HARRISONBURG — The jostling for this fall’s City Council election unofficially began Friday as the two people seeking the Republican nomination spoke at the first public event.
Mayor Ted Byrd seeks a third four-year term on the panel, while D.D. Dawson is looking for her first political post. The pair spoke to about 20 people during the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County GOP’s monthly First Friday event at Wood Grill Buffet.
Two seats are available in the November election. While Byrd seeks re-election, Councilman Charles Chenault, an independent, does not. Members serve four-year terms on the five-person panel and the mayor is selected among those five every two years.
“I’m going to be myself,” Byrd, 51, said of his campaign. “I am who I am. Sometimes that gets me in a lot of trouble.”
Dawson, 50, who is retiring June 30 as finance director for Harrisonburg City Public Schools, said she’s not ready to stop serving the community, especially in the area of number-crunching.
“I feel like I have an eye for detail, looking at budget numbers,” she said.
Byrd later added, “I would love to have someone else on council who knows as much as D.D. [about finances].”
City Republicans will officially nominate the two candidates at a meeting later this month, tentatively scheduled for May 28.
The Harrisonburg Democratic Committee is poised to select its two candidates during a caucus Wednesday night.
Chris Jones, an account executive at WHSV, and Alleyn Harned, executive director of Virginia Clean Cities at James Madison University, are the only two city residents seeking the nomination, though the deadline to apply with the committee is this afternoon.
“If someone else out there is thinking to challenge,” Democratic Chairwoman Deb Fitzgerald said, “we haven’t heard about it yet.”
Also, Helen Shibut, chairwoman of the Harrisonburg Libertarian Committee, is seeking a seat on council, as is Josh Huffman, a former Republican running as an independent.
Huffman attended Friday’s GOP event.
Independents and third-party candidates have until 7 p.m. June 10 to file all paperwork, including a petition with at least 125 signatures of registered city voters, to the Harrisonburg Registrar’s Office to get on the ballot for City Council.
A Byrd And Former Eagle
At the GOP event, Byrd ran through a list of city projects he’s been a part of in his eight years on council, including the construction of two schools, completion of the biggest portion of the Erickson Avenue-Stone Spring Road connector and funding the future expansion of Reservoir Street.
But Harrisonburg is “not out of the woods yet,” he said, and finding a way to adopt a budget for fiscal 2015 without dipping into the city’s reserve funds is an immediate need.
“On a local level, you’re trying to … determine the difference between needs and wants, and that’s the hardest thing,” Byrd said.
He and Dawson agree that creating jobs is the biggest challenge for the next few years. Byrd views his attendance at five ribbon-cuttings this week as a positive sign that city business is growing, though he’s waiting to fill a large data center on North Main Street that Harris Corp. once occupied.
One way the mayor is not interested in bringing in jobs is the construction of a private-public hotel and conference center, which a Maryland developer has asked for $10 million to help fund.
Dawson said she did not know enough about the project to say how’d she vote on the matter. However, she promises to speak “the truth” when asked questions over the next few months, and if she’s on council.
Dawson, a Turner Ashby High School classmate of Byrd’s, taught in Rockingham County and Harrisonburg schools and has spent the last 12 years as the city schools’ finance director. After retirement, she plans to work for Eagle Carpet — her father Rodney Eagle’s business on Port Republic Road.
Eagle is a former mayor who last ran for office in 2012.
A member of the Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation Commission, Dawson has been one of the leaders in the private financing of the city’s first dog park under construction on Smithland Road.
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or email@example.com