COURTHOUSE — Virginia Beach voters rejected efforts to extend The Tide from Newtown Station to Town Center on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
The result of the advisory referendum reflects a repudiation of efforts by the city to expand the light rail system, which led to vocal opposition and a grassroots effort to place the question on the ballot.
John Atkinson, Virginia Beach’s city treasurer and founder of a political action committee called No Light Rail Virginia Beach, led the effort to block the extension.
The PAC’s anti-light rail advocacy defeated better-funded, pro-light rail supporters who ran outreach campaigns, including television advertising, through a nonprofit organization that shielded the names of its contributors.
That group, Light Rail Now, Inc., ran outreach campaigns seeking yes votes under the names Virginia Beach Connex and, largely online, Mission Transport VB.
It had agreements for about $165,000 in television and cable advertising in the run-up to election day, according to records filed with the Federal Communication Commission. If those numbers held, that’s four times the $41,000 that No Light Rail Virginia Beach raised, sum total, through late September, according to its most recent campaign financial disclosure report.
Late Tuesday, Light Rail Now released a short statement via the Virginia Beach Connex Facebook page thanking volunteers and supporters who helped during the campaign.
Atkinson said the vote sent a clear message in response to a clear question on the ballot.
“We’re kind of a ragtag, small group, and we won,” he said, reached by phone late Tuesday. “The citizens don’t want light rail in Virginia Beach. That’s what it says to council. … Hopefully, the council will abide by it.”
The no votes carried the day handily, with unofficial returns showing a 57 percent to 43 percent margin with 98 of 99 precincts reporting.
The advisory referendum is non-binding, but three of the returning incumbent members of the city council, including Mayor Will Sessoms, have said they will abide by the will of the voters.
Jessica Abbott, who on Tuesday defeated incumbent City Councilmember Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond in the Kempsville District, has opposed light rail, and she was among a slate of candidates endorsed by Atkinson’s group.
Sessoms on Tuesday, while watching returns in his own race during a campaign gathering in Hilltop, acknowledged it did not look good for extending The Tide.
“The council and city staff will have to reevaluate where we go from here,” he said.
“Right now, it’s dead,” the mayor added, “but it’s been revived before.”
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