By Bridget Manley, publisher
Even though the November mid-term elections are months away, this is the time of year candidates for local offices are deciding whether to run — and one incumbent city council member is leaning against seeking another term.
Harrisonburg Vice Mayor Sal Romero, who was elected to his first term on city council in 2018, told The Citizen that while he has not made a final decision, it is “unlikely” he will run for a second term for council. Romero said he will make his decision on whether he plans to run or not in March.
Romero’s seat, along with the seat held by Chris Jones, are both up for election this year, while the other three spots on the city council were decided in the 2020 election.
Alleyn Harned, the Harrisonburg Democratic Committee chair, said Jones will seek re-election in the 2022 election. Jones was not immediately available for comment.
City council seats aren’t tied to specific areas of town. Instead, the top two vote-getters in November’s election will serve on the council for the next four years.
Monica Robinson, the president of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham NAACP, confirmed to The Citizen that she will run for city council.
Paloma Saucedo, a community activist and previous candidate for city council in 2018, also confirmed to The Citizenthat she plans to run for city council in this year’s election.
She said she plans to run as a progressive candidate who will serve underrepresented communities.
“As a woman of color, Latin, business owner, queer, immigrant and workers advocate, with progressive views, I have a lot to contribute to the city on crucial issues we need to address, like housing, criminal justice, climate justice, equity, and economic innovation to name a few,” Saucedo told The Citizen.
Harrisonburg parties’ city council primary approaches
Harned said city Democrats have decided to run an unassembled caucus to narrow the field of Democratic city council candidates to two and will use that format instead of being part of the state primary this year.
The unassembled caucus will be held in June before the statewide primary, but a date has not been set yet. The Democratic Committee will likely choose the date for the unassembled caucus at its March 14 meeting.
Harned said that while they would prefer a state-run primary, there is only one Democratic candidate for the 6th Congressional District, Jennifer Lewis. And holding a primary with 45 days of early voting is an “elaborate activity.”
City Republicans are also expect at least one candidate to run for city council.
Pat Haden, the Harrisonburg City Republican Committee’s chair, said they are talking with potential candidates for city council, but “as of this time we do not anticipate there will be a primary or caucus.”
Harrisonburg School Board races
There are also three seats up for election for the Harrisonburg City School Board, and so far, five candidates have filed paperwork for election.
The three incumbents — Kristen Loflin, Andy Kohen and Obie Hill — have filed for re-election. Two newcomers — Emma Phillips and Corin Jackson — have also joined the race.
School board elections are non-partisan, and candidates are elected in the November general election with the top three vote getters winning seats.
Phillips, a biology teacher at Blue Ridge Community College and S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math) educator, said she was motivated to run after attending city school board meetings and watching parents spread misinformation regarding COVID-19 protocols and attacking transgender students.
“This is a group of extremely vulnerable students, and to have adults attack them like that…It horrified me,” Phillips said. “That’s exactly what drove me to run for the school board. It was that moment right there.”
In the 2018 school board election, Hill, Loflin and Kohen were the only candidates running for election for the three open seats.
This election, however, Loflin, Kohen and have joined newcomer Phillips in a joint campaign for election for school board.
Kohen said while the three did not technically run a joint campaign, he and Loflin decided this election to take their campaigns in a different direction.
“After serving with the current board for a relatively short time I (and Kristen) realized that the common accord that I thought characterized the 3 of us that got elected ‘together’ (but not really as a team, because there were no ‘opponents’) in 2018 didn’t really exist,” Kohen said in an email. “This realization has grown deeper and more intense over the past few years.”
Loflin said she believes Phillips better aligns with values that she and Kohen share.
“Shortly into our tenure it became apparent that the values Andy and I thought were shared with our other colleague were not in fact shared,” Loflin said. “While the content of our decisions (our votes) frequently showed unanimity, our process often did not. Emma will be prepared for every meeting, she will serve all students equitably, she is ready to move forward with reducing the environmental impact of our schools, and she will act with respect and take the ethics of being a community leader seriously.”
Kohen said when he learned about Phillips’ attitudes and goals and how they aligned with his and Loflin’s, “iit became clear that the three of us should partner for this campaign.”
Hill did not immediately respond to The Citizen for comment.
Newcomer Corin Jackson confirmed her run for school board and agreed to an interview with The Citizen in March. Jackson is founder and president of Black Tea Investing, LLC in Harrisonburg.
Loflin, a mental health counselor, said she wants to focus on the mental health and well-being of teachers and students, noting that pay increases for teachers are essential.
“I want to increase our attention on social-emotional learning and recovering from the shared trauma of the pandemic,” she said. “I want to give our teachers an opportunity to heal as well. We need to treat our teachers as the exceptional professionals that they are, and I hope to implement a revised salary scale that is appropriate to the work they do. We trust them with our greatest assets and they should feel valued.”
Kohen says his priorities include accomplishment of the goals set forth in the district’s strategic plan, restructuring the compensation scales for all HCPS employees to make the school system more competitive, progress solar energy for more of the campus buildings in HCPS, and enhance social-emotional learning that exist in HCPS teaching with especial attention to students in marginalized groups.
Phillips, who has a background in S.T.E.M. education, says that one goal if elected is to get more girls and minority children active in S.T.E.M. careers.
“I know what it was like to be in that Algebra class and be told by my teacher that maybe this wasn’t the right class for me,” Phillips said. “Girls are systemically steered away from S.T.E.M. choices. It starts really early and it’s everywhere…One of the most powerful things we can do to bridge that S.T.E.M. gap is to teach things in a way that is accessible to all. We can select real world problems and phenomenon that relate to our students lives.”
Congressional races, updates to precincts and polling locations
U.S. Representative Ben Cline also announced his run for a third term representing Virginia’s 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House. He will face another challenge from Jennifer Lewis, an activist and hospital liaison from Waynesboro who ran against Cline in 2018.
“I have been a vocal, progressive activist for my community for over 15 years and I am ready to take that advocacy to Washington D.C,” Lewis said in an email.
All paperwork for elected offices in Virginia must be submitted by Virginia’s Primary Election Day, June 21.
Harrisonburg Voter Registrar Mark Finks said he will present to the city council proposed ordinances to update the city’s precinct boundaries, as well as recommendations for a new polling location on the campus of JMU.
JMU’s Convocation Center, which was a city polling location, is being renovated, and Finks said it was never going to be a long-term polling location.
The city’s electoral board toured different locations on JMU’s campus and selected JMU’s Godwin Hall as the new polling location, which it will propose to city council at its March 8 meeting.
Finks said the new U.S. Census data showing updated population numbers in the city will slightly change the precinct maps but will not add or remove precincts.
“Basically, all they are recommending is cleaning up some of the lines,” Finks said. Some voters will vote at a new polling location, but fewer than 2,000 voters will be affected by the new lines.
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