THALIA — Amid a crowded local election season, a forum hosted by the Thalia Civic League gave the two candidates for Virginia Beach mayor a chance to square off at New Life Church earlier this month.
The candidates for the Tuesday, Nov. 6, special election are City Councilmembers Ben Davenport, serving his first term holding an at-large seat, and Bobby Dyer, now in his fourth term representing the Centerville District. Journalist Barbara Ciara of WTKR-TV moderated the forum held on Monday, Sept. 10.
Davenport, who runs a family real estate business, presented himself as someone who will attract new business to the city, particularly in the technology sector.
He said he views the city as the future home of a major data center presence,
“At Cox High School, 40 percent of the people I graduated with no longer live in the city of Virginia Beach,” Davenport said during introductory remarks.
“They get educated in some of the best public schools in the United States, they attend some of the top universities in the United States, and when they get out they’re looking for some of the top careers in the United States,” Davenport said. “Folks, I’m sorry to tell you, we don’t have enough of those opportunities here.”
Davenport said he started a technology initiative in the city to remedy this, and he said the city started looking at ways to compete with other areas that have had success luring tech businesses. Transatlantic cables are a selling point, and the city is pursuing data centers.
“When I came into office, we had zero data centers operating in this city,” Davenport said. “We currently have two operational data centers with one being built in Corporate Landing Park.”
Aside from public safety and education, Davenport said, technology is his number one policy priority.
Dyer, who has worked in physical therapy, as a health care executive and taught at Regent University, said he has a background addressing problems faced by families.
“I’ve been trying to make a difference,” he said, speaking of his time in office. “I’ve had the pleasure of being the liaison to the Minority Business Council, the Human Rights Commission, human services, and I started the Process Improvement Task Force that I take a lot of pride in.”
Dyer said he has accomplished what he could in his position as a councilmember, and wanted to lead as mayor.
“It’s time to take it to the next step and make those positive changes – to be inclusive, to bring people to the table, to level the playing field.”
Dyer spoke about the perception of favoritism in major projects and that it is difficult to do business in Virginia Beach.
“That has to change,” Dyer said. “We’ve got to level the playing field.”
Dyer said he would be a champion for areas of the city that may get less attention from the government and support small business – “a mayor for all people, a mayor for all businesses.”
He also said he would prioritize getting public input before the city budget cycle begins and push for an ethics oversight commission. The latter promise drew applause from the audience.
Dyer also pledged to provide more oversight of city management, which he described as having too much autonomy.
“I love hearing Bobby Dyer’s ideas for what he’s going to do for the next two years [the unexpired term of former Mayor Will Sessoms] if he were to beat me,” Davenport said. “But I have one question? Bobby’s been there for 14 years, and now all of a sudden all this change is necessary? And a lot of the policies he’s voted for aren’t the right policies? It doesn’t make sense.”
Dyer said a councilmember is one vote, which can make it hard to get things done, but he pointed out successes, such as moving the city auditor directly under the council rather than the manager.
“I did make some changes along the way,” Dyer said. “But being one is difficult. Let me say this. You need somebody with that 14 years of experience … that has the capacity to fix problems and work with other people.”
“I am prepared to be the mayor,” Dyer added. “You are not prepared to be the mayor.”
A question from the audience asked for a response to businessperson Bruce Thompson’s comments in an article by The Virginian-Pilot that said changes on the council would lead to developers avoiding business here.
Davenport said he didn’t care for the comment, and noted he has pledged not to take campaign donations from Thompson.
“We are not going to be beholden to any special interest,” Davenport said.
Dyer said a “culture of arrogance” would end in Virginia Beach, and he reiterated his commitment to level the playing field in the city.
The Pilot’s Alissa Skelton reported that Thompson singled out policies supported by Dyer and City Councilmembers John Moss, who holds an at-large seat and faces reelection, and Jessica Abbott, who represents the Kempsville District, in his interview.
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