Leaf-ing office: Mitch says goodbye

Delegate Mitch Van Yahres is finally calling it quits from the General Assembly.

"The environment has changed, and it's not for the good," says the longtime Dem, who has watched his party go from majority to minority during his 24-year tenure representing Charlottesville's 57th District.

"It's not a pleasure to be there," admits Van Yahres, 78, one of the General Assembly's most liberal delegates. "It used to be you were able to have friends on both sides of the aisle. There was a political spirit of compromise. Now you have to win battles."

Van Yahres is a retired tree surgeon. As a legislator, he pushed through a first-in-the-nation apology for the eugenics movement, secured for Charlottesville its public defender's office, and has long supported industrial hemp as an alternate crop for Virginia's struggling tobacco farmers.

He announced his retirement at a Democratic spaghetti dinner March 5.

"I think everyone is sad," says Connie Jorgenson, who's worked for Van Yahres for six years. "Mitch is such a beloved figure," she says. "It's not only a loss for the General Assembly; it's a loss for the community. Not very many people will stand up the way Mitch does. That's huge."

Certainly, successors will be lining up to run for the seat. Former mayor David Toscano says he'll announce his candidacy March 10.

Van Yahres cited his desire to see a new generation of Democratic leadership take over.

As for his retirement plans, "It's time to sit back and watch the Republicans fight," he says. "That's going to be my leisure activity."

Mitch Van Yahres