Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Blacksburg gets new council member in Tech researcher Mike Rosenzweig
Mike Rosenzweig, a researcher at Virginia Tech, was unanimously voted to the seat.
BLACKSBURG -- After more than a week of controversy over who would succeed the late Councilman Derek Myers, town council took the middle way Tuesday night.
Dark horse candidate Mike Rosenzweig won the appointment on a unanimous vote. Rosenzweig was not present at the meeting and could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Virginia Tech directory lists him as a research scientist in the biology department. Rosenzweig is also listed as a member of the town's museum committee and as a resident of the Bennett Hill-Progress neighborhood, where ongoing revitalization efforts are under way.
Council members Susan Anderson and Tom Sherman estimated 30 to 40 names came up during the rapid-fire appointment process, which they oversaw. All those nominated were carefully considered, Mayor Ron Rordam said.
Two names made the final list: Rosenzweig and Planning Commissioner Ben Crawford. After a few minutes of open debate, the council voted to go into closed session to discuss the final choice. Rordam, who said recently the process would occur in the open, voted against the closed session, as did Councilman Don Langrehr.
It was in some ways a tricky appointment for council members, many of whom will be up for re-election in November. Controversy erupted in recent days when it came to light that ousted Councilman Paul Lancaster might be considered to fill the seat.
Dozens of residents weighed in by e-mail, some recounting unfavorable dealings with Lancaster and arguing against his appointment. A majority -- including prominent business, Virginia Tech and civic leaders -- praised him, however, and pleaded with the council to name him to the post.
Lancaster won a council seat in 2004 but was voted out in 2008 after alienating some of his former allies and members of the newer anti-Wal-Mart group Blacksburg United for Responsible Growth.
In a prepared statement Monday, Lancaster bowed out of the process.
"My interest is in unifying Blacksburg, not dividing it," he wrote. "I do not wish to force council into a showdown that could cause it to lose focus of its vision."
On Tuesday, Rordam publicly thanked Lancaster for removing himself.
Lancaster has said he plans to run for a seat in November -- an election that could change the political makeup of the council. For the first time in recent memory, residents will choose a supermajority of council members in one election. In addition to Myers' seat, three other council members and the mayor will be chosen for four-year terms. Myers' term will end in 2011.
Turnout is expected to be higher than normal this year after the town's switch of its elections from May to November. In other Virginia localities such a switch has spurred more interest in local elections. Blacksburg candidates have until June 9 to submit paperwork to get on the ballot.