Roanoke Mayor’s Race Gets Crowded As Moon Reynolds, Bowers Challenge Cobb

A victory for any would be historic — Moon Reynolds as Roanoke's first female mayor, Cobb as its first openly gay mayor and Bowers for the sheer precedent of a fifth term.

From left to right, David Bowers, Stephanie Moon Reynolds and Joe Cobb are vying to become Roanoke City's next mayor. MOON REYNOLDS FILE PHOTO BY STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER; COBB FILE PHOTO AND BOWERS PHOTO BY HENRI GENDREAU FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

Roanoke’s mayoral race is now a three-way contest to succeed Sherman Lea.

Councilwoman Stephanie Moon Reynolds and former mayor David Bowers have launched campaigns in a challenge to Vice Mayor Joe Cobb.

Moon Reynolds, an independent, announced Saturday she won’t seek reelection to her Council term but instead mount a bid for mayor, facing Cobb, a Democrat who announced his candidacy in January.

Bowers on Tuesday said he will also run for mayor, as a Republican, following a four-term mayoral career in which the long-time Democrat became an independent before declaring himself a Republican last year.

A victory for any would be historic — Moon Reynolds as Roanoke's first female mayor, Cobb as its first openly gay mayor and Bowers for the sheer precedent of a fifth term.

Moon Reynolds, 66, kicked off her campaign before a crowd of just over 80 supporters inside Jefferson Center’s Fitzpatrick Hall Saturday morning. Bowers made his intentions public Tuesday at his downtown law office.

“As your mayor, I will be guided by one strong principle: ‘voices heard, hands to serve,’” Moon Reynolds said, “meaning to serve the best interests of all, regardless of background, ideology or circumstance.”

Moon Reynolds, who served as city clerk for part of her 42 years as a city employee, is the only independent on a seven-person Council that includes six Democrats. She has often clashed with the Democratic majority, which includes Cobb and Mayor Sherman Lea, who is not running for reelection after serving two terms.

She and Lea occasionally found themselves on the same side of an issue, such as when they openly criticized the work of the city’s Gun Violence Prevention Commission, on which Cobb serves as chair. Roanoke endured several years of increased shootings, murders and other violent crimes since 2020, although the rate of shootings has declined since last fall.

Bowers has also taken aim at the commission’s work, including on Tuesday describing its “What’s Good, Roanoke?” awareness campaign as the kind of tool that a “totalitarian regime” would use.  

“Crime is the critical issue in our campaign,” Bowers said, holding up a copy of a newspaper with a story about homicides. “Our City Council has failed us, has failed our city.”

Roanoke’s most controversial current issue, the possible commercial and residential development of the Evans Spring property in Northwest Roanoke, saw Moon Reynolds and Cobb both voting against a master plan that Council approved by a 4-3 vote, with Lea voting in favor of the plan. 

Both Cobb and Moon Reynolds cited the city’s history of urban renewal and the past destruction of majority Black neighborhoods among their reasons for voting against the plan, which sets out a road map for developing one of the largest chunks of tree-covered, creek-lined undeveloped property left in the city.

Bowers has said he supports development at Evans Spring and was disappointed when a Charlotte developer pulled the plug in 2020 on plans for a large-scale project.

Crime and Evans Spring will be among the top issues in this year’s municipal elections.

After retiring as clerk, Moon Reynolds entered the Democratic primary for Council in 2020, a year when elections were upended by the pandemic. City Democrats scrapped their primary during the first weeks of Covid shutdowns and held a virtual vote that included just 77 members of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee who cast ballots. Moon Reynolds finished out of the running behind Trish White-Boyd, Robert Jeffrey and Peter Volosin.

She immediately launched an independent campaign that in November resulted in her third-place finish in a general-election race for three open council seats. Since then, she has often backed other Republican and independent candidates.

About an hour before Moon Reynolds’ announcement on Saturday, Lea posted on social media his endorsement of Cobb.

“After 25 years of dedicated public service, the time has come for me to pass the torch of leadership,” the mayor wrote. “It really was a deep decision made with careful thought and deep commitment to the future of our beloved city. It is with great confidence and hope that I endorse Vice Mayor Joe Cobb for the next mayor of Roanoke."

Lea had already appeared with Cobb during the vice mayor’s own mayoral announcement in January, where he was also joined by local NAACP president Brenda Hale and others.

“I believe our greatest calling as human beings is to love one another by honoring and celebrating what makes us unique,” Cobb said at that kickoff, held at the Virginian Railway Station.

Cobb invoked his work steering the Gun Violence Prevention Commission, which has distributed gun locks and won state grants for various violence-interruption programs in conjunction with law enforcement. 

“I am committed to working alongside them toward a 10 percent reduction year by year over the next five years of incidents of gun violence in our community,” Cobb said.

As president of the Greater Roanoke Transit Company, Cobb also highlighted the city’s new transit center and roll out of a microtransit service that has extended bus service into the evenings and weekends. He also cited affordable housing and economic development as priorities.

Moon Reynolds held an hour-long event on Saturday that featured nine speakers including her husband Earl Reynolds — a former Roanoke assistant city manager — Rev. Bill Lee, businessman John Garland and other friends and family members.

Moon Reynolds said that her campaign will focus on neighborhoods, the local economy, education, homelessness, public safety and the environment, among other issues.

“Our city stands at a pivotal moment in its history, facing challenges and opportunities that demand both leadership and innovative solutions,” she said. “From revitalizing our neighborhoods to an enduring economic prosperity for all, from tackling pressing social issues to safeguarding our environment, the task before us is great, but so too is our potential for progress.”

No current council members attended Moon Reynolds’ announcement on Saturday, which featured a mix of religious and business leaders. Garland, a Roanoke businessman and developer who served two years on council before resigning in 2018, said that he got to work closely with Moon Reynolds when she was clerk, and said that she “has not only the knowledge, but the gumption to get things done.”

“I’ve been waiting a long time for a good mayor, and I’m old,” Garland said, eliciting a few laughs from the crowd. “The last great mayor in my opinion was Noel Taylor.”

Addressing Moon Reynolds, he added: “Not that you have to replace Noel Taylor, but you’re going to be the next great mayor.”

Bowers, meanwhile, has been a fixture of Roanoke politics since 1984, when he was first elected to Council.

He served as a Democratic mayor from 1992 to 2000; an independent mayor from 2008 to 2012 and back to the Democratic ticket from 2012 to 2016.

Bowers ran as an independent against Lea in 2020 and lost. In the 2022 race for Council, he finished seventh out of nine candidates, with 8 percent of the vote, later telling The Roanoke Times, “Maybe my time has come and gone.”

Charlie Nave, chairman of the Roanoke City Republican Committee, attended Bowers’s announcement Tuesday and said many party members agree with his platform

“A lot of lifelong Republicans have warmed up to David Bowers already,” Nave said. “He’s running on law and order, reasonable taxes and fiscal conservatism.”

If other Democrats or Republicans file to run for mayor, they’ll appear on party primary ballots June 18.


Contributor Lindsey Hull provided reporting to this story.

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