Leesburg Town Councilman Ron Campbell is hoping to change the way campaigns are run in the county seat, and is using his own mayoral bid to be the change.
Campbell announced his mayoral intentions during Holy & Whole Life Changing Ministries’ annual prayer breakfast Saturday morning. The first-term council member won his first bid for elected office last November and, with his term not even halfway complete, has his eyes set on the town’s highest leadership post.
In deciding to throw his hat in the ring, Campbell said, “the question was not why now, but why not.” He points to his upbringing in the Bronx, NY, the son of two socially active parents. His father worked for Democratic and social justice causes; his mother was a labor union shop steward. Both were involved in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and involved their young son Ron.
“There were things they saw in me that I couldn’t see in myself,” he recalled.
And he’s quick to note that his experience is not relegated to his 11 months on the Town Council. He’s been a senior level manager in higher education, overseeing a $100 million budget and 35 people. He’s built facilities and services in his professional life. He is a former CEO of a national business association with worldwide experience building partnerships and allies. Campbell is also a two-time cancer survivor, so fighting adversity is nothing new to him, he says.
“I have a resume that justifies my capability far beyond this town. My whole life has prepared me for now,” Campbell said.
It’ll be a different campaign for Campbell in his run for the mayor’s seat. He acknowledged that he accepted the Loudoun County Democratic Committee’s endorsement for his council run last year, but will not seek or accept any political party endorsements this go-around.
“One of my goals is to bring the nonpartisan nature back to our civic conversation, our social conversation about what’s important for Leesburg residents. It has nothing to do with party,” Campbell said. “The reality is people will vote against you because of what party you are for, and will vote for you because of what party you are for. But that has nothing to do with advocacy for the citizens of Leesburg, the budget, response to roads and transportation, safety and security, human services, education.”
He’s been advised that not aligning with a political party is risky.
“The party will tell you I’m not a party guy. I’m a people guy,” he said. “I’m not to be controlled or influenced because of political threats, and I’ve received a few. I’m not here for my political future, I’m here for service. I’m truly committed to service.”
One action Campbell took this year that turned heads was his nomination of council colleague Suzanne Fox as vice mayor. The two received opposing party endorsements in their respective council campaigns.
“I’ve tried to put my actions where my values were. … People told us they wanted us to be different. Nominating Suzanne was the right thing to do, rather than to continue to have party lines. It was certainly one of those moves to show people a willingness to work beyond party and work differently,” he said.
Other accomplishments for Campbell in his first 11 months has been a focus on boards and commissions, and how they can serve the council better, and vice versa; and the formation of the Economic Development Steering Committee, which just presented its recommendations on comprehensive changes to the town’s economic development strategy last week.
Campbell said he feels the current leadership with Mayor Kelly Burk has been ineffective, and pointed to the lack of communication on the council dais in terms of how the budget is discussed as one example. He said there is a lack of leadership on the council, which is at times too reactionary and not strategic enough.
“I realized that sometimes voices get ignored or voices somehow get silenced in the process because they’re different. I’m not that person whose voice can be silenced easily,” he said. “I realized I needed to be in a different place in order to provide necessary leadership.”
His goals and priorities won’t change if elected mayor, he said, but noted that “the platform gives a better chance to set the agenda.”
“The [council meeting] agenda, as much as we would like it as council members, it’s still a reactionary process, not a planned process. And that’s been historical,” he said. “While we have an opportunity during work sessions to add [items] it’s only if you get four head nods. And yet the follow up on those agendas may have nothing to do with strength of priority or importance.”
Campbell is planning a formal campaign kick-off celebration for January, noting it’s a milestone month for him in turning 65. He will be focusing just as much on his campaign as he will on others next year, he noted. Campbell said he plans to form a coalition for next November’s elections, where three other council seats in addition to the mayor’s post will be up for grabs. Some state representative seats will also be up for election. That coalition will include other candidates who seek to put down their political affiliations and focus on town residents and their priorities.
“I’ll be asking candidates who are going to consider elected office to run unendorsed, and ask them to consider bringing our community back to a nonpartisan, state-mandated nature and put the people first,” he said.
He’s all in for November 2018, Campbell added, and he’s convinced that there are those who wish for a town mayor who puts people above politics.
“If I’m not successful it’s because I’ve failed to convince people, not parties,” he said. “I know there’s a voice out there and there’s voices out there calling for us to put people first.
It’s not a new party, it’s a direction—put down your partisanship, put Leesburg first.”