She said she would seek to sponsor legislation to create more entrepreneur opportunities for minorities and women. She previously worked for the Department of Social Services in the Division of Child Support Enforcement for 18 years. Boyd said, “I agree with Mr. Ware, that to be effective in the House, one must be able to build coalitions. I know that I can do that. In fact, that is what being a grassroots organizer is all about; building relationships. As your delegate I will bring the same tenacity to serving you.” She advocated for restoration of voting rights for convicted felons and educated the community on avoiding being victimized by predatory lenders. Boyd supports the passage of immigration reform. She participated in the Marches against Monsanto, a company that produces genetically engineered foods. She is a graduate of Averett University and has been a resident in Roanoke since 1984.

By Valerie Garner