By Scott Harrison
Lexington Mayor Mimi Elrod won re-election Tuesday, receiving 1,601 votes, or 63 percent.
Her opponent, Mary Harvey-Halseth, received 905 votes, or 35 percent.
It was the second time the two had squared off in the past four years. Elrod, 68, defeated Harvey-Halseth in 2008, becoming the city’s first female mayor. That time, Elrod got 59 percent of the vote.
Harvey-Halseth, 58, was born in Arlington and grew up in the Washington, D.C. area.
“I’m very excited,” Elrod said in an interview. “I’ve been mayor for four years; I’ve enjoyed almost every minute of it so I really wanted to win again. There’s more to be done. There are projects that are unfinished and I’m excited about moving ahead because we’re a great city. Small, but great. But there’s still things that we need to do.”
Learning of her loss, Harvey-Halseth congratulated Elrod for winning her second term.
Over the past two decades, she has been on the city’s Planning Commission and Board of Appeals, and has been involved with a number of other local organizations. After losing to Elrod in 2008 she was elected to City Council in 2010.
Local elections in Virginia are officially nonpartisan. But the area’s Republican Party endorsed Harvey-Halseth, and Elrod has long been active in local Democratic politics, including an unsuccessful challenge of Republican Ben Cline for the local House of Delegates seat.
Harvey-Halseth has been involved with education for much of her life. She has taught music in the Buena Vista school system and at Southern Virginia University.
Before Elrod was elected mayor, she served on city council from 2003 to 2008.
She decided to enter local politics after the death of her husband, John Elrod, who was president of Washington and Lee University from 1995 to 2001.
Elrod moved to Lexington almost 30 years ago. Like Harvey-Halseth, she has been involved with education much of her life. She began her teaching career in New York City’s public schools, earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in child development at Iowa State University and taught for several years at the university level.
She worked in Washington and Lee’s admissions department and directed its Summer Scholars program before retiring in 2008.
Both candidates agreed during the campaign that the city may be forced to raise taxes to maintain its level of services, but each had her own idea for enhancing downtown Lexington and improving city schools.
For Elrod, the quality and integrity of Lexington schools were “very central to our city.”
Rockbridge County officials have been pushing for a discussion with the separate school systems in Lexington and Buena Vista to increase consolidation of the systems. Lexington and the county consolidated their high schools 20 years ago, but the city is resisting further merging.
“You could look at the schools only in terms of the money that we spend,” Elrod said, and acknowledged that some taxpayers might not think it’s worth it for Lexington to keep its own school. “But when you lose your schools, you lose a very central part to your community.”
With the state providing localities with less funding, Elrod said, Lexington has to pay close attention to the way it funds a variety of services, including education. She said the city will likely need to make some budget cuts and raise taxes, especially as it goes forward with plans to build a new Waddell Elementary School — which she supports.
“I’m not going to sit here and say ‘no, we’re not going to raise taxes,’ because we probably will have to,” she said last week.
Elrod and Harvey-Halseth agreed that the city can find new ways to cooperate with the county and Buena Vista. Elrod said cooperation among the localities with the Rockbridge Area Network Authority broadband project can serve as an appropriate model for future collaboration among them.
Enhancing downtown was also a major issue for both candidates.
Elrod has been a big supporter of the Lexington Downtown Initiative. As a member of RANA’s board, she believes the new broadband network will provide the city with a strong economic advantage. But she said more can be done to help downtown.
“We are so lucky we have so many assets here in our city,” Elrod said. “But I think we could use them better.
“We’re a great city, but you can’t stand still. If you stand still, you get behind.”
In their second contest for mayor, both Elrod and Harvey-Halseth ran bigger campaigns with the help of fundraising. Each bought advertising in newspapers and on radio, printed campaign literature and made use of lawn signs.
In Lexington, the position of mayor is largely ceremonial, since the city is administered by a professional city manager. The mayor votes on issues before the council only if it is necessary to break a 3-3 tie.