On December 29, Bearing Drift colleague Cole Trower took a look at what he called the “horse race to replace Delegate Dickie Bell .” In it he included a list of potential candidates to run for the soon-to-be-open 20th House District seat that includes the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, all of Highland County, and parts of Augusta and Nelson counties.
As noted in his post, Cole wrote, “Augusta County is where the largest voting locality is in the district and is solidly Republican. The 2017 race for Delegate resulted in Republican incumbent Dickie Bell receiving 54.5 percent, Democrat Michelle Edwards receiving 42.6 percent, and Libertarian Will Hammer receiving 2.8 percent of the vote.”
Now, less than two weeks later, the landscape looks entirely different. As a constituent of the 20th House District, there is a real possibility that my new delegate may be John Avoli — former mayor of Staunton and former executive director of Staunton’s Frontier Culture Museum with years of experience in the community.
Let’s look at the names of the potential candidates  in the order they were listed in Cole’s article and see where they stand now.
-Anne Taetzsch Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald, who may have been the front runner if a convention had been held, saw her star fall when a primary was chosen as the method of nomination.
-Pam Carter: As Pastures supervisor in western Augusta County, she has been on the job for only a year and more than likely will continue in that capacity.
-John Avoli: The former mayor of Staunton is, in my opinion, the man to beat in this race. His experience, contacts, and gravitas plus the legislative district committee’s decision for a primary make this Avoli’s race to lose. He has sprinted out of the box far ahead of any competitors and has a formal announcement planned this weekend.
-Andrea Oakes: As a conservative member of Staunton City Council, Ms. Oakes has worked well with her more liberal colleagues in a blue-trending city. However, with Avoli in the race, the resources she would need are most likely already locked up with his campaign, and his base that reaches into Augusta County is far more developed.
-Amy Darby: Once thought to be the next in line for her Uncle Dickie’s delegate seat, her response when asked in December if she was considering running was that she would get back to me. I’ve not heard back so, for some of the same reasons as Ms. Oakes, her name as fallen to the bottom of the list.
-Mike Desjadon: Even though he ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for the 6th District congressional seat, Desjadon is still fairly new to local politics. His busy business travel schedule could be a hinderance to serving every winter during session but he should keep a foot in the door for future public service.
-Dan Moxley: He has made no public move to seek the delegate position. However, he has been seen in the area meeting with others of his Sayre-Dunbar coalition so may be keeping his powder dry for future office, or perhaps he will be content to play king maker.
-Ken Adams: Like Moxley, Adams has made no public move to seek the position. Because of his close working relationship with Anne Fitzgerald, it is difficult to imagine them both in the race.
Conclusion: If the 20th House District election were a horse race, my bet would be on John Avoli. He has cleared the deck, so to speak, for other potential candidates because of his vast contacts and outreach through 16 years on Staunton City Council, 15 years as executive director of the Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia, and 14 years as Valley Vo-Tech Director.
Tapping into experienced people to help his campaign, Avoli has hit the ground running. His name recognition goes far beyond Staunton’s boundaries, and he has an army of people who would volunteer for him.
Avoli has worked with all the local elected officials over the years in each of his endeavors, and he is able to tap the financial resources necessary to run such a race. His expansive list of contacts is hard to match, and his outgoing personality has made him a local favorite with many in the community.
Cover: Executive Director John Avoli at Frontier Culture Museum (photo by Lynn R. Mitchell)