FRONT ROYAL – Councilman Eugene Tewalt garnered the Warren County Republican Committee’s endorsement after participating in a Thursday candidate’s forum with his opponent, former Mayor Hollis Tharpe.
A special mayoral election will be held Nov. 5 since Tharpe resigned from his seat shortly after being charged on a misdemeanor count of prostitution solicitation, a case that was dropped.
This is not the first time Tharpe and Tewalt have run against each other in a mayoral election, as Tewalt defeated Tharpe in 2008.
Tharpe addressed the charges levied against him during his opening statement and said that the “legal storm” was beyond anything he could have imagined. He said it was “traumatic,” “horrific,” and “personally terrifying. He added that “it was a trial not only for me but my friends, my family and supporters, and I might add my bank account.”
“Defending your honor against a baseless accusation is not cheap,” he said.
Tharpe said that “the storm has passed,” charges against him were dropped and he would like to “move forward as a mayor who is proud of his community” while moving the town forward and achieving unity to his best ability.
Tewalt noted that during his previous tenure as mayor, the town accomplished everything that was on its books, some that had been so for 10 years. He said, if elected, “I want to do the things the community needs for me to do.”
“I want to be proactive on a lot of issues. We have tourism, we have economic development, we have quite a few other projects,” he said.
Tewalt added that the town needs to focus on financing for the Front Royal Police Department and figure out what to do with the Afton Inn.
He said the town has “a lot of things on our plate at this time” and he would like to follow through on Interim Mayor Matt Tederick’s good ideas.
The candidates were asked how they would regain public trust after the scandal involving alleged embezzlement that has broken out within the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.
Tharpe said that the council “is doing a good job a the moment” by holding meetings with the EDA and Board of Supervisors. He noted that “I had asked [Supervisors Chairman] Dan Murray for a joint meeting and it is now happening after a year.”
“The problem with the EDA, the county and the town has no control over the board so hopefully with the new board members...they are making strides to improve and get the trust back from the citizens and to keep the costs at a minimal with no tax,” he said.
Tewalt said it is imperative that the town works directly with the EDA, and that the town has lost contact with the authority other than just communicating about some projects they were working on together.
He added that the EDA is “very important to the community” and it “has brought in a lot of businesses” along the 522 corridor.
“But we need to work together. It just seems like, with everything that is happening with the EDA and the last group of people that was there, we were the last ones who were told,” he said.
He noted that the county needs to show better communications as the town has been left “behind the eight ball” regarding the proposed Crooked Run West housing development for which the town would have to provide water. He said the county did not give the council proper notice of the request.
After the forum was over, Councilman Jake Meza nominated Tewalt to receive the Republican endorsement. Although Meza said he does not always agree with Tewalt, he lauded Tewalt’s traits of transparency and speaking openly.
“He’s never gone back on what he said he’s going to do. And he’s never done work against council with backroom deals or anything along those lines...he’s somebody that I personally trust,” Meza said.
Meza’s nomination was seconded by Councilman Gary Gillispie.
Citizen Tim Ratigan then nominated Tharpe, noting that Tharpe was elected mayor but made a difficult and ethical decision to resign. With accusations against Tharpe dropped, Ratigan said Tharpe “deserves a chance to fill out the remainder of his term.”
After a vote, Warren County Republican Chairman Steve Kurtz said that Tewalt received the endorsement.
The committee also endorsed School Board candidates Arnold Williams and Ralph Rinaldi, both who are on the ballot. In the South River District, a race for which no candidate is on the ballot, the committee endorsed write-in candidate Kristen Pence.