On April 8, Governor Ralph Northam requested that the General Assembly move the May General Election and all special elections scheduled for May 5 to the November 3 General Election date to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The plan Gov. Northam is proposing includes the following measures: just one ballot in November, all qualified voters being able to vote in November, all absentee ballots already cast to be discarded and those officials whose terms are set to expire in June to continue until their successors have been elected in November.
“As other states have shown, conducting an election in the middle of this global pandemic would bring unprecedented challenges and potential risk to voters and those who work at polling places across the Commonwealth,” said Northam. “Making these decisions now will help election officials prepare and implement the necessary changes. This is about protecting the health and safety of Virginians during this pandemic and ensuring our citizens can make their voices heard in a safe, fair and uniform manner. I urge the General Assembly to do their part and take action to move our upcoming elections.”
In Salem, three candidates – Hunter Holliday, Renee Turk and Jim Wallace – are competing against incumbents Bill Jones and James Martin for three seats up for the May 5 election. Not seeking reelection is Vice Mayor Jane Johnson.
Martin, a 1991 graduate of Salem High, considers rising costs of city services and narrowing scope and capability of the existing economic development ecosystem some of the biggest challenges facing Salem today.
“I’ve proposed a Salem Specific Economic Development Program beginning with an inventory of existing local businesses, supporting regional and national supply chain vendors, available local commercial growth properties with a tactical business plan to connect and grow local commercial revenue,” Martin said. “I’d like to see more private equity investment in local and regional projects to generate new wealth.”
Fifty-three percent of Salem’s population is female. As the only woman running, Turk says she has a critical perspective needed on Council. “My relevant knowledge and business education, including a wide range of management experience, helps me bring a perspective that no one else can: a successful businesswoman, a previous city employee (having taught at Salem High) and someone fully capable of making important consequential decisions,” said Turk.
Jones has lived in Salem his entire life. His employment background includes Human Resources at Yokohama Tire, a small business owner of Fastsigns and a sales rep with Hart Motors and the Real Estate Group.
“I feel my past 12 years on Council and the experiences of dealing with a weak economy in 2008-2016 give me the insight on how to manage needs vs wants,” he said. “Serving on the Audit and Finance Committee for the last decade has given me knowledge for managing funds during difficult times. My Human Resource background allows me to better understand different situations that may arise for citizens and employees.”
Taxes, economic development and infrastructure are the top issues Holliday believes faces Salem today. As the only Republican nominee in the race, Holliday says he is committed to creating a favorable tax climate to help existing businesses and incentivize new ones to come to the city.
“Salem has 149 different taxes and fees it charges its citizens and businesses. That is a bit superfluous, and it must change. I want to maintain and improve our educational infrastructure to allow employers to find their workers right here in Salem,” he said. “We can leverage our K-12 educational system to create skilled labor. We have the right people to do it too. Dr. Seibert and his team are outstanding, and I cannot wait to work with them to achieve this goal.”
Born in Austin, Texas, Wallace, a sales engineer, has spent the last 20 years in Salem. The way he sees it, schools, economic development and government are the three areas the community needs to strengthen the most.
“Unfortunately, our children’s test scores have been trending downward for the past four years. Many surrounding our schools are now ranked higher than Salem, according to GreatSchools.org,” Wallace said. “For small businesses in Salem, we need to address our parking situation and conduct exit interviews with those businesses that have left. We need to understand why they left. We also need to stay connected with our small business community and address their changing needs.”
Due to COVID-19, the Salem Council PTA City Forum will not be held. Because the candidates emphatically believe that no one should have to choose between their health and voting, they all understand. All registered voters are encouraged to request an absentee ballot at vote.elections.virginia.gov to participate in the May 5 election.
For more information, visit salemva.gov.