Paul Beyer waits during the recount to see whether the 31 votes he trailed Dede Smith by would shift to his column. They didn't.
PHOTO BY LISA PROVENCE
The nomination of Democratic candidates Satyendra Huja, Kathy Galvin, and Dede Smith in a bitterly divided City Council primary offered a couple of firsts: no African-American earned a Democratic nomination for the first time in 30 years, sitting councilors made endorsements, and mass mailings funded by environmental groups and a business PAC urged voters to go with candidates who support the new-dam/pipeline water plan.
The Democratic party chose its candidates for City Council in the daylong firehouse primary August 20, followed by a grueling, six-hour count in the instant run-off process in which voters ranked the candidates. It was a victory for those supporting the Meadowcreek Parkway, dam/pipeline water plan, and what some call the old guard of the Democratic machine. But not totally.
Because along with incumbent Huja and Galvin on the side that wants to move forward with the hot-button projects previously approved by Council, anti-dam, anti-Parkway candidate Dede Smith joins them, squeaking onto the November ballot with 31 votes more than Paul Beyer in the field of seven, a tally verified by an August 22 recount of a final fifth round.
Even the usually staid clerk of court race brought a stunning upset, with challenger Llezelle Dugger garnering more than twice as many votes as three-term incumbent Paul Garrett.
The predominant issue was which side of the 50-year water plan candidates supported. Huja, Galvin, and Beyer were in the dam/pipeline camp; Smith, Colette Blount, Brevy Cannon, and James Halfaday favored dredging the Rivanna Reservoir.
Mayor Dave Norris endorsed Smith, Blount, and Cannon, yet saw just one of his choices win a nomination. He called the result a mixed message.
"Incumbents always come in with an advantage, so it's no surprise Huja did as well as he did," says Norris. "And the two other open seats split between the two factions."
Perhaps one the most surprising results was that the only African-American candidate, Colette Blount, came in fifth.
"The legend of the Democratic party that there will always be an African-American candidate is not true," says Councilor Holly Edwards, an African American who is stepping down after just one term and who did not endorse any candidates. "I think that representation is important in this city with its history."
"If Colette had turned out 300 more votes, we'd be having a different conversation," says Norris.
However, some, like former mayor Blake Caravati, saw Norris' endorsement of Blount as a drawback for her. "I think [the election] was a repudiation of the tactics of the mayor," says Caravati. "It wasn't a very progressive way to conduct an election, nor was that ticket progressive in its tactics.
"I'm really disappointed there isn't a African-American candidate," Caravati continues, adding that if Blount had run without the Norris endorsement and dredging-faction affiliation, she'd have won "hands down."
Caravati also notes that in his 30 years of local politics, "It was the first time a sitting councilor took a stance against another," referring to Norris' nonsupport of Huja. "I'm surprised Kristin [Szakos] did it too."
"I did not seek out anyone's endorsement," says Blount, a School Board member and a teacher at Burley Middle School. "And I never met with Dave during the campaign. That's what makes this difficult. There's a lot of guilt by association."
She lists factors that may have kept her off the Dem slate of candidates, including being the last candidate to announce and, despite her door-to-door efforts, the large number of citizens who don't live and breathe politics enough to get out and vote on a late-August weekend.
Although 2,582 ballots were cast– a 60 percent increase over the 2009 turnout– "2,500 is really low," says Blount, and she says that nationwide, black turnout is at historically low levels.
Blount is dismayed by the tone of anonymous bloggers. "Many people made assumptions about me who'd never talked to me," she says. "I saw a side of Charlottesville that I was saddened by."
Her loss, she says, could be a wake-up call to the African-American community.
'I think the African-American community showed its complacency perhaps by not going out to vote," says NAACP president Rick Turner. "I don't think Colette Blount did enough to support herself. If you want people to vote for you, you have to walk the streets and you have to get endorsements from the NAACP and other folks."
Paul Beyer's 31-vote loss was reminscent of another young candidate, Waldo Jaquith, who was a Council contender in 2002 until the fourth ballot, when he lost by four votes.
Beyer requested a verification of the 1:15am Sunday ballot count. Up until that fifth round, votes had been counted twice.
"In the final round, when it was just me and Dede, people had been doing it for six hours," says Beyer on Monday. "That's the time when errors occur."
"The rules say you count twice," says Democratic co-chair Jim Nix. "It was 1:15am, and we didn't."
In a two-hour recount August 22 of the fifth round, in which the lowest vote-getting candidates– Halfaday, Cannon, and Blount– had already been eliminated, the numbers came up the same as the bleary-eyed early a.m. count: 1,188 for Smith; 1,159 for Beyer.
"It was an absolutely fair process," says Beyer after the recount, and he congratulated Smith and said he'd support the nominees.
In contrast to the City Council nominees, the clerk of court race was decisively decided in the first round, with public defender Llezelle Dugger tallying 1,534 votes to Garrett's 656 and Pam Melampy's 294.
"We did what we did in the past, and it was not enough," says Garrett, who has been in office since 1981.
Dugger, who is also on the Charlottesville School Board, thinks her nomination victory came from a combination of factors.
"[Garrett] has had a lot of bad press over the past five years," she says. "The legal community finally felt it had a candidate it could get behind. I had a great organization. And you can't underestimate– I am a candidate who has a history of working with the Democrats. I've been vetted as a candidate that can be elected."
Despite being trounced in the primary, Melampy collected 125 signatures and, two days after the primary (and one day before the August 23 deadline), filed to run as an independent on the November 8 ballot.
And while the nominees from the powerful party's primary traditionally become shoo-ins in November, five independents remain to jostle for City Council seats.