Del. Onzlee Ware (D-11th), who was re-elected to his seat this month without opposition, has informed Gov. McDonnell that he is resigning his seat because of family issues. Ware revealed that his mother, who lives with him, had a stroke last summer and requires his care and attention. First elected in 2002, Ware said that her illness occurred after the deadline for removing his name from the ballot. (Or, as some are surmising, is Ware clearing the way for his name to be put forth as a judge? After all, he has hardly been a thorn in the side of the GOP in Richmond. Both Bob McDonnell and Bill Howell praised him to the heavens after Ware announced his retirement. A sitting member of the legislature cannot be named a judge.)
Already, a bevy of candidates are lining up to vie for the open seat. Because the seat leans heavily Democratic, several potential candidates have already signaled their intention to seek the Democratic nomination.
Court Rosen, vice mayor of Roanoke, is even running ads for the nomination touting himself as the candidate to vote for in a special election primary, but the Democratic Party in the city hasn’t yet announced the way it will select its candidate. (Maybe Rosen knows something the rest of us don’t.) Also announcing their intention to run are Sam Rasoul, one-time candidate for Congress in the 6th District and loser in the last mayoral firehouse primary, and Patricia White-Boyd, a well-known organizer for Democratic campaigns in the city and a member of the 6th Congressional District Democratic Committee. Two more Democrats, Councilman David Trinkle and Keith Wheaton, founder of JBT Media Holdings, are said to be very interested in running, as is Jeff Artis, a leader in the city chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The lone Republican to announce so far is Octavia Johnson, just defeated as she sought her third term as sheriff of Roanoke. Do I think the Republicans can pick up this seat by running Johnson? Nope. In fact, no name has yet surfaced from the GOP that would be a strong candidate.
As I look at the relative strengths of the Democratic candidates for the nomination, Court Rosen has the advantage in both name recognition and political experience. He became vice-mayor by being the largest vote-getter in the last city-wide municipal election. I personally would like to see Trish White-Boyd get the nomination, but her political organizing skills will certainly be put to the test is a crowded field like this one.
Ware’s seat should be no problem for the Democrats to keep, regardless of the candidate. After all, the gerrymandering that took place in 2011 crammed as many city Democrats into the 11th as possible, keeping the Republican-leaning city precincts in Chris Head’s (R-17) district . If the Democrats lose this seat in a city that is a Democratic stronghold surrounded by a sea of red, then God help us.
The timing of Ware’s exit means that there will be a scramble to get candidates nominated and a special election held before the opening of the General Assembly session in January. That spells extremely low turnout.