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Unanswered Questions Roil Roanoke City Council Search

For many historic, demographic, and cultural reasons, Roanoke City has long been a Democrat bastion. Even while most of Central and Southwest Virginia has trended Republican in the past few decades, Roanoke City can still be described, like Houston in Texas, as “a blueberry in a bowl of tomato soup.” 

As such, the City has many former office holders who are Democrats, including stalwarts such as former City Council members Linda Wyatt and Dr. Dave Trinkle and Mayor David Bowers. (Bowers has since changed his identification to Independent.) All three submitted letters of intent by April 1 to fill the seat on City Council recently vacated by disgraced Robert Jeffrey Jr., (D) who was found guilty of multiple felonies.  Despite the lengthy terms of service and name recognition of the three above-mentioned figures, the current Democrat-controlled City Council raised eyebrows when they refused to consider them among the six finalists to fill the seat. More about the background story and comments by Bowers can be found in “Controversy Surrounds Roanoke City Replacement Process” posted April 11.

The Roanoke Star reached out to Dr. Trinkle to see if he had any observations to share about this process, but none have been received as of publication time. However, former Councilwoman Wyatt did grant an interview. She explained “a current council member called me and I was asked to apply.” She underscored that she was recruited to apply, and thus it was not of her own ambition or decision. Wyatt told that member that she would be in South Carolina at that time helping watch her great-grandchildren and so could not participate in the interview process, but was asked if she was willing to join a zoom interview from South Carolina. “As a courtesy I said yes, I can do that.” Submitting her letter of interest, she threw her hat in the ring.

Therefore, Wyatt was surprised to get a phone call on the morning of Monday, April 4, informing her she was not among the final six candidates. She expressed bewilderment: “So I went through all these hoops, and then got the call that morning that I wasn’t even interviewed!” 

In contrast to Wyatt, who has years of experience on City Council as a Democrat, Peg McGuire entered politics with her 2020 Council run as a Republican. Also, whereas Wyatt submitted her name at the request of a current Council member, McGuire submitted her name because she had come in fourth in the 2020 elections with 11,268 votes, thus making her “the first runner-up” since the top three won a seat. However, like Wyatt, Trinkle, and Bowers, she was not among the final six candidates whom Council gave the nod to on the morning of April 4. 

McGuire is a businesswoman and mom who “on a whim” started a mom’s support group “at the beginning of the pandemic, just so we could trade childcare during the initial school closings, and then it exploded with 3,500-3,800 members there, parents within the Roanoke Valley.” 

In a wide-ranging interview with The Roanoke Star, McGuire shared some of her perspectives of the current Council selection process and Roanoke in general. McGuire made her own prediction: “Personally, I believe that Anita Price will get it, and to be honest with you, I don’t see a problem with Anita Price. I know Anita. (…) I think Anita is a lovely human being, and she is about community.  She doesn’t strike down ideas from the other side; she thinks things through. You really can’t go wrong with Anita Price filling that seat. And I assumed that when her name was on that list that somebody had called her and ‘Yeah, we’re going to need you to come back to Council right now.’ And I don’t agree with Anita on a lot of policy issues, but you can’t deny that she’s good, she reaches across party lines and neighborhood lines and takes in the whole thing. (…) We respect one another, which I think is really important in this day and age.”

When asked her perspective on not making the finalist list, she responded: “It did surprise me, not being on the finalist list, because I did come in fourth. (…) I didn’t think for a minute they would give me the seat, because the Democratic Party in Roanoke seems to be ‘If you don’t agree with us, you’re not worthy of a seat, or you’re not worthy of a voice.’ I hope they’re not like that in person, but that’s how they come across. I thought I would get at least a courtesy interview, and was not even granted that. Especially because I had done so well in the election, coming in fourth. It took a lot of people by surprise, that a Republican could do that well (….) So, that showed me that people are wanting a change, and a reasonable change.”

Speaking of her recent attempt to join Council, McGuire has been moved by the recent show of community support. “I was blessed and really honored that so many people spoke up for me. I did not plan any of that or advocate for any of that. People just came out of the woodwork and wrote letters to the editor and things.” 

McGuire had this to say about the controversial April 4 public hearing [timestamps 26:00 and 33:50] where Mayor Lea gaveled one City resident into silence and interrupted two others, while the other Council members sat silently and let it happen. “I’m disappointed that the City Council does not want to hear a divergence of opinion and how they treated my colleagues and Maynard Keller at that last Council meeting. I was at my son’s soccer practice so I wasn’t even close to being in the room, and had heard about it when I got home and then watched it online and was just shocked that they had shut down discussion and did it in such a way that illustrated that they don’t really care about the forty percent of people who vote Republican or lean right in this city. That was shocking to witness, and it opened a lot of people’s eyes and I got a lot of phone calls (…) and I felt bad for Maynard, and for Nick, and for Charlie Nave who were basically shut down and told ‘Your opinion doesn’t matter here’. That just surprised me that they could be so rude. We’re a small city of 100,000 people. In the end, we all have to come together and solve the community problems together, and it’s going to take the right listening to the left, and the left listening to the right (….) The Democrats in Roanoke City just don’t want any other viewpoint.”

Unfortunately, McGuire has had her own experiences of being silenced. Alarmed by the school closures and mental health issues for children she was hearing about in Roanoke during the pandemic, she advocated for schools to reopen. She was seeing in the news from Florida and Missouri and some other Republican-led states about schools opened, no mask mandates, and normal events like sports and proms. “And I was shouted down, I was told I was trying to kill the kids and the teachers and everything else, and they didn’t care about the adverse effects that we were seeing of learning loss.”

Speaking on the issue of education and the haves and the have-nots, McGuire continued: “If you have the means, you are going to get your kids the help and the tutors and the therapists and everything they need to get back up to speed. [But] There’s a whole swath of kids here in Roanoke City who are underserved (….) They’re probably living in the subsidized housing, and we just left them behind. Did we mark those kids to poverty for the rest of their lives? How can we ever make this up? And those were the questions I was asking (….) I was shouted down in many cases, online. It got ugly. It was ‘our way or the highway,’ thinking.”

On the issue of why a busy mom ran for office in the first place, McGuire explained: “We’re a small city with big city problems, and we’re going to have to cut down this partisan wall and talk to one another. I’m a Republican because abortion to me is my ‘Gettysburg,’ my ‘Alamo.’ If we don’t respect life in the very beginning, nothing else matters. And I also believe in the Bill of Rights; we have our liberties. (…) So, I decided to put my name, and my family’s name on the line and run, and I did exceptionally well. I was told I’d probably come in last or next to last, because I was a white female in a traditional marriage, and a Republican, and I came in fourth (….)” 

Addressing how so many are struggling in our post-pandemic economy with inflation at a forty-year high, she remarked: “Somebody’s got to be speaking up for the citizens who are on that line, and I just see that there’s a partisan agenda and they’re going to get it through regardless and we’re all going to fall into lockstep, and if not, we’re going to be silenced, and I think that is a shame, because we’re all living and working in this same city, and our opinions matter too. When you shut it down, you are saying to a large swath of your citizenry, that you just don’t care about them, and to me, that’s a dangerous thing to have.” 

“I don’t think for a minute they would have given me that seat, but not to even entertain the fourth-place person, to me, is a shame. But they did interview the person who came in sixth! But not the fourth-place person. And is it because of politics? The color of her skin? What? That to me is not kind, and it is not what a small city who calls themselves ‘welcoming to everyone’ should be displaying to the world.” 

This story is developing.

–Scott Dreyer


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