COURTHOUSE — Two people will challenge Mayor Bobby Dyer in this year’s mayoral election.
Following City Councilmember Aaron Rouse’s recent announcement that he is ending his campaign for mayor, two candidates – businesspeople Jody Wagner and Richard “R.K.” Kowalewitch – filed paperwork on the Tuesday, June 9, deadline to challenge Dyer.
Local elections officials on Wednesday, June 10, were still verifying that the candidates’ paperwork meets requirements, but both Kowalewitch and Wagner confirmed during interviews that they are running.
Wagner, speaking at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on Tuesday, June 9, said she is running to provide leadership to the city during a time of economic struggle.
“Virginia Beach is facing huge issues over the next four years,” she said. “The pandemic and closings involving restaurants, the hotels and the businesses have really set the city back. It needs somebody with a strong economic background to be able to help move it forward.”
Wagner, who owns a small business called Jody’s Popcorn, said she understands what people are going through because her own business is struggling, too.
“It’s essential that the city has good leadership to lead us through this time,” she said.
She said demonstrations show the city needs to confront issues of inequality that have not been dealt with.
“We need to address the issues of diversity, equity and justice,” she said, “and I’m running to work on those things so that we can move the city forward.”
She also said she wants to work to diversify the economy.
Wagner has served as state treasurer under then-Gov. Mark Warner and finance secretary under then-Gov. Tim Kaine. She has a background in law and twice unsuccessfully sought public office as a Democrat – for the U.S. House of Representatives in Virginia’s 2nd District seat won by Ed Shrock in 2000 and later for lieutenant governor, losing to Bill Bolling in 2009.
“I’m not happy with Bobby,” Kowalewitch said during a telephone interview on Wednesday, June 10.
He said Dyer is a “wonderful person,” but he said the incumbent has not moved the city forward in years of service as a city councilmember representing the Centerville District and, more recently, as mayor.
Kowalewitch said the city needs to take significant action on issues such as stormwater, ending costly partnerships that benefit developers, filling empty police positions and supporting small business.
“Get out of all these bad deals that are costing the city money,” he said. “It’s sucking the life out of the city.”
Regarding Wagner, he added, “She’s the establishment.”
“Get the politics out of it,” he added. “That’s the problem right there. Everything is politics. I want to be in the race moreso because she is in the race. … I’m in it to win it. I’m in it for us. I love this city.”
Kowalewitch has run unsuccessfully for local office in the past, including in a 2016 bid to challenge former Mayor Will Sessoms. In that election, Kowalewitch placed second among four candidates, earning 19.4 percent of the vote.
Sessoms won reelection then with 54.1 percent of the vote, but he did not finish the term, leading to Dyer’s selection as mayor in a 2018 special election.
Kowalewitch this past year sought election to the Beach District seat on the City Council.
“It’s part of the American process,” Dyer said about the additional candidates during a telephone interview on Thursday, June 11. “I intend to run a campaign that will demonstrate my accomplishments and leadership during some difficult times.”
Dyer in 2018 won a special election following the resignation of former Mayor Will Sessoms in the middle of a term. Dyer defeated former City Councilmember Ben Davenport in the special election by earning 51.8 percent of the vote, according to official returns. Dyer represented the Centerville District on the City Council for 14 years before becoming mayor.
Now seeking his first full four-year term as mayor, Dyer said, “I will be making a compelling argument for the people of Virginia Beach to rehire me based upon my performance and my numerous interactions with the public during my tenure.”
As The Independent News first reported, Rouse on Saturday, May 30, announced he was leaving the race to become mayor.
In a statement released on social media, he indicated that challenges related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has made it hard for politicians to campaign and raise fund, factored into his decision to bow out.
Wagner on Tuesday, June 9, said she would not have entered the race had Rouse stayed in.
Ed. — This was updated with comment from Dyer. This is a developing story. Additional reporting will appear in the Sunday, June 14, print edition.
© 2020 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC