Grant's broom: Theories thick on Slutzky sweep

Once upon a time, Democrats ruled Charlottesville while Republicans held sway in Albemarle. But the 2005 election turned that conventional wisdom on its head, leaving both Republicans and Dems scratching theirs.

Take Republican candidate Gary Grant's run for supervisor in the Rio District. Some folks thought that in Republican-dominated Albemarle, he might have been a shoo-in.

From his reporting days at WINA and at the now-defunct Observer, and from serving on the Albemarle School Board, he had far better name recognition than his relative-newcomer Dem opponent, David Slutzky. He did the door-to-door, hitting 2,000 residences. And he came out firmly in favor of a western bypass, long favored by the business community.

But he got trounced, pulling in a mere 38 percent of the vote to Slutzky's 58 percent– a 900-vote loss. (It was even worse for Republican Christian Schoenewald, who took only 25 percent of the vote in the Rivanna District against incumbent Dennis Rooker.)

The reason for Grant's defeat? "[Slutzky] got more votes than I did," Grant offers. "I'm not a pundit. I don't do analysis."

Even Slutzky is surprised by the margin. "When you're a candidate and have never run before, you have no idea if people are buying what you're saying," he says. "I had no clue."

Keith Drake, head of the Albemarle Republican Party, attributes the difference in vote totals to what happened on the state level. In the governor's race, Republican Jerry Kilgore garnered just 46 percent of the state vote; in Albemarle, he took only 36 percent.

"Albemarle is certainly more Republican than Charlottesville," says Drake, "but there's been a steady trend toward the left. I think we saw that [November 8] in Albemarle County."

For example, Drake notes, Republican George Allen carried Albemarle with 60 percent of the vote in 1993 when he ran for Congress. In his 2000 Senate race, however, he lost Albemarle 52 to 48 percent– and he used to live here.

"There was a time when Albemarle was reliably Republican, but that's pretty much gone," says Delegate Rob Bell. But he's not willing to paint Albemarle blue yet. "We'll have to see what happens in '06," he says.

Because of Albemarle's Republican reputation, Slutzky says a lot of his friends "strongly counseled" him to run as an Independent. He didn't because he is a Democrat, and he thinks it'll help in interactions with Charlottesville's Dem-heavy City Council. "I'm not convinced Albemarle County is a Democratic wasteland," says Slutzky, "and I'm less so now."

Grant acknowledges he has "some baggage" from his time on the School Board– particularly his perfectly legal but controversial publication of the names of teachers fired by the county.

One unnamed Republican theorizes that Grant was hurt by his failure to snag the endorsement of the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors.

"And it was a hell of a tailwind with Toscano winning the district and people coming out to elect Kaine," continues the Republican pundit. "I think it would be tough for anybody who's a pure Republican to win here on that day. Two years earlier, it could have been different; two years later it could be different."

And he warns, "This is going to embolden the Democrats in this area."

Fred Hudson, Albemarle Democratic Party chair, doesn't think the county's strong Dem showing November 8 was a fluke– nor does he express any surprise at Slutzky's sizable margin of victory. "We expected him to win comfortably," Hudson says.

Hudson's theory of why Grant lost? "He pursued the wrong issues and took positions the wrong way"– in particular, his support of the western by-pass.

In fact, there have been some murmurings that his support of the controversial bypass caused Grant's loss. "I think that's what people want to think, but I don't think so," demurs Bell. "It's not impossible, but the data does not support it."

Grant doesn't buy that, either. "You can't lose by 900 votes because of one thing," he says. And he believes he would have lost his own Northside precinct by more than 45 votes if the bypass were the reason for his defeat, because the road would go right through that area.

Republicans figured that he would need 2,200 votes to win Rio, Grant says, adding, "We miscalculated on that."

Slutzky pulled in 2,877 to Grant's 1,902, while independent candidate Tom "Dr. J" Jakubowski got 177 votes.

Grant concedes that his name recognition and longtime resident status may not have helped. "Maybe they hate my guts and don't want to tell me," he says. "People will lie to your face."

The bike-riding Grant takes a few jabs at lefties who want to get people out of their cars and into mass transit but who travel to forums as the sole occupant in their cars.

Otherwise, two days after the election, he seems sanguine about his defeat. "I met a lot of wonderful people, and I saw a lot of wonderful landscaping," he says. "I'm not sad. I didn't boo-hoo-hoo."

Grant encourages others to run for office. As he removes his signs and gets ready to go back to his job as a school bus driver the next day, he says, "Life goes on. Nobody died."

Republican Gary Grant got 38 percent of the vote in the Rio District supervisor's race.

Dem David Slutzky defied the conventional wisdom that Albemarle is a Republican stronghold. PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO