NEWS- Blue Monday: Delighted Dems mark political shift

Albemarle Democratic chair Fred Hudson expects a record crowd at the May 14 caucus.

Albemarle may be feeling Blue. In the not so distant past, Democrats often couldn't even scrape up a candidate to run in Albemarle County races. This year, the former minority party has not only multiple candidates, it has more candidates than nominations, and that has Albemarle Dem chair Fred Hudson practically giddy.

"I'm very excited this many people want to run," says Hudson. "Four years ago, we did not mount a candidate on the constitutional officer level."

This year, the Dems are running candidates for commonwealth's attorney, sheriff, and county clerk– and wannabe sheriffs and clerks will have to duke it out for the nomination.

"This is a bit unusual," notes Hudson, who says 1999 was the last time Democrats had two candidates vying for the same seat– sheriff– and Republican Ed Robb took the election.

With six people lined up for the Democratic nomination for three open seats this year, Hudson worries that the turnout for the party caucus could bring the fire marshal to Lane Auditorium in the County Office Building.

He's expecting between 500 and 600 people– but he's printing up 1,500 ballots for the May 14 event.

Albemarle master police officer Larry Claytor faces off against master deputy Roger Craig for the sheriff nomination and the opportunity to challenge the Republican candidate, Charlottesville police Captain Chip Harding, in November.

The county clerk's seat is up for reelection every eight years, and Shelby Marshall's decision not to run inspired five people to go for her $113,000-a-year job. Albemarle deputy clerk Debbie Shipp, who's worked for 31 years in the clerk's office, and Janet Ferrance, a city deputy clerk, both want the Democratic nomination.

Perhaps most unusual is the Board of Supervisors race in the Scottsville district, where three-term incumbent Lindsay Dorrier is being challenged in his own party by former Dave Matthews farm manager Kevin Fletcher.

Fletcher ran for supe in 2003, and says getting 25 percent of the vote as a write-in candidate encouraged him to take on Dorrier for the Democratic nomination.

"I'm really not happy with my representation," explains Fletcher, who moved here in 1990 and now does landscaping and property management. "They continue to rezone with no thought to the housing market." Fletcher has publicly objected to the 3,000-plus unit Biscuit Run and believes the county does not need additional housing or commercial space.

"I think we need to do a better job planning and managing our growth area," he says, adding, "Mr. Dorrier is kind of hard to get in touch with some time."

Dorrier, who says he hasn't had formal opposition in a caucus since 1975, isn't surprised he's being challenged. The same people running this year– Fletcher and Republican Denny King– also ran against him in 2003.

"I think anybody has the right to run," says Dorrier. "I'm not aware of how active [Fletcher] has been in the Democratic party."

Dorrier would prefer a primary election to the caucus, but acknowledges that it's more expensive. And despite making his fourth run for supe as a Democrat, "I don't think the Board of Supervisors is a partisan seat," he says.

Uncontested Democrats are Marcia Joseph, who takes on Chair Ken Boyd, a Republican, for the Rivanna seat on the BOS, and Ann Mallek, who is challenging Republican incumbent David Wyant for the White Hall seat. Longtime Crozet activist Tom Loach also is running as an independent against Wyant, the Crozet Gazette reports.

Attorney Denise Lunsford is running as a Democrat against incumbent Jim Camblos for commonwealth's attorney.

Accepting their party's nomination at the May 14 caucus are 57th District Delegate David Toscano and 25th District State Senator Creigh Deeds. Both men are unopposed for the nomination.

A contested county Democratic caucus is such a novelty that this will be a first for many party members. All Democrats are invited, and Hudson suggests they bring their voter registration cards. Registration starts at 6pm; caucusers should be line to register by 7pm or they won't get into the auditorium to cast their votes.

So why the Democratic resurgence in traditionally Republican territory?

"This type of thing doesn't occur because you wake up one morning and it's Democratic," says Hudson. "Demographics are very important. A lot of people are moving into the county– but not all are Democracts."

The blue-ing of traditionally Republican Albemarle started in 2004 when John Kerry carried the county. The blue tide continued with Tim Kaine leading the county in the governor's race the following year, and in 2006 when Jim Webb defeated former county resident/Republican George Allen. 

Some Dems believe the national scene with a low-approval-rating President and an unpopular war has encouraged local activity. "For a lot of people, it's time to stand up and work for the Democratic party," Hudson says.

His Republican counterpart, Keith Drake, isn't so convinced that Albemarle is going Democratic. He suggests that Shelby Marshall's decision to retire after 40 years has sparked interest in the well-paid, eight-year term clerk's job.

Even with the Democrats massing on the horizon to launch candidates, "I don't see anything good or bad for the Republicans," says Drake.

In fact, he thinks the pendulum that has pushed to the left the past two years may be swinging back with Albemarle Republicans' "Truth in Taxation" program, which challenged the Board of Supervisors to lower the property tax rate.

"There was a groundswell," says Drake, who collected 1,500 signatures to petition the BOS. "It was a nonpartisan issue– it's a taxpayer issue.

"I'm confident we'll see a strong Republican showing in the fall," he continues. The Republicans nominate their candidates May 17, also in the County Office Building's Lane Auditorium.

"It's going to be a wild ride," Drake predicts. "Throw in the clerk of court, and it's the busiest year in eight years. We'll have fun. We'll win some, and we'll lose some, and hopefully we'll get better government."

Master Deputy Roger Craig wants the Democratic nomination for sheriff. "We haven't had a Democratic sheriff in a generation," he says.

Albemarle cop/Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad president Larry Claytor thinks his 33 years in law enforcement will give him the Democratic nod for sheriff.