VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - As long lines formed around new early in-person voting locations in Virginia Beach, in addition to choosing the next president, residents are voting for a new mayor.
The current mayor, Bobby Dyer, is being challenged by Jody Wagner, a popcorn business owner and a former state secretary of finance. The third candidate in the race is Richard "RK" Kowalewitch, a former surf shop owner and home builder.
News 3 asked all three candidates: What are the most pressing issues facing Virginia Beach? Here are their responses:
"Well, obviously storm water is still high on the charts for obvious reasons. It's a quality of life issue, and it affects so many people. I'll tell you what - I think it's about taking Virginia Beach, a great city, to the next level. You know, we've been through challenges, we've been through tragedies, and now it's time to bring our community together and bring in that economic development that are going to keep our kids right here. But most of all, it's really about making sure that we keep our quality of life."
"Well, right now, COVID. So, my first job is going to be to help the small businesses that are struggling, to work on helping the citizens who are struggling. I'll give you some areas that really need attention: Flooding... [a] huge problem in Virginia Beach! We've done a lot of studying but very little action; we need to be focused on how we finance some of the recommendations in the study. Some of that financing can come from the city, and with my experience as Treasurer of Virginia and Secretary of Finance, I understand what we can do there."
Richard "RK" Kowalewitch
This race is about law and order and storm water, two dangerous situations that need to be addressed immediately that's been neglected for almost 20 years. Storm water - we're one storm away from disaster, and that's storm water maintenance! And we have the money we don't need to raise taxes to do it."
Wagner stresses it's time for fresh ideas to combat brain drain from Virginia Beach.
"We need to make sure that we go out and get those jobs, get those businesses to move here. We are about to have the fastest internet in the country - we need to take advantage of it and bring back knowledge-based jobs so our children don't end up living in San Francisco, New York... but end up living right here in Virginia Beach. You know, Virginia Beach for the first time in the history of the city, has lost its population in the past two years! That's never happened before, so we need to reverse that trend," she explained.
RK is more blunt when talking about the mayor's record.
"He's like a bag in the wind - wherever the politically correct place to be [is] is where he's at. He doesn't accomplish anything. He's a nice guy, don't get me wrong, but he doesn't do anything," Kowalewitch said.
The mayor's response to that criticism?
"Well, take a look at my record. Go on social media, take a look at all the things I was able to accomplish. I actually made over 1,000 people visits since I got sworn in. I've opened businesses, I've done things... have stood tall during a tragedy and through COVID. I've been out there and visible. I am right now meeting with business leaders bringing hi-tech businesses," Mayor Dyer said.
On the subject of supporting law enforcement, that is the lone bold message you'll see on RK's campaign signs. The mayor is also hitting on that theme as well, and RK is questioning Dyer's timing.
"Well, that's pretty interesting. Where's he been for the last 16 years? Right before election time, he's talking law and order. Aren't you tired of lip service? Aren't you ready for some action? I promise you, I'll lead from the front, not from the rear, [which is] the way Bobby Dyer's been doing it," he said.
The mayor disputes he has been late to the party on this issue.
"Well you can't say that because the FOP, the Police Benevolent Association... all endorsed me, and for a reason! While other mayors were telling their folks to stand down throughout the country, I said, 'We will not stand down.' I stood by the police!" Dyer said.
Wagner admits that's been a big campaign slogan for both RK and the mayor but adds, "And I would say we all support a strong city, a strong police department - we're all in favor of that. We are so fortunate that Virginia Beach has a great police department, and we need to support that police department. We also need to make sure we fund it appropriately - right now, they're having a problem keeping officers."