EDITORIAL: Election Manipulation


April 15, 2014

The photo at right of an anonymous poster outside the Post Office asks, “Will the Wave try to control the Town election?” But until now the Wave has been almost silent on the May 6 election for mayor and Town Council. When the eight candidates filed, we published an impartial story listing their names and brief bios. We intend to let the candidates tell their own stories, and invite them to write a few paragraphs on “Why I’m Running for Mayor” and “Why I’m Running for Town Council” to inform our several thousand readers.

But in this hotly contested election there are already signs (pun intended) of manipulation. And not for the first time – the November 2012 special election for a Town Council seat was shamelessly manipulated by the town power structure, taking advantage of the good name of Arts Enter as the “sponsor” of a candidates forum. In fact, assistant town manager Bob Panek masterminded that forum, and although his name did not even appear in the list of volunteers, like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain it was Panek who selected questions from the audience and decided to whom they would be asked. All the while, he displayed a sign in his yard for candidate Steve Bennett.

In this year’s election, Council incumbent Joan Natali was first off the line in blanketing the town with campaign signs, and no one complained. But later when opposition candidates David Gay, Deborah Bender, and Lynn Mitchell-Fields began matching the Natali signs with their own, the town took action, and most of the signs were confiscated by the Police Department under the excuse that they were not allowed in the right-of-way (even in front of private residences). Ironically, Natali was responsible for that town regulation, enacted in reaction to the “Community Center YES” signs of a previous battle.

Next comes the curious question of the “second” candidates forum sponsored by Cape Charles Rotary. Following the town staff’s manipulation of the previous forum mentioned above, the non-political Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore (CBES) agreed to host a forum for Cape Charles candidates. CBES has a long history of hosting candidate debates, and most recently held two forums for County Supervisors and School Board candidates in last November’s elections. At that time no one seemed concerned that a CBES forum might not be enough.


But now, after CBES had already arranged a time and a place, and all candidates had agreed, Cape Charles Rotary has stepped in with plans for a competing forum. Rotary President Paul Strong said they are concerned that not every member of the public might be able to attend the CBES forum April 29, so Rotary wants to hold another forum just two days before the election. While Rotary is not a political organization, the local political power structure is included in its membership (unlike CBES). The Rotary secretary, for example, is Northampton Board of Supervisors Chairman Larry LeMond.

We ask, where was Rotary in 2012 when town employees ran the candidates forum? Rotary has a long history in Cape Charles, but never before has it hosted an election debate. Why now – especially after the CBES forum was already planned? Is there another “man behind the curtain” – Rotary member John Burdiss? — who is trying to “control the town election?”

Local attorney Burdiss is not to be trifled with, so we should emphasize that the above paragraph does NOT claim that he is trying to control the town election. We have no evidence of that. We can report, however, that in the past Burdiss sued four citizen activists during a time that Burdiss’s membership on Town Council was being questioned as a conflict of interest. Burdiss settled out of court with his litigants, but not before some expensive legal fees were incurred.

And lest readers believe that the Burdiss lawsuit is irrelevant now, we will point out that two of the people he sued are candidates in the upcoming election: Lynn Mitchell-Fields and Joan Natali. (A third was the co-founder of this newspaper, Karen Jolly Davis.) CLICK to read a clipping from the 2009 Eastern Shore News on the lawsuits. And if one thinks that Dr. Strong has no dog in this political fight, CLICK to read his public comments on Mr. Burdiss vs. Wave reporter Dorie Southern.

So did the Wave overreact to the official Town Gazette announcement yesterday of the upcoming election? “Five candidates are running for Council,” the Gazette reported, and listed five names. The sixth, unmentioned, candidate is Lynn Mitchell-Fields – the same Lynn Mitchell-Fields who saw most of her yard signs removed by the police, the same Lynn Mitchell-Fields sued by John Burdiss, the same Lynn Mitchell-Fields who, as president of Concerned Citizens of Cape Charles, alerted state and federal lawmakers to discriminatory action by the Town of Cape Charles. And yes, this same Lynn Mitchell-Fields is the only African-American running in the election.

For readers who may not be closely following the May 6 election, the facts are these: Two Council incumbents, Chris Bannon and Joan Natali, are running for re-election. Dora Sullivan is not running for re-election as mayor, and her husband, Mike Sullivan, is not running for re-election to Town Council. With the Sullivans out of the race, two replacement candidates were needed. Dora Sullivan hand-picked George Proto for mayor and “Sambo” Brown for Council. The candidates that do NOT have the Sullivan blessing are: Frank Wendell for mayor, and Deborah Bender, David Gay, and Lynn Mitchell-Fields for Council.



