Tower win brings strange story of filling Virginia Beach City Council seat to an end

Virginia Beach City Councilmember Aaron Rouse, who holds an at-large seat, keeps an eye on returns with his council colleague Guy Tower and Tower’s wife, Winship, during a watch party at The Shack on Atlantic Avenue on Tuesday evening, Nov.5. [Bill Tiernan/For The Princess Anne Independent News]
Ed. — This story originally ran in the Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, print edition.


VIRGINIA BEACH   Guy Tower defeated a fellow member of the City Council to remain in the Beach District seat to which he was appointed earlier this year.

In a special election on Tuesday, Nov. 5, Tower defeated Councilmember Rosemary Wilson, who holds an at-large seat, and businessperson Richard “R.K.” Kowalewitch, who placed third in the balloting. Wilson retains her at-large seat, meaning she remains a member of the City Council.

Tower, a retired attorney, mediator and educator, was a political newcomer who in Wilson faced a long-serving member of the council. Unofficial returns show he won 42.3 percent of the vote, Wilson earned 39.7 percent and Kowalewitch gained 17.7 percent.

Tower thanked supporters at The Shack on Atlantic Avenue during a celebration after the result was clear. He said he looked forward to continuing his work on major projects, such as the future of the Dome site.

“This is a great city we live in,” Tower said. “This is why we’re here.”

Later, he told a reporter that he learned about the desires of constituents during the process of seeking office.

“I learned a lot,” he said. “I hope we can get back to the work of the council.”

On social media, Wilson on Wednesday, Nov. 6, thanked supporters. “It has been my absolute honor to be your councilwoman at-large for the last 20 years,” she wrote, “and, although we came up short in the Beach District run off, I look forward to continuing to serve you as your councilwoman … ”

Over the past year, determining who would represent the Beach District, which includes the city’s main resort area, has seen more twists and turns than a political potboiler.

Wilson’s decision to seek another seat on the council while remaining in office is only part of that.

In the 2018 district seat election, businessperson David Nygaard defeated incumbent John Uhrin in a four-person race that included Kowalewitch and John Coker. The latter candidate dropped out of the race after ballots had been printed, but he still garnered thousands of votes in a contest so tight that it went to a recount.

The Nygaard victory initially withstood the recount, but Uhrin sued over Nygaard’s residency, and a panel of judges found Nygaard had moved into the district only to seek office. They vacated the seat, necessitating a special election.

Tower was among the finalists to serve as a temporary replacement until the result of the special election – and Uhrin also applied, though he rescinded that application. Tower, vowing at the time not to run, was selected as the appointment.

Wilson then threw her hat in the ring, and, at one point, five people had filed paperwork to seek the seat, though that number dwindled to three. Tower was among those in the running, and his change of heart and Wilson’s run for another seat became centerpieces of some political sparring.

Meanwhile, Kowalewitch turned to local election officials and then the courts to essentially have both candidates removed from the ballot. The move argued that Wilson was ineligible because she already had a seat and Tower, as an appointee, also was ineligible. The move failed, with a judge agreeing with elections officials who argued Kowalewitch was misreading the law.

And, though Wilson’s run for office was legal, a majority of the City Council voted to appeal to the General Assembly for power to change the city charter so such a candidacy could not happen again. Wilson was not present for that vote.

In each of the four special elections in Virginia Beach this year, those selected for temporary appointments won election to finish the terms for that position. Unlike the Rose Hall council special election, which Councilmember Michael Berlucchi won with ease on Tuesday, Nov. 5, the Beach District contest suggested divisions on the council.

Wilson had numerous endorsements from local organizations and council colleagues such as Mayor Bobby Dyer and Vice Mayor Jim Wood, but Tower had support from others on the council, such as John Moss and Aaron Rouse, both in at-large seats.

Rouse was among those celebrating Tower’s victory on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at The Shack.

“Hard work pays off,” Rouse said. “It’s the right thing. It’s the next step. … He doesn’t have any past baggage with him.”

During an interview on Wednesday, Nov. 6, Tower said the differences on City Council make sense because some members have been in place for years and there have been new additions over the past year. He said he can relate to both perspectives and hopes to help be a bridge between them.

“It shouldn’t be alarming or confounding, but it does require some working together to get on the same page,” he said.

Tower said he had spoken with Wilson.

“Rosemary called me this morning and offered me her congratulations, and we both expressed our mutual desire to work together for the betterment of the city.”

He said he appreciates the call and hopes to put the election behind them as they work on projects such as the Dome site, finding a new city manager and addressing pressing issues such as stormwater and recurrent flooding.

The race was an expensive one, with Tower raising about a quarter million dollars through late October and Wilson raising nearly $190,000 through that same period, according to campaign financial disclosures filed with the state. 

Kowalewitch raised a bit more than $9,000, records filed with the state show.

© 2019 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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