COURTHOUSE — Four candidates are lined up to challenge Virginia Beach City Councilmember Barbara Henley, the incumbent in the Princess Anne District who has represented the city’s southern communities for much of the past four decades.
Five potential candidates – if only for now, since paperwork isn’t due until June – is a lot for the district, which includes communities as diverse as Pungo and Sandbridge. Election records show voters in the district and the old Pungo Borough that preceded it usually have had to choose only between Henley and another candidate.
Henley was involved in a three-person race once, in 1978, when she first won office in the old Pungo Borough. She had a challenger in 1982, according to records provided by the Virginia Beach Voter Registrar’s Office, and ran unopposed in 1986.
“Ever since,” Henley said during an interview, “it’s been one on one.”
She was not sure whether a race with many candidates gave her an advantage.
“We’ll see,” Henley said. “It’s anybody’s prerogative to run. Maybe we’ll have some good discussions.”
This year, those challenging Henley, a farmer, include a local pastor who challenged her before, a sheriff’s sereant who is also the husband of a state delegate, a planning commissioner nominated to that position by Henley and a businessperson who got a bit Facebook famous earlier this year after verbally sparring with Mayor Will Sessoms.
Issues will include infrastructure, roads, flooding in both suburban and rural areas, and support for the embattled agricultural reserve program, which has been eyed fas a funding source to fight flooding. The district also includes the municipal center and the area in which a biomedical park is being developed.
Candidates said they are out to give voters a choice, even if it may be one among many.
“I think it’s awesome,” said the Rev. Pieri Burton, who ran unsuccessfully against Henley four years ago and said he is completing paperwork for another challenge.
Burton said he was not concerned about being one of five, and he said he hoped having a number of voices in the campaign might lead to a better flow of ideas – possibly even opportunities for collaboration.
“It’s obviously an interesting seat right now,” said Dr. Karen Beardslee Kwasny, an educator who represents the district on the Planning Commission and recently filed to run. Kwasny said she has heard citizens talk about change on the council, and the number of candidates lining up may reflect that.
“People want to see new faces, different ways of managing business on council, better representation,” she said. “Those are the three key things I keep hearing. And more accessibility. I think that’s key, too.”
“I think it’s a good thing because it gives people more choice,” said candidate David Fowler, a sergeant in the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office who works in intake at the jail. “That’s what we truly need.”
Fowler, the spouse of state Del. Kelly Fowler, D-Virginia Beach, said the worst thing for voters is to look at a ballot with an unopposed candidate. Like Burton, he noted interest in the race shows people want to be involved.
Tim Worst, a candidate who heads up law enforcement sales for a tactical equipment firm, said he wasn’t sure what to think of having so many people in the running.
“Well, being new into this,” he said, “what I hear from other people is it hurts the chances for anybody except the incumbent because we split the votes.”
Yet Worst, who some folks know because he traded words with Sessoms during a January meeting, said it also is telling that so many people can run to represent their community.
“That’s a great thing about America.”
TWO PEOPLE USUALLY RUN IN PRINCESS ANNE DISTRICT, AS IN THE PUNGO BOROUGH BEFORE IT
Until this year, anyway.
Five candidate — at least, so far — have either filed paperwork or confirmed in iinterviews with The Independent News that they are running to represent the Princess Anne District on the Virginia Beach City Council. Long-serving incumbent City Councilmember Barbara Henley, a farmer and a fixture in local politics for four decades, is in the running again.
Others can still throw their hats into an increasingly crowded ring until June. The past several contests in the district have given voters only one other choice besides Henley, even after local elections shifted from May to November, which meant greater participation by city voters.
► May 1978: Henley first took office in the old Pungo Borough by winning in a field of three candidates, the only time before the current election in which she faced more than one other candidate. Her opponents were John D. Holland and Floyd Waterfield Jr. Henley won handily, with nearly 62 percent percent of the vote. Waterfield, who had represented the borough since 1970, came in second, with nearly 32 percent. Holland was a distant third.
► May 1982: Henley, challenged by Larry Joyner, won with nearly 54 percent of the vote in a race that was closer than her first run.
► May 1986: Henley returned to office representing the borough in the only race in which she has been unopposed.
► May 1990: Henley fell in the Pungo Borough to Paul Lanteigne by 1,000 votes. Lanteigne, a future sheriff, took about 51.5 percent of the vote. Of more than 33,000 votes cast, there were only five write-ins.
► May 1994: In the final election in the old Pungo Borough, Henley won against Oscar Northen Jr., 60 percent to almost 40 percent of the votes cast in the race.
► May 1998: Henley defeated Tim Jackson with nearly 61 percent to 39 percent of votes cast in the first election for the Princess Anne District.
► May 2002: Jim Reeve, a businessperson, defeated Henley, the incumbent, by 500 votes. He took 50 percent of the vote to Henley’s 49 percent.
► May 2006: Henley defeated incumbent Reeve, who narrowly defeated her in 2002, to return to the City Council. Henley regained the seat with nearly 64 percent to almost 36 percent of the vote.
► November 2010: Henley defeated Tanya Bullock with about 54 percent to 45 percent of the vote, though Bullock outspent the incumbent, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. With the district election shifting to November from May, turnout rose to 42.1 percent from nearly 17 percent in the 2006 citywide election.
► November 2014: Henley defeated Pieri Burton with about 76 percent to 23 percent of the vote. Burton, who was vastly outspent in his loss, said he is running again. He told The Independent News he was completing paperwork this past week.
Sources: Official election returns from the Virginia Beach Voter Registrar’s Office, as well as some information from the Virginia Public Access Project.
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