By Jack Hunter
Buena Vista Mayor William “Billy” Fitzgerald will not run for a fourth term and will support Councilman Tyson Cooper in the city’s 2023 mayoral election.
Fitzgerald announced his decision to the public at Jan. 19’s City Council meeting. He said in an interview with the Rockbridge Report that he’s ready to step aside.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s time for a break,” Fitzgerald said. “The city’s got a good foundation now that it really needs somebody who can promote your city. I’m no speaker and you really need that.”
Fitzgerald served on both the Buena Vista City Council and the Buena Vista City School Board before defeating incumbent Larry Tolley in the 2017 mayoral race.
He also publicly endorsed Cooper during the council meeting. Cooper was elected to City Council in 2017. He is the chief financial officer of Southern Virginia University. He also owns a building in downtown Buena Vista that The BeeVe, an ice cream and souvenir shop, occupies.
He has worked at SVU since he graduated from the university in 2007.
“He’s a whole lot smarter than any of us sitting on council,” Fitzgerald said of Cooper. “He’s got good business sense. He understands numbers really well. He’s got a lot going for him.”
Cooper is the only candidate who has filed so far to run for mayor. Potential candidates need to collect 125 petition signatures, beginning Jan. 1. Cooper said he started the process on Jan. 3 and turned in 125 signatures to the registrar a week later. The deadline to file is June 20.
“I really hope that at least one other person, ideally two or three, also run for mayor,” Cooper said. “I think our political system works better, especially at the local level, when there’s multiple choices for the citizens because it tells you, as the elected individual, what the people want.”
Fitzgerald said he expects Cooper to face competition. Fitzgerald ran unopposed in his second and third terms, but he was the incumbent in those races.
Cooper is running on three main tenets: finding “common ground” with other council members, establishing a long-term vision for Buena Vista, and working closer with the school district.
“Right now, there’s a lot of positive momentum,” Cooper said. “We have wonderful employees, city staff. We’re tackling all sorts of projects that we haven’t been able to get to for years. Businesses are opening up, property values are going up, all good things. But I still am not sure where we are going.”
He said, if elected, he wants to hold multiple “listen and learn” sessions with citizens, business owners, elected officials, government employees and other groups to build the framework for a long-term vision for the city.
“One of the things I’ve learned in business is that in business, a five-year plan is more than adequate,” Cooper said. “Ten or 20 years is really an appropriate timeframe to be looking
ahead for a municipality, and to be planning ahead.”
Cooper was elected to City Council in 2017 as a write-in candidate after two previous unsuccessful attempts. He said he started running for City Council almost a decade ago when he realized there weren’t many high-paying jobs in Buena Vista for his oldest son, now a freshman at Parry McCluer High School, if he wanted to stay after he graduated.
“That’s when my wife and I decided that no, we need to get involved and do everything we can to help facilitate a community in which our children and their friends, and hopefully our grandchildren, right, and our nieces and nephews and that if they want to stay, they can stay without sacrificing, you know, a good paying job,” Cooper said.
Fitzgerald said he would consider seeking public office again. But he wants to spend his time on other pursuits, such as woodworking.
“I really enjoy doing music, so I want to do more of that,” Fitzgerald said. He plays in an informal group that gathers at Buena Vista’s American Legion post twice a week.
And he said he wants to devote more time to his family.
Fitzgerald said he can’t assess how successful his tenure as mayor has been.
“It’s up to the public to decide if I left the place better than it was when I got in it,” he said. “It’s wrong for me to judge it. The people need to judge my performance. All I can say is when I got into politics, everything I got into, I always told them I’d do my best, and I’ve done my best.”