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Rasoul Making Run at Mayor’s Office

Sam Rasoul

by Gene Marrano

Sam Rasoul knows a thing or two about fighting uphill political battles. In 2008 he took on Bob Goodlatte, running as a Democratic challenger against the entrenched Republican Congressman from the 6th District. Predictably, despite an all-out effort, Rasoul, a Roanoke native, was steamrolled by Goodlatte, mustering just over 30% of the total vote count.

Now he is taking on another daunting challenge: he wants to be the mayor of Roanoke City and is taking on incumbent David Bowers for the Democratic nomination. Local Democrats will vote in a firehouse primary that will be held on Saturday February 4th.  The general election is in May.

“We have a vested interest in the future of the Roanoke Valley,” said Rasoul, who moved his young family back from Botetourt County to the city, making him eligible for elected office. He made his formal announcement to seek the Democratic nomination in mid -January at the Rasoul for Mayor campaign headquarters located in the former Cantos Booksellers store on Campbell Avenue.

At age 30 Rasoul is the chief financial officer for Kissito Healthcare and a small business owner himself with a wife and two young daughters at home. He is running against Bowers and a trio of City Council candidates that made a big show of solidarity when they made a joint announcement a few weeks ago. He hopes to draw more young people to the voting booth and is campaigning on a platform of jobs, support for education and fiscal discipline.

On his campaign website ( Rasoul is encouraging two-way dialogue via something called “Roanoke 360,” asking for feedback on issues Roanokers wants to see addressed. He’s posted initiatives used by localities around the country and ideas that began right here in Roanoke. Visitors to the website will be asked to choose their favorites.

“I’ve pledged half of my salary as mayor, which isn’t much, to jumpstart whatever ideas people vote on,” Rasoul notes. “That’s how we gain the trust of citizens, by getting them involved.” Micro urban farming, technology upgrades for city government, skills training for troubled youths and promoting green jobs are ideas promoted via Roanoke 360.

Rasoul, who attended Roanoke College, believes his background as a financial officer will be an asset to the city, as the mayor deals with the city manager and budget directors.  He has already sat down with Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill and others, picking their brains on issues related to the budget in lean tax revenue times.

Bowers, the long time City Council member and mayor during two separate tenures, is an attorney by trade.

“I’ve managed multi-million dollar budgets and I feel like I’ve got some skills to manage the [budget] challenges coming ahead,” said Rasoul, who also was on hand to greet Tim Kaine when the former Governor and current U.S. Senate candidate stopped by the new Democratic regional headquarters last week. Fiscal belt tightening at the state and federal government levels that could mean even less money for Roanoke City makes it “critical,” said Rasoul that a mayor and City Council understand budget issues.

Rasoul said he has no specific beef with Bowers. “I just feel like I have a skill set that can benefit the area I grew up in. I’m happy to present that to the people [in a primary].”  Rasoul wants to build on the “wisdom” of Bowers and others that have come before him, while drawing on his own “energy…and passion,” to help move Roanoke City along. His jobs plan includes telling “the story of Roanoke,” marketing the city in a way to make it more attractive to businesses and young professionals.

“I think every young person should run for political office,” added Rasoul, who has now done it twice. The first time, his run for Congress, was an eye-opener. He’d like to develop a Youth City Council, introducing high school students to local government. He understands why some don’t seem to have time for politics, as they struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over their head. “That is something we need to take on, head on.”

He’ll first need to convince enough Democrats to turn away from David Bowers at the firehouse primary in February.

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