Election Day in the Charlottesville area was defined by close calls, new faces and a highly anticipated school board race that turned out not to be nearly as close as expected.
Voters turned out to elect Democrats, protect abortion rights and to shake up the Albemarle County of Board of Supervisors.
But the biggest show of the night was not a fight for a lofty seat in the General Assembly, but a battle for an at-large local school board seat that drew the attention of people across and well beyond Virginia’s borders.
The crowd roared. Someone popped a bottle of champagne. And a teary-eyed Allison Spillman walked to the middle of the restaurant’s bar to make a declaration.
“Our county is not going to stand for that extremist bulls–t,” she said to the delight of 50 people who had gathered Tuesday night for a Democratic Party election night watch party at Vivace, an Italian eatery in the county west of Charlottesville.
Cheers filled the room.
For months, Spillman had been embroiled in a contest against Meg Bryce, a mother of four whom the Spillman campaign and progressives across the county warned would bring “radical right” policies to the Albemarle County School Board.
In Virginia, school board candidates must run as independents. But the local Democratic Party and the Spillman campaign worked to tie Bryce to the GOP, describing her as a Republican in disguise. To bolster their argument, Bryce critics were sure to note that she is the daughter of late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Book bans. Anti-LGBTQ policies. A watered-down and whitewashed curriculum.
Bryce argued the attacks against her were unfair, untrue and unethical. She said she is not the boogeyman that some painted her as. She described herself as a concerned mother who wants to see the county improve its poor test scores and bridge its growing achievement gaps, not ban books or change curricula. So concerned, Bryce said she took her children out of the public school system but still wanted it to succeed, still wanted to guide its decisions.
Bryce’s attempts to distance herself from the Republican Party and partisan politics was hurt last week when the Albemarle County Republican Committee endorsed her on its website. The local party arm said Bryce had asked it not to endorse her and later removed the post after roughly 24 hours at Bryce’s request.
“I have intentionally stayed away from any party endorsements because I feel they are inconsistent with the ‘non-partisan’ designation of school board races,” Bryce told The Daily Progress at the time. “My name was added to that website without my knowledge or permission and when I learned of it, I respectfully asked that it be removed.”
True or not, voters didn’t buy it.
Tom David told The Daily Progress he voted for Spillman because he wanted to “keep crazy out of the school board.” A retired librarian worried that Bryce would ban books. “We live in a democracy,” Cathy Palombi said. “We should be able to read what we want.”
Bryce’s team was organized and motivated. She had 70 volunteers across 30 precincts.
A talented candidate, her message resonated with many voters who shared her concerns about Albemarle’s declining test scores. Others hoped that she would remove “politics” and “sexuality” from classrooms.
But on Tuesday night, voters in Albemarle made a clear decision. Spillman won 62% of the vote to Bryce’s 38%.
“Extremist” or not, fair or not, voters did not trust Bryce.
Spillman will join Judy Le and Ellen Osborne on the school board, both of those women won reelection in unopposed races Tuesday night.
White Hall wildcard
For some time on Tuesday night, the incumbents were in deep trouble in western Albemarle County.
Albemarle School Board Member Rebecca Berlin was quite nearly usurped by Joann McDermid, a candidate who was fiercely committed to door knocking. McDermid argued the school board needed new blood. Many in the White Hall District agreed.
Brad Rykal had a similar message. After 15 years of representation by Ann Mallek, who joined the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors in 2008, Rykal said it was time for a change. As a stay-at-home father of young children, he said he had "skin in the game." As a resident of Crozet proper, he advertised himself as someone who could be more responsive to the needs of those living in the epicenter of White Hall’s growth.
Both Berlin and and Mallek were on their heels, at least for a period of time, at Vivace on Tuesday night. As others celebrated their leads, the two White Hall candidates watched nervously at their not insignificant deficits.
“It’s hard to wait,” Mallek told The Daily Progress as more precinct results slowly rolled in. “There’s a lot at stake, that’s for sure.”
She left shortly after, perhaps feeling more comfortable watching the results trickle in from home, perhaps because as a farmer she had an earlier morning than her fellow candidates.
Rykal, meanwhile, told The Daily Progress he was watching with a small group of people and that he was “feeling good” as of 9:45 p.m.
But an hour later, their fortunes had reversed. With all the precincts and early votes counted, White Hall opted to go with Mallek’s years of experience working in local government.
