CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — On Thursday, the two candidates for Chesterfield’s recently-vacated board of supervisors seat made an appearance at the genteel Salisbury country club to make their pitch to the county’s business leaders.
Mark Miller and Jennifer McNinch stood at the front of a dining room reserved for the Midlothian Business Alliance, speaking for about half a hour on topics from schools and public safety to development and transportation.
But the event wasn’t a debate — instead, moderator Frank Petroski, the planning commissioner for the Midlothian District, framed the event as a chance for the the candidates to outline their positions without clashing directly in a back-and-forth.
To Develop or Not to Develop?
One of the biggest questions for the candidates was what approach they would take towards the continuing development of the Midlothian area. Supervisors not only make final decisions on all planning cases in the county, they’ll also be in charge of implementing and revising the Midlothian Community Special Area Plan — a specialized subset of the comprehensive plan designed to create a “village core” in Midlothian.
“We don’t want to get the taxpayers involved,” Miller said, but he acknowledged that sometimes projects like the redevelopment of the Cloverleaf Mall required the county to take action.
McNinch said she envisioned Midlothian as a walkable village, with a mix of shops and housing.
“I lived in Northern Virginia and have seen how destructive sprawl can be,” she said. “We need to have opportunities for people to live close enough to work.”
On this, at least, the two candidates were apparently in agreement. Miller’s website also features a strong statement against the same potential sprawl.
“Our roads continue to be parking lots during commuting hours and yet there is approval to build 3000 new homes/town homes between Woolridge and the Powhatan County Line,” a campaign statement reads. “How can we keep marching west while ignoring the needs of the eastern Midlothian area?”
School in Session
Both candidates spoke in favor of better support for local schools, calling increased funding a “no brainer,” but took somewhat different tacks on cultural issues.
“We need to keep our schools the best in the commonwealth,” McNinch said.
She echoed many of the positions promoted by Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, both in her speech to the Midlothian Business Alliance and on her campaign website.
“We saw the people of our commonwealth speak in the last election,” she said, promising to promote parental involvement in schools as supervisor.
McNinch said she was inspired to become more involved in local politics after seeing contentious school board meetings in Loudoun County. There, the board has been embroiled in controversy over its handling of two sexual assaults committed by a student, inflamed by a conservative media campaign falsely claiming that the attacker was transgender.
McNinch’s website also states she “will oppose the implementation of Critical Race Theory and other radical curriculum in our schools.”
She added that although she arrived in Chesterfield only last January, she “nevertheless [feels] connected to this community.”
Miller meanwhile emphasized his longstanding ties to the community, telling attendees that he moved to Chesterfield from the Bay area 25 years ago when he and his wife decided to have children.
“It was the best decision we ever made,” he said, calling the Bay Area “no place for children.”
Miller also sidestepped what he called “culture war” issues, pointing to Leslie Haley, the Republican supervisor Miller and McNinch hope to succeed, as an example of someone who put local interests above partisan politics.
“When you look at the ballot, there will be no D and no R,” Miller said. “There’s no partisanship when it comes to potholes.”
McNinch likewise downplayed her partisan affiliation, calling herself a “problem-solver.”
But although party affiliations won’t be included on November’s ballot, the fact remains that both candidates are effectively — though not formally — the nominees of the two major parties.
Neither, however, has yet received any party funding. State campaign finance records show that so far, Miller has received only individual contributions, while McNinch only has recorded filings for a defunct campaign for school board, and has yet to make any campaign finance disclosures at all.
|Composite of votes from 2016-2020|
|District||Democratic Vote||Republican Vote|
Historical election data does show that Miller may enjoy a slight partisan advantage, but that’s based on the results of state and nation-wide elections, not local elections in which partisan affiliation isn’t listed on the ballot. In those races, Leslie Haley, a Republican, handily won in both 2015 and 2019.
One factor influencing the outcome of the election may be that it’s not on a typical calendar. Normally, Chesterfield local offices are on the state calendar — the off years in-between national elections, like the governor’s race — but because Haley resigned to take a position in the office of Attorney General Jason Miyares, the special election will take place concurrently with elections to the U.S. House of Representatives.
That will likely mean higher turnout than normally seen in local races, which could favor Miller. But in local politics, more so than any other races, anything can happen.