Balance of power: What’s at stake in the 2011 elections

Julian Priest Raymond Harris Niccolo Piccinni

Three perennials always make the list of top local controversies: the Western 29 Bypass, Meadowcreek Parkway, and the water plan. Whether you love these projects or hate ‘em, the deciders on these and many other quality-of-life issues sit on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council. And who’s elected to fill seats on those key boards on November 8 has the potential to shift the balance of power on these controversial projects.

In Albemarle, it’s always about growth– tightly containing it or encouraging business-friendly expansion. And nothing exemplifies the shift in power in the county more than the Western 29 Bypass, which emerged this spring from the grave where it was believed dead and buried for more than 10 years.

The resurrection of the Bypass is symbolic of how much Albemarle County has changed since the 2009 elections.

For decades, limited-growth policy backers had a 4-2 headlock on the Board of Supervisors, and the county was seen as not so business-friendly.

That course shifted two years ago when Sally Thomas decided not to run for a fifth term representing the Samuel Miller district, and Republican Julian Priest won her seat. He was joined by another Republican, Rodney Thomas, who upset Democratic incumbent David Slutzky in the Rio District. Suddenly, the board had two new Republicans joining Raymond Harris for a 3-3 balance.

Throw in conservative Dem Lindsay Dorrier, who dropped his longstanding opposition to the Western 29 Bypass in a notorious midnight vote in June, and former majority supes Dennis Rooker and Ann Mallek now often find themselves in a lonely 4-2 minority.

The balance of power is in play again in November. Dorrier is not running, leaving the Scottsville District up for grabs with a race between two mostly political unknowns, with a cadre of locals coming forward to show support for not electing one of them.

And when Raymond Harris decided to seek a third term on the board in the Rivanna District, Democrat Cynthia Neff launched a well-funded challenge to funnel the outrage of the bypass vote.

“The future of Albemarle County is at stake,” says county Democratic chair Valerie L’Herrou. “A lot of things will go before the Board of Supervisors next year. Obviously, the one on everybody’s mind is the Western Bypass.”

“We currently have three solid conservative voices and a fourth solid conservative voice with Lindsay,” says Republican chair Niccolo Piccinni. “This could change the nature and focus of the board from business-friendly and job-friendly to something else. And the election will determine whether property rights ‘are protected or more stepped on,’” she says.

Which way will the county go?

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