Now that the governor has set a date for the special election to replace retiring Del. Onzlee Ware in the 11th District, the push begins in earnest by the five candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat that encompasses most of Roanoke City. The winner will be chosen in a firehouse primary on Dec. 7 at the Roanoke Civic Center. Since two sitting members of Roanoke City Council, Court Rosen and David Trinkle, are seeking the nomination, local politics could also be up in the air if either one wins.
The last time Roanoke Democrats used a firehouse primary to choose a nominee was the last mayoral election. In that primary David Bowers, the incumbent, beat Sam Rasoul. About 1,200 people participated in that primary, and there certainly aren’t likely to be more participants this time. With a five-person field, I really can’t handicap this race. Whoever can get three or four hundred or more supporters to show up on a December Saturday will take the race. Even so, I’ll try to do some guessing.
The person who seems strongest going in is David Trinkle, who has served on city council and was a school board member before that. Dr. Trinkle is up for re-election to council in May, but he hasn’t announced whether he will seek another term or not. Trinkle is the “establishment candidate,” touting his experience and readiness to represent the city in Richmond. The other council member, Court Rosen, also has made his council experience a selling point; however, if past experience is what people at the primary use to guide their vote, Trinkle wins.
Then, we get to the kicker that makes calling a winner so difficult – three other candidates who bring their own constituencies to the race.
Sam Rasoul, while a relative newcomer to Roanoke City, has support in Roanoke’s growing immigrant community. As the loser in a previous firehouse primary, he knows from experience what such a race entails…getting as many people as possible who support you to attend. That gives him a bit of an edge on the other newcomers. Trish White-Boyd has never run for office, but she has lots of experience as a political organizer, especially in the precincts with a majority African-American vote, so don’t count her out, either. She is also a small business owner and can use that as a drawing card. All the majority A-A voter precincts are in the 11th District, so ties to that community could well make the difference in this primary.
The last candidate, Keith Wheaton, also a business owner, has little or no experience in politics to call upon. I personally believe that Wheaton is in the race to make his name more familiar to city voters, perhaps in anticipation of running for city council in the future. Roanoke elects its council city-wide, so a person has to be able to appeal to the whole city, not just people living in one ward.
So far, Onzlee Ware has not voiced support for anyone, and I don’t expect he will, at least not openly. State Sen. John Edwards has endorsed David Trinkle, a move that I don’t believe is particularly smart. This primary can be won by any one of the five candidates, and if the winner is not David Trinkle, he or she won’t be thrilled that a fellow Democrat of Edward’s stature injected himself into the race.
The only announced candidate forum so far is one scheduled for Dec. 3, 6:30 p.m., at William Fleming High School, hosted by the Urban Professional League, a Roanoke organization of African-American professionals and business people. All announced candidates of both parties have been invited to participate. The two Republicans seeking that party’s nomination are Octavia Johnson, who just lost a re-election bid for sheriff, and Caleb Coulter, a libertarian whose extremist views fit quite nicely with the Tea Party radicals. The GOP will also have a firehouse primary, scheduled for Dec. 10.
Well, here goes my wild guess, and it’s just that, a wild guess, for the Democratic primary. I believe the race comes down to David Trinkle and Trish White-Boyd. Having another African-American in the race, however, (Keith Wheaton) lessens Trish’s chances to win. Many Democratic activists I have talked with favor David Trinkle as the strongest candidate and the person most likely to keep the seat in Democratic hands. Therefore, I believe the establishment may well prevail and Trinkle will narrowly win.