Lynchburg primary will put GOP feuds to the test (2024)

For more on the June 18 primaries, see our voter guide. On election night, we’ll have live results and analysis.

Lynchburg’s lone local primary election this month pits a new Republican challenger, Peter Alexander, against incumbent Vice Mayor Chris Faraldi in Ward IV, underscoring a schism between Hill City conservatives that’s emerged over the past year and a half.

When Faraldi was appointed vice mayor at the beginning of 2023, it was the result of a vote by newly elected Mayor Stephanie Reed and two more liberal members of council, drawing the ire of other Republicans set on elevating five-term council veteran Jeff Helgeson as mayor. Among them was U.S. Rep. Bob Good, R-Campbell County, who had called Faraldi immediately after the 2022 election to push Helgeson as mayor.

Since then, Helgeson and freshman council member Marty Misjuns have formed something of a coalition along with Lynchburg Republican City Committee leadership. A telling instance of this intra-party schism occurred last July, when Faraldi was censured by the executive committee for splintering off of the party’s agenda. A specially called meeting later that month brought together 39 more sympathetic Lynchburg Republicans to rescind his censure, a move that the city party chair has said was not legitimate. (The state party’s general counsel says it was.)

Lynchburg primary will put GOP feuds to the test (1)

Faraldi, a Realtor who has worked on a number of Republican campaigns on both the state and federal levels, said in a phone interview that he is a pragmatic candidate who can’t be controlled, and he framed Alexander as a surrogate for Helgeson and Misjuns, whose record on council Faraldi called “concerning.” He said the primary is about retribution for not supporting Helgeson as mayor.

“I’m not here to kiss a ring, I’m not here to just do what the party tells me to do — I’m here to do a job,” he said. “And I’m not going to be influenced by what the political ramifications may be, that’s not who I am. I’m going to do what I believe is right on behalf of the district I’m elected to represent and that will always be the case.”

Alexander is a retired contractor and administrative pastor at Solid Rock Baptist Church who also serves as a “fugitive recovery agent,” the details of which he said he can’t disclose. He initially agreed to a phone interview for this article but later refused, stating in a Facebook message from his campaign account that he was too busy knocking on doors. He responded to questions via his campaign email after requests and reminders sent to the LRCC.

Committee chair Veronica Bratton said the committee is unable as an entity to endorse any candidate in the primary. About a week after that statement, however, she sent out an email as committee chair urging people to vote for Alexander in the primary.

Alexander said he voted for Faraldi in 2020 but has since found him to be a disappointment who has flip-flopped on important issues and “has not governed as a conservative” and “sided with the Democrats while attacking Republicans,” echoing some of the reasons cited for last year’s censure.

“It started with his vote for a 39% increase in the budget, which resulted in a massive surplus,” his statement reads. “The flip-flops continued on items such as spending on an $8 [million] amphitheater, not returning part of the huge surplus, and his antics caused me to forego retirement and present an alternative to our Republican voters.”

Two days after that response, Misjuns’ campaign sent a mass email that opened with Helgeson’s reelection visuals, saying he had “personally recruited” Alexander to run, and used some of the same language in Alexander’s responses. Two days after that, the same email went out from an address attributed to Helgeson.

Faraldi disputed his opponent’s claims about the amphitheater, which is currently under construction in Riverfront Park downtown. He cited prior city council minutes in stating that he had sought to remove the project from the city’s capital improvement plan and use the dollars for tax relief in 2022, and after that motion failed, he downvoted the CIP at every turn. When the city reported a $15 million budget surplus late last year, he voted to allocate an additional $3 million to the amphitheater project to “finish the job.”

Pitching his tenure on council, Faraldi said he’s running on results over rhetoric, prioritizing tax cuts, investing in law enforcement and protecting schools and the classroom. He noted that Alexander has publicized little in the way of policy positions and wondered who he’d take his lead from.

