The stitch in time that saved Staunton

The Local Beat column by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

Interesting lunch date for me today with a city official in Staunton, from whom I learned that the recent Staunton City Council elections were similar to the ones in Waynesboro that I was involved in, with one difference.

The difference – the progressive candidates in Staunton found a way to win on Election Day.

Everything else, though, from the threat to fire the city manager on down, was dead on.

“They said they were going to fire the city manager, the economic-development director, the city planner. They were already running the show, in their minds,” my friend in city government told me.

The reason that things turned out differently on Election Day in Staunton, clearly, was that the ultraconservatives there got their wings clipped by the News Leader. The Leader ran a front-page story in the Sunday paper before the election about a controversial ad that endorsed a slate of conservative candidates that ran in that same day’s paper. The ad almost certainly ran afoul of numerous campaign-finance laws, and ran afoul of the sensibilities of two of the candidates who received the endorsements, Dickie Bell and Rusty Ashby, and several of the monied interests who supplied the funds to get the ad into print in the first place.

That Bell eventually won re-election was not the happy occurrence that it could have been, given that Ashby and Bob Campbell, the other candidate endorsed in the ad, did not win seats on the council.

Which is why, we can presume, we’re not gearing up for wall-to-wall coverage of Steve Owen’s pending forced resignation and other resulting departures from City Hall.

Not that our ultraconservatives in Waynesboro didn’t push the line ethically. They push-polled, twisted a labor union’s arm to get an unprecedented endorsement, pulled a sycophant state legislator into their orbit to get another pat on the back. They just didn’t do anything borderline illegal. To their credit, such as we can give out credit in that way.



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