While there were a series of familiar campaign issues in this last election, there was an underlying concern about the character of our Loudoun County government.
We had a crowded field of experienced and inexperienced candidates offering themselves for public service.
Experienced hands enjoyed some special advantages, name recognition of course, but also incumbency, and those solidly gerrymandered election districts strewn across the Commonwealth’s electoral maps.
The greatest and most telling changes to the County’s character came, however, in several key contests for the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.
Eugene Delgaudio, the orange-hatted incumbent Sterling Supervisor, has been attacked for years for his allegedly questionable ethical and discriminatory antics on and off the Board of Supervisors. To its credit, the Board itself recoiled from Mr. Delgaudio’s misconduct, citing a scathing special grand jury report to do so. The Republican Party members took the Republican Board to task for its modest sanctions against Mr. Delgaudio, signaling a split in the party that proved deeper than may have been first understood.
Mr. Delgaudio’s conduct prompted a bitter and abiding distaste more generally for the Board’s ethical ambiguities.
There was legitimate unease with the Board’s cronies in construction and development who contributed heavily to Board members.
Feeding the soiled image of the County’s governing body was the short-lived nomination fight by Board Vice-Chair Shawn Williams to succeed Board Chairman Scott York; Shawn crashed, burned and withdrew as a candidate because of an undisclosed history of drunken driving and domestic disputes.
While the resulting Republican nominee was Charlie King, a respected attorney, his representation of Mr. Delgaudio’s efforts to defeat a recall petition may have been an unfortunate reminder of Mr. Delgaudio’s toxic influence.
County Board Chairman Scott York who has shown himself sufficiently adaptable politically in past election bids made what some considered a fatal flip flop when he said he wouldn’t run and then did, saying the County couldn’t do without him.
Phyllis Randal, the Democratic candidate, announced that she was running for Chair, insisting, among other reforms, on an ethics pledge that incumbent Scott York refused to take.
Thus was the issue joined on the question of the Board’s ethical character.
It was always difficult to understand from inside or outside Sterling how Mr. Delgaudio, was able to persist and survive despite his gross ethical and cultural faux pas. But this election, the voters decided they’d had enough and ousted four term incumbent, Mr. Delgaudio, electing first time candidate, Dem nominee Koran Saines, who won 3,251 votes over Delgaudio’s total, 3,037.
The race for Chair was more complex. The Republicans cannibalized their own. In the general election, it was Republican nominee King versus former Republican nominee York. They traded some hard knuckled political punches that further underscored the character deficit in that race and split the Republican vote between them on Election Day (19,891 for Scott, and 18,918 for Charlie), allowing the hard-driving Dem nominee, Phyllis J. Randall, to win, beating all comers, the first woman of color to chair a board in Virginia’s history, winning 24,613 votes, earning a plurality vote just short of 38%.
Phyllis said, “It’s not OK to have a sitting board not under a code of ethical standards. It will be the first motion I will put forward.”
The general reaction to both races was “surprise” as the County had seemingly grown accustomed to a failure of character – and feared that it would continue on election day.
But the voters who went to the polls, in a somewhat higher off-year turnout, said it was time to turn the corner.
The question remains now whether the Board, a mix of six Republicans and three new Dems will honor the Election Day message that our County needs an ethics pledge to do better than it has.