“The difference is who we’re associating with,” he said. “My opponent is associating with the politicians who are voting to close your schools and against teacher pay raises … who in 2019 voted himself a 40% pay raise but claims to be the most conservative member of council,” referring to Helgeson.

In response to questions about city policy and priorities, Alexander stated that he believes that taxes are too high and that “parents need choice and control over their children’s education.

“We don’t need a blank checkbook for the bureaucrats in Lynchburg City Schools,” his statement reads. “I will prioritize safety, reject wasteful spending, and lower the tax burden on individuals, families and businesses.”

Conservatives on the council were united in passing a reduced 89-cent real estate tax rate last year, something Faraldi has touted in providing savings for residents, alongside lowering city utility bills and removing the car registration fee. When Helgeson and Misjuns pushed for a real estate tax cut of 1 cent and a personal property tax cut of 10 cents at a council work session last week, Faraldi said any potential resident savings would be minimal and called the move “preposterous.”

The council has been crunching budget numbers extensively lately, especially when it comes to school funding in the face of closure recommendations for T.C. Miller and Sandusky elementary schools. Helgeson and Misjuns split from the remainder of the council in April by voting against reassigning $1.6 million to a contingency fund in order to keep the schools open for another year.

Faraldi celebrated the move, which he said was a necessary measure to prevent the schools from closing immediately, prior to making redistricting plans and determining how families will be affected. Though he admitted he doesn’t know the long-term plan for those schools, he said that the supplemental funding has bought valuable time to work through options moving forward.

“What I do know is that we have the next year to find the alternate course and the right course, to make sure that if a school closure is the right path forward, that we … see the data, the actual logic behind closing these schools, and not just rhetoric that we’ve seen declining enrollment and therefore we must close schools,” he said. “That’s my hope and expectation.”

Part of Faraldi’s platform is running as an “all-of-the-above educational guy” in supporting public schools alongside vouchers, grants and other options that families could use for private school tuition.

When asked about the short-term contingency funding and long-term plan for those schools and affected families, Alexander’s reply was that those sorts of decisions rest solely with the school board.

“The school board is required by state law to act upon inefficiencies where they can. Sadly, my opponent has tried to make this campaign about something the city council has no control over,” the statement reads. “Lynchburg City Council cannot close, open, or keep schools open in our city.”

On social media, Alexander’s campaign has also posted about “Merit, Excellence & Opportunity,” a phrase Misjuns has pushed in reference to removing and replacing city worker guidelines and training in diversity, equity and inclusion. Those efforts fueled more controversy among council members and city staff and ultimately were stymied.

Faraldi won about 61% of his ward’s vote in 2020 against independent Larry Jones, but an outright conservative faceoff in his ward has been relatively untested. His tenure on the council as Ward IV representative was preceded by that of Turner Perrow, whose vote had closely aligned with Helgeson’s on most occasions and who had run unopposed since 2012.

The ward split pretty evenly in the 2016 presidential primary, with former President Donald Trump netting 25.3% of the votes, Sen. Marco Rubio 26.7% and Sen. Ted Cruz 29.6%. In March’s primary, Trump swept the ward with 68% of votes, but both Alexander and Faraldi have voiced support for the former president and dismay at his recent criminal convictions in New York.

Campaign finance reports through the end of March show that Alexander has raised $7,174 and Faraldi has raised $47,005. Those reports will be updated through the end of May by next week.

Of Alexander’s funding, $3,700 is self-supplied and a little over $1,200 has been spent on standard campaigning expenses. Of Faraldi’s, $3,378 is self-supplied, $9,545 is from his own limited liability corporation and $2,500 is from loans, and a little over $6,200 has been spent on standard campaigning expenses. The two share some donors, but Faraldi counts far more notable names in politics among his financial supporters.

Among them are Reed’s campaign, Perrow, several current and former state legislators, and Lynchburg City School Board Chair Atul Gupta.

Early voting is underway in Lynchburg for the June 18 primary. The winner will face Democrat April Watson in the November general election.

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Lynchburg primary will put GOP feuds to the test (2024)
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