Single shot: Can an independent win Council seat?
Independent City Council candidate Bob Fenwick is getting a lot of buzz– and support from a broad coterie of Republicans, Democrats, and independents. But is that enough to get him elected to Council in a city long dominated by Dems?
It's hard enough for a Republican to get a seat on Council–- ask Rob Schilling, who was elected in 2002, the first Republican in 16 years. For an independent running without even minority party support, what are the odds?
"It is virtually impossible," says Schilling. "The last independent elected was in 1936. These elections are rigged to favor Democrats." Non-Dems would have a much better chance if they were elected in wards or districts rather than at-large, and if the City Council races were nonpartisan, as School Board elections are, says Schilling.
Even while acknowledging the daunting odds against an independent, Schilling has offered to put a Bob Fenwick sign in his yard.
And he has this advice for Fenwick: "He needs to tell everyone to single shot."
Single-shotting is the practice of voting for only one candidate, even though there are two open seats, because voting for either of the majority Dem candidates– incumbent Mayor Dave Norris or Kristin Szakos– cancels out a vote for Fenwick, explains Schilling. "It was a big part in my election."
Perhaps independent Antoinette Roades best explains how this seemingly counter-intuitive strategy works:
"Let's say that 100 people go to the polls. Two seats are vacant, so each person can vote twice, although none need do so. Let's also say that 51 of those 100 people cast one of their votes for Fenwick while 49 cast one of their votes for Norris and the other of their votes for Szakos. If everyone stops there, Fenwick wins a seat. But if even three of Fenwick's 51 also cast votes for Norris and a mere three more cast votes for Szakos, both Norris and Szakos end up with 52 votes and Fenwick is completely shut out."
Three independents want a seat at the City Council table. Paul Long's decriminalization-of-drugs platform introduces an issue that doesn't fall under City Council jurisdiction, and Andrew Williams' inability to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot puts his chances of a successful write-in candidacy in the extremely unlikely category.
Bob Fenwick came into the public eye in the summer of 2008 when the city quietly unveiled plans to chop two softball fields at McIntire Park, and he's responsible for the "Save McIntire" signs that are in yards all over town.
He also tapped into the other big issue in this election: the community long-term water supply controversy that pits damming and dredging factions.
And he further cast his lot against the appointed authorities that control water and waste by calling for the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority to abandon its lawsuit against single-stream recycler Peter Van der Linde.
Fenwick's positions on the two hot button issues–-McIntire Park, a.k.a Meadowcreek Parkway, and the mega-million community water plan–- have earned him support from long-time Democrats like Betty Mooney, who's hosting an event for Fenwick.
"I have had so many people tell me they are [voting for Fenwick], but they swore me to secrecy," she says. "But they really believe we need another voice on Council who knows infrastructure and who cares about preserving parks, the reservoir, and neighborhoods. I feel like those issues are so paramount, that's why I came out publicly."
Mooney thinks Fenwick has a shot– and not just a single shot. "I think some will," she says. "I've heard some are going to single shot Kristin Szakos, some Dave Norris."
"I think anything that breaks up the monopoly of power in Charlottesville is good," says Charles "Buddy" Weber, chairman of the local Republican Party, which came up with a platform– but no candidates– for this fall's race.
Fenwick has not gotten the endorsement of Republicans. "If he wanted our endorsement, he'd ask," observes Weber. "Bob's an independent guy."
Weber doesn't see Fenwick's opposition to the Meadowcreek Parkway as a deal breaker for Republicans. "The things he's running on are things reasonable people can disagree," says Weber. "There's no Republican or Democratic way of repairing sidewalks."
Adds Weber, "Single shot voting is incredibly important because there are two slots available. If you split your vote between Fenwick and one of the Democrats, you're adding to the Democratic vote." The way for Fenwick supporters to cast two votes, suggests Weber, is to choose another independent like Long.
Peter Kleeman ran as an independent for Council two years ago. "It's a huge burden to overcome," he says.
He thinks whether Fenwick gets elected depends on whether he defeats Kristin Szakos. "People are going to vote Norris/Szakos or Norris/Fenwick or just Fenwick single shot," says Fenwick. "I can't imagine many voting Fenwick/Szakos."
According to Kleeman, "I see no chance Dave Norris is not going to get elected, so it makes no difference how many vote for Norris. It really comes down to Kristin Szakos versus Bob Fenwick."
Fenwick says single shot voting will be "absolutely" crucial to him getting elected. "The technique was used in the '50s during massive resistance– blacks used it to maximize their vote," he says.
As for the Democrats who are publicly supporting Fenwick, there's not much the party can do about it, even if the they signed a pledge to support the party's candidates during the firehouse primary in the spring, says co-chair Jennifer McKeever.
"If you're a[n executive] committee member, you have a duty not to publicly support another candidate," says McKeever, and offenders will not be invited to a reorganizing meeting in December.
The Democrats anticipate higher turnout because of the governor race, and they are taking Fenwick seriously, says McKeever.
"Bob Fenwick is a slogan," she lobs. "The last time we elected someone with a slogan, our state budget went to hell. A slogan is not governing."
Correction November 1: The city has always maintained that its lease to the YMCA had nothing to do with city plans to remove the two softball fields, and the article has been altered to reflect that.