St. Mitch: Casting a long shadow
For the first time since 1981, Mitch Van Yahres is not running for reelection to his House of Delegates seat, and he doesn't mind at all. "It's nice to be watching someone else battling for the seat," he says, sitting on the back porch of his house, having a cup of coffee and a cigar, listening to Garrison Keillor and watching the sunset.
With the 57th District firmly in his grip for 24 years, Van Yahres ran eight of 12 races unopposed. The first, a special election in January 1981, was the closest.
"I nearly beat him," says then-Republican candidate Tom Albro. As for subsequent challengers to Van Yahres, "I can assure you he didn't lose any sleep over them after me," says Albro.
Van Yahres laughs when told the Albro remark. "You always lose sleep over races," he protests. But in truth, the closest a Republican came was in 1993 when recent-college grad Mike Brown garnered 35 percent of the vote.
Van Yahres is not surprised to see three Dems– Rich Collins, Kim Tingley, and David Toscano– angling for his seat. "I figured there would be competition," he says– just not necessarily these three vying for the nomination.
And he declines to endorse anyone. "I think that has to be settled by the primary itself," he says.
As for the Republican candidate, "It's an uphill battle," says the retiring delegate. For all the candidates, he sees more of a fight because there isn't an incumbent running with a known record.
What makes the 57th District such a strong Democratic district, says Van Yahres, is that people feel strongly about social issues and education– especially with the University of Virginia, Piedmont Virginia Community College, and strong secondary schools here.
"My legacy is I have stood for some of the values of this district that believes in social values and rights of minorities," he says.
He foresees more social-issue battles coming up in the House. Whoever is elected, "Hopefully they'll take the same stance I did," says Van Yahres. "It appears they will."
Any advice for the candidates? "They should run their own campaigns as they feel they should," he suggests. "Be themselves. Don't try to be too political– political in the negative sense."
After 24 years, Delegate Mitch Van Yahres enjoys letting others have the fun of getting elected to the 57th District.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO