With just a bit more than two weeks remaining ’til Election Day on May 1, things are starting to pick up a bit on the mayor’s race here in Roanoke.
Incumbent Mayor David Bowers, part of a Democratic incumbency ticket with council candidates Sherman Lea, Anita Price and Court Rosen, held a fundraiser Wednesday night at the O. Winston Link Museum. There wasn’t much new in Bowers’ stump speech, but he’s continued to refine and develop certain themes over the last few weeks, particularly his hope that the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute will become a model for law and pharmacy schools that may eventually locate within the city. He also said he expects to see changes in Roanoke’s skyline, with “buildings, new high-rises, new condos.”
Perhaps more notable was the opening speaker, former city councilman Rupert Cutler, who lobbed a couple of attacks on Bowers’ Republican challenger, Mark Lucas. He criticized Lucas’ attendance at meetings of the Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission and city Parks and Recreation Advisory Board: “What does it say when he misses 16 our of 26 greenway commission meetings, and 11 out of 16 Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meetings?”
Cutler also took aim at what is perhaps the central plank in Lucas’ platform: That he’d be better than Bowers at helping attract jobs to Roanoke. Cutler said that Lucas doesn’t understand “the role of mayor. It is not to hit the road hustling new businesses here. That’s [City Manager] Chris Morrill’s and [Roanoke Regional Partnership Executive Director] Beth Doughty’s jobs. The mayor is our official host for meetings and major events here, and David Bowers does an outstanding job of representing all of us at such events — not as easy as it looks.”
I tried to get Bowers’ take on those comments — he is the candidate, after all; it was his fundraiser and I’d rather hear from him than from a campaign surrogate — but he declined to talk about Lucas directly. I asked him what those attendance figures meant, and Bowers said this: “The public has to decide whether it means anything to them. The Roanoke people can figure things out pretty well.”
Lucas wasn’t reachable by phone. He’s in Costa Rica this week for a trip he promised his daughter, a senior at Patrick Henry High School, three years ago.
He did, however, respond by email:
As you know, I started a girls lacrosse league back in 2004. In our fifth season we were playing on the Reserve Ave. fields which were in horrible condition (and still are for that matter). Large holes and ruts and girls were spraining ankles, etc. to the point that the parents were joking that I was trying to drum up business for Lucas Therapies! In addition, opposing teams would come to play us and commented on how poorly Roanoke maintained their fields. It was truly embarrassing.
I called Parks & Rec numerous times but had little response. Finally, out of frustration I decided to see if I could gain an appointment to the Parks & Rec board to see if I could make something positive happen. At the time, I was involved in my restaurants and other business ventures and did not have time to attend board meetings on a regular basis. I informed Steve Buschor of this and he was fine with it (I’m sure I probably missed over half the meetings) Once on the board, I found out that all funding for field maintenance had been suspended. Which was disappointing as I believe recreation is one of the cornerstones to building a community. However seeing how Steve and team managed that department on a reduced budget was very impressive.
At the time I had no plans to run for mayor and never in my wildest dreams thought that someone would use something like this against me when the reasons were I was out being productive for Roanoke. I was just trying to resolve an exasperating problem and help out.
At the end of the day I missed the meetings for two reasons first I was creating jobs by building my business and second I was growing a youth sports league in the valley with my daughters. Given the opportunity again I would have made the same decisions.
I have always been better at getting things done than sitting in meetings, and as Mayor I will be more focused on achieving results for Roanoke than I am with meetings. Of course I will attend the meetings but I will be more active in helping to bring jobs to Roanoke than just going to meetings. I have dialed back the businesses to focus on the responsibility of Mayor and ensuring the environment is right in Roanoke for its citizens to have good jobs.
I pressed him on the figures, and he responded again:
I think the numbers are way off. But that’s fine. What I said about the P&R board still stands. I joined the Greenway Commission because I have a high level of interest and once lost an exec that I tried to hire at ProVox because we didn’t have a greenway system. What he fails to mention on the Greenway are the times I was out helping build bridges etc. that did not involve meetings. My point is still the same – we need to grow and build for the next generation (including your new son and my girls) and that’s not going to happen by recycling the same leaders over and over. He can spend his time taking role and counting fannies sitting in chairs around conference room tables but I would rather be out making something happen in our community. These are both voluntary boards with little decision making authority. A more relevant comparison would be my job attendance – I haven’t missed a day of work in over 20 years.
Up until now, this mayoral campaign had been relatively quiet compared to the race four years ago between Bowers, then an independent challenger, and Nelson Harris, the incumbent and Democratic nominee.
Last night’s comments could start to change that.
We’ll get a better indication next Tuesday, April 17, during mayoral debate hosted by the Roanoke Branch NAACP at the Claude Moore Center at 109 Henry Street. It will be moderated by WSLS Chanel 10 anchor Jay Warren. A reception at 6:30 p.m. precedes the debate, which starts at 7 p.m.
– Mason Adams