Ed. — This originally ran in the Sunday, Nov. 15, print edition.
VIRGINIA BEACH — Bobby Dyer, though vastly outspent by one of two challengers, won reelection and his first full term as mayor of Virginia Beach in the general election this month, unofficial returns show.
Dyer defeated Jody Wagner, a businessperson who served in the administrations of two Democratic governors, and Richard “R.K.” Kowalewitch, a businessperson who has unsuccessfully sought local office before, including two previous runs for mayor.
Dyer won 51.6 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns updated as of Monday, Nov. 9, by the state elections department. Wagner won 43.8 percent of the vote and Kowalewitch won 4.4 percent.
All of the members of the Virginia Beach City Council who were seeking reelection on Tuesday, Nov. 3, defeated challengers.
In addition to Dyer, these council members won reelection: Rosemary Wilson in the at-large race, Sabrina Wooten in Centerville, Jessica Abbott in Kempsville and Michael Berlucchi in Rose Hall.
“I’m very humbled,” Dyer said during an interview this past week. “We put together a tremendous team, and I think, once again, the fact that all the incumbents were overwhelmingly reelected speaks well for our community as far as satisfaction.”
Dyer is a healthcare professional who had served as the Centerville representative on the City Council before winning a special election to be mayor following the 2018 resignation of former Mayor Will Sessoms.
With Dyer’s victory this year, he will have his first full four-year term as the ceremonial head of government and presiding over meetings of the City Council.
Dyer was outspent by former City Councilmember Ben Davenport in the 2018 race. And this year, Wagner, backed by state Democrats, spent nearly $795,000 in the campaign. That was more than four times the nearly $188,000 spent by Dyer, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Wagner’s party support included $211,000 in in-kind contributions from the Democratic Party of Virginia, according to VPAP data.Though local races are nonpartisan, both major party city committees backed candidates for local offices. Wagner had the nod from city Democrats. Dyer was backed by the city GOP committee.
In an interview on Thursday, Nov. 12, Dyer said his priorities include public health and safety, finding new revenues and encouraging technology, such as broadband.
“We cannot lose sight of the flooding issues that we have and basically creating new economic development,” he said, adding that new business helps pay for raises for teachers and public safety personnel.
“The other thing is making sure we create those jobs to make sure our families’ children can come right back to work in Virginia Beach after college,” Dyer said.
He said he had spoken with Wagner following the election and plans to meet with and work with her, as he did with Davenport following the 2018 campaign.
“I just got off the phone with Mayor Dyer and congratulated him on being elected to serve our city for the next four years,” Wagner wrote in a statement on Wednesday, Nov. 4. “We both agreed that what our city needs right now is unity, and I look forward to working with him to move our city forward and address the critical challenges we face.”
She added, “While I am disappointed in the outcome of the election, I am incredibly grateful for the support from friends, family and our entire community.”
During an interview, Kowalewitch said he was disappointed by the result, but he realized it would be unlikely he would have won a plurality of the vote. “I’m very comfortable with what I did,” Kowalewitch said. “I ran a good race. I put out facts. Here are the problems. Here’s what you have to fix.”
Kowalewitch said he remains concerned about city spending and priorities.
“Look at the debt,” he said. “Look at how they want to increase it. Look at the lack of business coming in.”
Here are the outcomes in the other council races, according to unofficial returns:
• Wilson won reelection in the at-large race with 53.6 percent of the vote, defeating challengers Brandon Hutchins (35.6 percent) and Nadine Paniccia (10.4 percent).
In a statement, Wilson thanked citizens for placing confidence in her work again. “Now it’s the time for us all to work together for the betterment of our people and city,” she wrote.
• Wooten won 55.1 percent of the vote in her defeat of challenger Eric Wray (44.6 percent). Wooten will now serve her first full term on the council. She first won the Centerville seat in a special election in 2018 after Dyer resigned the seat to run for mayor and Wooten had been temporarily appointed to it. That year, Wooten earned more than six of every 10 votes to defeat two other candidates, including Wray.
Wooten released a statement acknowledging the divisiveness of this year’s race, and she thanked supporters and said she is “rejoicing” at the chance to keep serving. “It’s about working toward the best decisions for the many that create our wonderful city called Virginia Beach,” she wrote.
• Abbott has a strong showing (62.3 percent) in winning reelection in the Kemsville District by defeating challenger Bill Dale (37.3 percent). Abbott, in a statement, wrote that she is “humbled and appreciative” of the support, and she thanked Dale for running a race focused on issues.
“I embrace the challenges we face and am committed to putting in the work to advocate for our great city,” Abbott said.
Abbott won more votes – 120,136 – than any of her other incumbent colleagues this year, returns show.
• In the Rose Hall District, Berlucchi defeated two challengers and will now serve his first full term in the Rose Hall seat, to which he was temporarily appointed last year following the resignation of former Councilmember Shannon Kane.
With 57.3 percent of the vote, Berlucchi won the special election in 2019 to complete Kane’s term, but that meant he had to turn around and run again this year. This year, he defeated challengers Conrad Schesventer (27.7 percent), against whom Berlucchi ran in 2019, and Garry Hubbard (14.5 percent).
“Thank you for the honor of serving you and the opportunity to continue that service for the next four years,” Berlucchi wrote in a statement. “It’s humbling to see the vote totals, and it should be. City Council is your local voice, and I will work hard to make you proud of your trust and confidence.”
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