A candidate who was not in the room stole the spotlight Wednesday at a forum for the eight people running for four seats on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
Attention at the Senior Statesmen of Virginia event at the Senior Center shifted to a campaign mailer sent by Supervisor Duane E. Snow, the Republican incumbent in the Samuel Miller District. On the outside of the envelope appeared the message, “Contains important letter from Eric Strucko. Please read.”
That document, dated July 15, described the work on public education Snow and Strucko “were able to accomplish together.” The closing reads “Sincerely, Eric Strucko .”
Strucko, a long-time local Democrat, is running unopposed for a second term on the school board.
Snow’s opponent, Democrat Liz Palmer, took issue with Snow’s use of the letter, which appeared along with a single-page note from him, with the words, “Paid for and authorized by Snow for Supervisor” appearing at the bottom.
“I think it is unfortunate because the letter gives the impression that Duane had Eric Strucko’s endorsement, which was not the case,” Palmer said after the forum.
Snow said at the forum that Strucko’s letter was not an endorsement.
“I am replying to your request of me to write a letter describing my impressions of our working relationship,” Strucko’s letter begins. “I believe you and I have worked productively together on issues that involved both our responsibilities as elected officials which, of course, focused on education.”
Strucko said he was out of town this past weekend when his wife called him with the news that she had received the letter.
“I am just very uneasy with the way Duane put this mailing together,” Strucko said. “He put me in a position where the mailer was a bit deceptive. It implies an endorsement.”
Snow sent the letter and brief cover note to district voters and said he informed Strucko in advance the letter would be mailed as part of his campaign for re-election to a second term. He said Strucko consented so long as the letter was used in its entirety.
Snow said in his cover letter he “didn't even hint that [the letter] was a letter of endorsement.”
“I honestly don't believe it was deceptive,” Snow said. “I don't think it was deceptive in any way.”
Strucko said the handling of the letter made him decide to endorse Snow’s opponent.
“My intent was not to endorse anyone in this campaign,” Strucko said. “Now I feel like I have to let my true feelings be known and I am going to endorse Liz Palmer.”
Snow said at the forum that he anticipated such a move.
“I fully expect him to issue a statement soon endorsing Liz and her campaign,” Snow said to the audience of about 75 people. “That’s great. That’s what you would expect a Democrat to do for one of their fellow people.”
Strucko said he looks at a lot more than party affiliation when he considers an endorsement.
“He tried to preempt my endorsement at the Senior Statesmen forum suggesting I would only do so because of party affiliation,” Strucko said. “That is borderline insulting to me.”
Both Snow and Palmer have said they will be strong supporters of local schools.
“One of the things that has been extremely important to me, and I’ve made it clear from day one … is that I was very interested in schools,” Snow said in his opening statement. “Over the last four years, I have been extremely committed to schools. I realize that our students, our children, are 100 percent of our future.”
Strucko’s letter praised Snow for his dedication to the issue.
“You have a genuine interest in the success of our public schools, and I have watched you actively engage in debates, hard decisions, and constituent advocacy efforts on this topic,” Strucko wrote.
“I have seen you work to balance your inherent fiscal conservatism with a commitment to the schools,” the letter continues. “While we debated on the overall level of resources dedicated to our public education system, I respected you tying new revenue from modest tax rate increases to the schools during the last few years.”
Palmer also used the forum to highlight her education priorities.
“If I am elected, I want to focus on supporting school excellence,” Palmer said in her opening statement. “I am very proud to have been endorsed by the Albemarle Education Association.”
With his endorsement, Strucko said he thought Palmer would be more supportive of future school budget priorities.
“[Snow] and I really depart in the budget area and the maintenance budgets for schools are not going to get it done. That’s what we have had the last several years,” Strucko said. “[Palmer] recognizes our capital budget is inadequate.”
The other six candidates in attendance were Democratic Rio candidate Brad Sheffield, Incumbent Republican candidate Rio Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas, Republican Scottsville candidate Cindi Burket, Democratic Scottsville candidate Jane Dittmar, and independent Jack Jouett candidates Diantha McKeel and Phillip Seay.
Election Day is Nov. 5.