By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Ten months before Norfolkians go to the polls, the mayoral race has already begun, with Sheriff Bob McCabe announcing his intentions to run against incumbent Paul Fraim, who is expected to seek reelection.
Although there may be other candidates to toss their hat into the ring, this contest between two of the most powerful political figures in the city may prove to be the most exciting one to emerge in decades.
Fraim has been on the city council since 1986, and was appointed mayor in 1994. He was the city’s first elected mayor sine the end of reconstruction in 2006. So he has been on council for 29 years.
Fraim has overseen the transformation of the city economically, especially the downtown business district, despite holding what is constitutionally the “ceremonial” position on council to become one of the most powerful mayors in the city’s history.
McCabe was elected sheriff the same year that Fraim became mayor in 2004. He has managed to reconstitute the city’s Democratic party apparatus and uses it to back council and other political candidates allowing him to develop considerable political power as well.
While the average citizen may have been surprised by McCabe’s announcement to run for Mayor, political watchers had already noticed several subtle hints that he might challenge Fraim.
Recently the Sheriff complained of his inability to convince the Norfolk City Manager to place him on the agenda to speak about the issues facing the city jail.
For some, this may have been considered an indirect attack on the Mayor, who has been a friend and political ally of the Sheriff
McCabe has hinted at running several times in past years but backed away. But in the July 8 edition of the online newsletter “AltDaily” the article, “Norfolk Sheriff McCabe: ‘I am seriously considering running for mayor”’ gave rise to many political watchers to wonder if it were just a trial balloon to see if the political winds were favorable.
On July 15, the daily Virginian-Pilot ran a front cover story which left little doubt of his ambitions.
Since the AltDaily article, this reporter has been interviewing some of the city’s politicians and political insiders, seeking to determine the impact of the Sheriff’s intentions.
Many are political allies and close to both and live all over the city. Some, to avoid hurting their bond with either, would speak only if their names were not used for this article.
Several reported that Mayor Fraim has been quietly ramping up his operations in hope of countering similar activities in the Sheriff’s camp.
“The Mayor, I am sure, is already making calls talking money, strategy and endorsements,” said one political insider. “He knows he has to get his ducks in a row long before the deadline for filing. I am sure he is not surprised at the Sheriff’s move, and if he seeks reelection, Paul Fraim will be ready.”
Another political insider said that McCabe’s early entry into the race may be designed to scare off other contenders and “to get his name out there and like the Mayor, get an early start on raising money and cashing in chips to get important endorsements.”
Because of their alliance in the city political operation, both men share friendships, political donors, and alliances.
Read entire story in the The New Journal and Guide, July 23-29 issue.