Republicans Enter Roanoke City Council Races As Priddy Stuns Party Leaders By Bowing Out

Luke Priddy won't seek reelection, while Nick Hagen and Jim Garrett are vying to become the first Republicans on Council in decades.

Two Republican candidates filed to run for Roanoke City Council last week as Democratic incumbent Luke Priddy stunned Party leaders by announcing he will not seek reelection.

Nick Hagen and Jim Garrett are vying to become the first Republicans on Council in decades in what is now a wide-open field for three Council seats.

Priddy’s announced departure follows that of incumbent Trish White-Boyd. Stephanie Moon Reynolds, whose term is also up, is instead running for mayor.

Hagen lost a 2022 Council election, coming 440 votes behind Councilman Peter Volosin in a race that also saw Councilwoman Vivian Sanchez-Jones and Vice Mayor Joe Cobb victorious.

Priddy was also elected that year in a special election to fill the last two terms of Robert Jeffrey Jr., who was convicted of embezzling from a neighborhood organization and defrauding the city out of pandemic relief funds. Jeffrey was released from prison in December.

Priddy had been coy about when he would announce his intentions, but had been collecting signatures to appear on the ballot. The news — coming a week before the deadline to appear in a Party primary — took local politicos by surprise.

“After much consideration, I have decided not to seek re-election,” Priddy said in a two-sentence statement emailed to media Friday afternoon. “Please be assured, I will continue to dedicate myself to develop, advance, and promote a legislative program setting forth the needs of the city and its school system, and I remain committed to all of the duties incumbent upon me as a Council Member for the City of Roanoke.”

Priddy was absent from Monday’s regular Council meetings.

“The reasons behind my decision matter less than the decision itself. At this time, I don’t wish to discuss them,” Priddy said in a text message Tuesday. “There are a lot of good new and returning candidates stepping up to run. I have faith in the people of Roanoke to elect the best ones.”

Four candidates so far have declared their intent to clinch the Democratic nomination: Phazhon Nash, Terry McGuire, Jamaal Jackson and Benjamin Woods. Democrats and Republicans have until Friday to file paperwork to appear on a June primary ballot.

Hagen, 35, said he’s running for Council based on the same issues in 2022 that he says haven’t been addressed in Roanoke, which include the city’s crime rate and government’s engagement with citizens.

Hagen contended that recent Council matters — on housing reforms, a master plan for Evans Spring and a Brandon Avenue townhome project — “passed without as much community engagement as they should have.”

“It fundamentally says something about our government if they're unwilling to listen to, or even entertain the possibility, of listening” to citizens, Hagen said, calling the city’s current approach to outreach inadequate. “That’s not engagement; that’s the appearance of it.”

Hagen also cited tackling homelessness and encouraging small business development as priorities but did not offer specifics.

Hagen, an attorney, is a frequent presence at neighborhood meetings and community events; he gave a particular shout-out to his involvement in the group Roanoke Plawkers, who pick up litter while walking around neighborhoods.

Garrett, 66, is also a previous candidate, having run unsuccessfully for Council in 2014.

“We haven't had a moderate conservative on council for several decades and I believe it is time we did,” Garrett said in an email after declining a phone interview. “The city is leaning further and further left, and in order to appeal to the current state and federal wishes, the current council will continue to move left, gradually morphing the city into a place where many of us will no longer want to live.”

Garrett, president of Kinex Telecom, said he ran 10 years ago because he thought residents paid too much in taxes. He campaigned as a write-in candidate two years later when the issue emerged around “sanctuary city” policies that limit how local governments share information with federal authorities about resident’s immigration status.

“If we had turned into a sanctuary city, we would be broke and unable to even meet city payroll, fund schools, or provide any service that we now depend upon from the city,” Garrett wrote. “I believe in safety for our citizens, strong schools that produce positive outcomes, and a common sense approach to grow our tax base.”

David Bowers, a former mayor and longtime Democrat, is running as a Republican for mayor.

“Looks like the Roanoke City GOP ticket will be: Bowers, Garrett and Hagen!!!!” Bowers wrote in an email Saturday to reporters. “I’m VERY EXCITED about this ticket, and the ‘resurgence’ of the Republican Party here in Roanoke.”

Cobb, whose Council seat is not up for election, is running for mayor as a Democrat.

Priddy’s decision not to run for reelection caught the Democratic establishment off guard.

“I was taken aback, by surprise,” Mayor Sherman Lea said. “He brought a lot to the table.”

Priddy emailed Lea before his announcement but the mayor had not seen it until he was called by a Roanoke Times reporter, Lea said.

In recent months, Priddy had clashed with Council colleagues over recent decisions, including how zoning reform measures and a master plan for Evans Spring were adopted.

Two weeks ago, Priddy posted on social media in response to a Rambler story about Council’s consideration to change how it funds local schools. He lamented that a majority on Council wants to tweak the funding formula and predicted that citizen input in opposition would not sway Council members.

“[I]f you’ve seen many recent decisions, you should know: the goose is cooked and the fix is in,” Priddy wrote. “If you’ve enjoyed the politicization of recent events, strap yourself in, it’s about to get a lot worse.”

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