Election Day in Albemarle County 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 seat in the General Assembly, but a battle for a 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 an 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.