Recently a Councilman in Hampton has put forth a bill to the General Assembly to require any sitting Councilman in Hampton to resign before running for Mayor. This was put forth at the council meeting this month in where the city now frequently puts something on to be discussed and is voted into law in the same meeting. The result is most people don’t know about the ruling till after it is passed into a law. I spoke to council in regards to this issue because I felt the citizens needed a chance to have input. Personally I do not feel seven people should have the right to restrict who is allowed to run for an office. They did postpone the vote till next months meeting. Councilman Chris Stewart wanted a 90 day input session but the Councilman who proposed the bill wants it in front of the General Assembly this year. Councilwoman Snead questioned why it had to be this year since Hampton does not have an upcoming Mayoral race. These were valid points and both were trying to allow time to get citizen input no matter what their personal feelings were in regards to the law.
One of the reasons the Councilman wants the law is because he feels it is not fair to people who run in one year can challenge the Mayor but people in the same election cycle can not run for two offices. However, this unfairly targets people who just run for Mayor. In most cities in Virginia a sitting Council-member does not have to step down if they want to run for a General Assembly, state office or federal office. In Hampton Tom Gear was in a mid-term seat on Council when he ran and won the General Assembly. He did not step down to run. Senator Mamie Locke was the Mayor in the middle of a term and was not required to step down. She did because she wanted to donate all her time to her campaign. In some cases elected officials can run for two offices as was the case recently with Paul Ryan who ran as Vice President and also won back his seat in Congress. My personal preference is to allow people to run for office while they are currently holding another office. The reason for this is simply. It is hard enough to get people to run because of the amount of money required to run a campaign and also all the dirty politics and mud-slinging. Do we really want to add-on another deterrent to stop people from running.
Several people who spoke against this rule said it was unfairly targeting a current Councilman who ran and lost against Mayor Ward. Another reason the Councilman who proposed the bill justified it was because he said the bill was originally suggested before the challenging Councilman decided to run for office and it did not target the challenger. That was an incorrect statement of fact. The bill was initially proposed the first time after challenger had already told people he was running. Mayor Ward at the time said anyone who wanted to run for an office should be allowed to and pushed for the bill to not be put forward. I thought that showed a lot of leadership and class on her part. She put the citizens before herself. She has had several moments these last years where she stepped up and showed grace in her actions that make you respect her as a leader. This was certainly one of them for me.
The Councilman who submitted the bill gave as his last justification the fact that once a challenger loses they can no longer work with the winning Mayor. That has been proven not to be the case. If Hampton is looking for an example they just need to look over to Newport News. There a sitting Council-member ran and lost against Mayor Price. It was a highly publicized race and the two Council-members seem to work fine together. Also the Councilman who proposed this bill was once our City Manager who was fired by Council. He sued the City and Council. Then he ran and was elected to Council. That did not stop him from working with the very people who had him removed from his job. So I think if anyone can deal with that situation they certainly can deal with losing an election.
The cities in South Hampton Roads mostly do not allow a seating Council-member to run for office. The exception is Portsmouth. They did not allow it then changed that in the General Assembly recently. On the Peninsula no city requires the sitting council member to step down. The only city it does not apply to is Williamsburg as there Mayor is appointed by other Council-members and not voted on by the general public. One of my concerns is that if a majority of council finds it beneficial in an upcoming election they will pass the law. If in a few years it is not beneficial to the majority any more they can flip it back the other way. This allows stacking an election in one groups favor. The same effect gerrymandering does for the political parties. That may be legal but gerrymandering is not right. After listing to all the speakers at the redistricting meeting the overwhelming majority of citizens agree. Why then should seven people be allowed to decide whom the 140,000 people in Hampton should be allowed to vote for. If the city really does see this as a concern why do they not allow it to be a referendum on an upcoming ballot. That way when the citizens decide no one would have to worry about it flip flopping back and forth to keep the majority happy.
A lot of people who read this blog live in an area where Council-members have to step down so I am wondering your thoughts pro and con on the issue.