Two-termers: Council 'custom' surprises some

In his account of City Councilor Blake Caravati's January 9 announcement that he won't seek reelection, Daily Progress reporter John Yellig notes, "Custom dictates that councilors do not seek third terms." The revelation– unattributed and appearing as the third sentence of the top-of-the-fold news story– has many longtime Charlottesville political scenesters scratching their heads.

Former mayor and newly sworn-in Delegate David Toscano was surprised to learn about the custom. A veteran of three terms on Council, the last of which ended in 2002, Toscano reels off other exceptions to the rule: three-timer Frank Buck, as well as former mayor Bitsy Waters, who served only one term.

"The usual practice is to serve two terms," says Toscano. "'Custom' is too strong a word."

Could the custom be super secret, revealed only to the most well-connected insiders? "If that's true, I wasn't aware of it, and I guess that's why I ran for three terms," says Toscano.

Two years ago, former councilor Meredith Richards, apparently unaware of the custom, unsuccessfully sought a third term.

Vice Mayor Kevin Lynch, who was re-elected in 2004, also isn't up on the two-term custom. His theory: it's hard to be productive after 10 years in office, and councilors must ask, "Do you want to stretch it to 12 years or cut it to eight years?"

Lynch won't say whether he's going to follow custom and decline his shot at a third term in 2008. "It depends on what the political landscape is in a year and a half," he says. He's hoping for lots of new blood– people who think the way he does. "It's hard to predict what is going to be happening in a year and a half," he adds.

Caravati also likes the idea of new blood on City Council, but he cites the sacrifice of his personal life, rather than custom, as a reason for not running again. "Three nights a week, I'm not there," he says. "And the phone calls... Citizens don't mind calling in the middle of the night to tell you their trash didn't get picked up."

He doesn't rule out running for office again in the future. "I will keep involved," he promises. "You can't get rid of me."

Former Charlottesville Democratic chairman Lloyd Snook, however, says that two terms are the norm. "There's a reason for the custom," Snook explains. "After eight years, a lot of people feel burnout."

Snook adds, "Frankly, after eight years, you've ticked off enough people so that it's harder to get things done."

Departing Councilor Caravati mentions that there is definitely at least one other local re-election custom: "You have to go to Albemarle to find the custom," he says, "and that's 12 years minimum."

Former mayor Blake Caravati will not seek a third term on City Council, not because of custom, but to enjoy his private life again for a while. And if a promising seat becomes open, he'll be ready.