McDermid was perhaps a victim of the same “radical right” characterization that thwarted Bryce. The two were often paired together in conversation and at times described as "ticketmates."
Berlin won 54% of the vote to McDermid’s 46%. Mallek won 53% to Rykal’s 47%.
In other corners of the counties, races were far more certain far earlier in the evening. In the Scottsville District, Democrat Mike Pruitt was running unopposed to succeed county Chair Donna Price on the board. Pruitt had no opponent, Price’s blessing and was riding high Tuesday night just days after getting engaged.
In the Rivanna District, incumbent Democrat Bea LaPisto-Kirtley defeated her flashy independent opponent T.J. Fadeley. Fadeley, who runs the Free Bridge Auto Sales used car dealership on Pantops and called himself a "fiscal conservative," made a late-in-the-game push for votes employing a mailer that depicted LaPisto-Kirtley as a gambling Gypsy woman. The move backfired with voters The Daily Progress spoke with Tuesday.
Outside of the polls, Sylvia Glover said she “was really on the fence” in that race until she heard about the mailer.
“That did not sit well with me,” she said. “Speak the truth and don’t smear anybody.”
LaPisto-Kirtley ended the night with nearly 61% of the vote to Fadeley’s 39%.
‘New kids in town’
Democrats in Virginia flipped the House on Tuesday night. Katrina Callsen and Amy Laufer helped them do it.
The two had competitive primaries. Callsen was rewarded with an unopposed general election in the race for House District 54, covering Charlottesville and parts of Albemarle County. Laufer, on the other hand, was challenged by Republican Steve Harvey in House District 55.
No matter. Powered by her support for abortion rights, she secured 61% of the vote in the district, covering parts of Albemarle, Louisa, Nelson and Fluvanna counties.
It was a big moment for Laufer, who lost a state Senate race to Republican Bryce Reeves in 2019.
“I have been doing this for so long,” she told the crowd at Vivace. “I’ve had three different elections, and this time, two of my kids got to vote for me.”
“I just want to say there’s going to be some new kids in town,” Laufer said of her and Callsen.
“We’re going to save abortion rights. We’re going to take on gun violence. We’re going to protect our LGBTQ students,” she said. “This win is your win.”
Callsen had felt confident about Democrats chances early in the evening.
“I think it’s going to be a great night for Democrats,” she said. “Virginia is turning blue.”
Creigh Deeds is returning to the Virginia state Senate for yet another term.
With nearly a 30-point lead over Republican challenger Philip Hamilton, he was projected by most outlets early in the evening to be keeping a seat in the General Assembly’s upper chamber.
And with Democrats announcing they are keeping the majority in the Senate, Deeds will have another opportunity to do what he says he loves: getting to work.
“I’m looking forward to the responsibility of majority status. I’m looking forward to be able to continue to do the work,” he told The Daily Progress at Vivace with a beer in hand. “Virginia is not a backwater. We are a state that moves forward and takes care of people.”
“We’re going to prove that we deserve the trust of the people, but you have to earn it every single day.”
After an intense primary against Del. Sally Hudson, and then a general election against Hamilton, Deeds said he will welcome the opportunity to put the campaign season behind him and get bills passed. With a majority and his seniority, he’ll chair several committees and have the opportunity to deliver for Senate District 11.
“I will continue to be in the middle of important decisions, and I will play a role in leadership of the caucus and I look forward to that,” he said.
At the end of the night at Vivace, Deeds was given the opportunity to speak to an adoring crowd. After thanking his campaign and supporters, he was sure to note the role that abortion played in Tuesday’s results.
“The governor gambled on a 15-week abortion ban,” Deeds said. “It looks like he gambled wrong.”
Charlottesville will recognize councilors Michael Payne and Lloyd Snook who both won reelection, but will have to familiarize themselves with Natalie Oschrin, the newest face to City Council.
She was at Vivace on Tuesday evening after a long day meeting voters at the polls, despite the fact that she didn’t have an opponent. There were three open seats on council, and only three candidates on the ballot.
“It’s a great way to meet people and maybe encourage them to be more engaged with City Council members in the future,” Oschrin said.
Similarly, Charlottesville City School Board had four candidates for four seats.
Shymora Cooper, Amanda Burns, Christopher Meyer and Nicole Richardson are the newest members of the city school board.