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Reflections on a Firehouse Primary

Today's story about the firehouse primary held yesterday in Roanoke City should center on the victory of Sam Rasoul, who won a four-way primary race by beating Councilman David Trinkle by 44 votes. That would be the story if Mayor David Bowers hadn't lost his cool when the candidate he endorsed, Trinkle, lost. Instead, the story has become the dismaying comments Bowers made to the Roanoke Times

Bowers insinuated that there were somehow dirty tricks involved in the primary. "The things I've heard that may have happened over the last couple of days are dirty and despicable and cause me to question the legitimacy of this nomination," he said.

All I can figure out is that Bowers somehow thinks Republicans interfered to insure victory for a weaker candidate than Trinkle. Others involved disagreed, including Trinkle himself. Trinkle told the Times that he thought it was "a pretty good Democratic day." Additionally, Onzlee Ware called Bowers' remarks "regrettable," noting that as a long-time office holder he knew better than to make unsubstantiated charges.

The turnout for the primary was about twice what was expected - 2,632. Evidently, that set Bowers off. David Bowers has been notorious in the past for making rather outrageous claims, but I thought he had outgrown that "foot-in-mouth disease." I guess not. The job of Democratic office holders now is to do everything to insure that Del. Ware's seat stays in Democratic hands, not to provide ammunition to Rasoul's Republican opponent.

There is another way to read the large turnout.

Trinkle Likely 11th District Democratic Nominee?

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.  

Candidates Line Up for Ware’s Roanoke Seat

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.