7 Responses to “

EDITORIAL: Election Manipulation”

  1. Janet Dudley on April 16th, 2014 8:45 am

    OK, here we are again in yet another election. I don’t need to be reminded about past elections — they are in the past. I don’t give a hoot about who is having a forum for the candidates — they should be for information, not competition on who has it first, and I certainly don’t care that one of the candidates is black, or green. And oh, about the signs being on town property, that has been a rule in this town for much longer than the Wave has been in existence. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have ANY kind of election where we got information from the canidates on why they are running for mayor, councilman, or dog catcher — I would just like the facts, not past history, and please, bringing up the race card? I think all of us that have been here for any length of time know who is running, and I would hope that color never enters into our decisions as to who we vote for and why.

  2. Deborah Bender on April 16th, 2014 11:11 am

    The town has always allowed election signs along the woods coming into town. These new signage rules were put into place recently. They were also allowing the signs during this election UNTIL someone from the town office called VDOT and complained about it. Then and only then were the signs removed. All that I wanted to do in running for Town Council was try to help the citizens of the town. Trying to lower utility bills, taxes, etc. The only reason I ever got involved with the Old School Cape Charles group was to try to have a community center for all of the citizens of this town and retain the gym for the children of this town to be able to play a variety of sports during cold and rainy weather.

  3. Kearn Schemm on April 16th, 2014 8:59 pm

    I think Ms. Dudley is mistaken about the importance of the forum. The “owner” of the forum controls the questions asked of the candidates. Controlling those questions can give certain candidates a bonus (it keeps issues they are weak on out of the debate). On the sign ordinance, to my recollection (please, correct me if I am wrong) it was in fact amended recently.

  4. Nancy Daniel Vest on April 16th, 2014 9:35 pm

    More opportunities for voters to see and hear the candidates allows for a more informed electorate. If audience members submit the questions, then the audience controls what is asked. In publishing, it is the publisher who controls the information delivered to readers.

  5. Wayne Creed on April 17th, 2014 2:42 pm

    If exposing greed, fraud, and corruption is manipulating the election, then I say good on you.

    Thank you Wave staff for also supplying a historical context. Some may want to ignore history, which is their privilege. You can ignore it or learn from it. Ignoring the past is a subtle way of holding out hope for the future, only the future has no interest in us at all. It is, however, eager to insult us for our stupidity. The past taunts us, laughing at our efforts to destroy or recreate it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past, which is why the Cape Charles political status quo will do anything and destroy anyone to clutch and control power. It’s not about what’s best for the Town, but is a way to type over their own limp historical narratives and instead posit a story that is more in tune with their inflated egos. This wouldn’t be an issue except that they are so uncreative and vulgar– all solutions lead right back to the taxpayer’s pockets. I used to wonder, why are these people not more outraged at the huge debt? Then it hit me—they’ll never have to pay it off. They get the immediate gratification of floating docks for their yacht club, and our kids get stuck with the bill. Nice.

    The concerns about the Rotary raised in this editorial might seem exaggerated, except that our crew on the street says Rotary members are also managing the campaign of Mr. Proto. Is this true? If the Rotary is engaged in stealthily winding up Mayor Sullivan’s preening toy soldier, the label of manipulation might be more appropriately applied there (the Wave hasn’t even endorsed a candidate).

    Don’t want to hear about race? Brace yourselves. Leaving Lenora Mitchel off the Gazette was not a mistake, but a subtle message. We have seen this message before with the dealings around the old school. In the back rooms, away from public view, they finally found a way to get rid of the basketball court and the “undesirables” once and for all. I don’t for a minute believe that they had the capital to pull that off themselves; the question is who was back there offering counsel, strategy, and advice, and why?

    The election this May is a watershed moment, a referendum on the soul of Cape Charles. Even now, lemmings are lining up to drink Protoplasmic Kool-Aid and dive into the abyss of sewage-fueled fiscal debt (if we get that traffic circle maybe that should be our new logo). Stupid posters like the one on the telephone pole are only meant to distract, and there will be more to come. Ignore them, and get up, stand up to the monolith. There’s a lot of money at stake here, and it will all be made off of your backs. If you choose to let them. Instead, vote WENDELL-GAY-MITCHELL-BENDER.

  6. Dana Lascu on April 17th, 2014 9:03 pm

    Why did the chicken cross the Old School Cape Charles basketball court? Because it heard that there may be another back door to Town Council leadership: the Rotary Club candidate forum. Poor guy — he went there in good faith and ended up cooked in a pot of souvlaki.

  7. Dana Lascu on April 18th, 2014 6:58 am

    How about platform candidate forums two days before the election? The Rotary group and the Cape Charles group, with the Cape Charles group addressing public questions at a venue in Cape Charles.