HOTSEAT- Native son: Thomas vows mannerly campaign

Rodney Thoma

Sure it's a political campaign, but Board of Supervisors candidate Rodney Thomas says he's not going to trash-talk his opponent, David Slutzky. Heck, Thomas won't even say Slutzky's name.

"I can't run a negative campaign," declares Thomas. "I have to run an ethical campaign."

After all, he's on  the regional board of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, and it just would be unseemly to wallow in the political muck.

Instead, he demonstrates those excellent manners with which sons of the South are raised and seems unperturbed when someone slams a door in his face while campaigning. "Anybody who's that rude, I don't want anything to do with anyway," he says. "My attitude is be as nice as you can." 

Even with non-supporters, he offers, "I'm so glad you can voice your opinion."

Rodney Thomas has lived in Charlottesville all his life. He went to Lane High School and as a freshman, was president of the Young Republican Club in 1958, the year Governor Lindsay Almond closed the school rather than integrate it.

"We got along fine," he says of African-American students. "I think it was a pure government thing to force down people throats. Blacks had the best school. We loved to go over there [to Burley]."

He grew up in Belmont around Elliott and Monticello avenues, and still hangs out with six fellas he's known since the first grade.

"You notice I didn't say Monti-chello," says Thomas. "The street is Monti-sello; Monti-chello is the house on the hill. I'm not going to change the way I say it– that's the way I learned."

In his office at Charlottesville Press, he's listening to "The Schilling Show" when a reporter arrives. A book he's reading currently–  The Hunt for Confederate Gold by Thomas Moore– is on his desk.

 Thomas worked for the Worrell-owned Daily Progress before he bought Charlottesville Press in 1979. He's done his civic duty by serving on the Albemarle Planning Commission for eight years, and, he admits, "I really like my free time." So why run for office when retirement could be a less taxing choice?

Turns out taxing is part of it. When the Board of Supervisors wrangled with this year's budget shortfall, they debated how much to raise taxes, says Thomas. "They weren't talking about needed cuts," says the business owner who was awarded the Chamber of Commerce's Small Businessperson of the Year in 1998.

 "My number one priority is to complete Meadowcreek Parkway," he declares, mentioning another Chamber of Commerce hot button. 

Thomas is one of two supe candidates who refused to sign a pledge supporting the 50-year water plan that builds an 11-mile pipeline from the Rivanna Reservoir to fill an enlarged Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

"I'm for the 50-year plan, but I'm not closing the door on dredging," he says. (His opponent signed what some are calling the anti-dredge-pledge.)

The Rio District that Thomas wants to represent is in the county's growth area. "Development has gotten out of hand," he says. "It's not being done in the best, safest possible way."

His years on the Planning Commission present a dilemma of which other candidates wouldn't necessarily be aware. He's got 200 signs ready to go up, including 20 4-by-8-footers. But he won't put them up willy nilly without checking the sign ordinance first. "I can't do that," he says.

Even having lived here all his life, he disputes the idea that he's part of an old-boy network. For example, he mentions how, as a planning commissioner, he helped deny his football-playing high school buddy, Wendell Wood, the chance to build a Home Depot because of "critical slopes" by voting against the plans– twice. 

"What's it going to cost the county?" he asks. "Those are the things you have to weigh in terms of traffic, schools."

Thomas is good natured about sitting in the HotSeat, as most political candidates usually are. Unlike the majority, he says what they may only think: "Some of those questions are kind of silly."

Age: 65 but very young.

Why here? I was born in Charlottesville and love this area.

What's worst about living here? Not much– but not enough alternate roads to get from one side of the county to the other.

Favorite hangout? Charlottesville Press/golf course.

Most overrated virtue? None are overrated. Virtues are very important traits.

People would be surprised to know: That I am very political.

What would you change about yourself? My impatience.

Proudest accomplishment? Being successful in my business.

People find most annoying about you: My persistence.

Whom do you admire? My church and my employees.

Favorite book? The Firm

Subject that causes you to rant? First of all I do not rant. But, arrogance and negativity really irritate me.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Construction began on the Meadowcreek Parkway.

Biggest 21st-century creep out? 9-11, our freedom was compromised.

What do you drive? Elantra

In your car CD player right now: Beach music.

Next journey? Denver, Colorado, and Pinehurst, North Carolina

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Forgetting my wedding anniversary.

Regret: No regrets. I have learned a lot good lessons from my mistakes.

Favorite comfort food: Spaghetti and lasagna

Always in your refrigerator: Milk, eggs, etc.

Must-see TV: Meet the Press.

Describe a perfect day. Sun up, sun down. Every day is a good day.

Walter Mitty fantasy: Don't know anything about Walter Mitty.

Who'd play you in the movie? Paul Newman.

Most embarrassing moment? My cellphone was left on and started ringing the first night I was chairman of the Planning Commission.

Best advice you ever got? You are in the printing business and not real estate business.

Favorite bumper sticker? Vote Rodney for Rio!!!!