Shad tradition swims onPublished 11:15pm Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Oily fish and political commentary were clearly on the menu during Wednesday’s Shad Planking, but one of the two main candidates in this year’s gubernatorial race was conspicuously absent at the 65th annual event.
The Wakefield Ruritan Club fundraiser gives old friends an excuse to catch up over plates of fish cooked as they have been since Native Americans were the area’s only inhabitants — slow-roasted on planks propped next to hot coals.
It has also grown into a unique Virginia political event. Though crowds appeared down from the presidential election year of 2012, a good many people still journeyed from most parts of the state — and some from beyond — to hear from gubernatorial candidates.
Phyllis Lewter, the Ruritan’s 2012 national president, said many would have been disappointed by Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s non-appearance.
“They sent the invitation, and I know they must be disappointed that both political parties were not represented,” she said. “But they were given an opportunity.”
McAuliffe’s Republican contender, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, took the opportunity to try his hand at some humor, a custom among speakers at the Shad Planking, and talk up his vision for Virginia.
After the singing of the national anthem, Cuccinelli began his speech calling for prayers for the victims of Monday’s Boston bombing.
Then he reflected on his own crooning abilities.
He said his mother once told him in church that he can’t sing. “That’s as official as it gets, when you are told by your mother in church that you can’t sing,” he reflected.
Cuccinelli was quick to highlight the absence of his opponent, reminding listeners that at 2009’s event, during an earlier gubernatorial bid by the Democrat, “there were as many Terry McAuliffe signs as there were blades of grass around here, (and) the contrast (on Wednesday) is really striking.”
“At least when Mark Warner ran for governor, at least he had the good sense to spread it around Virginia, unlike my current opponent.”
Cuccinelli listed issues he said he has influenced as attorney general and would continue to as governor: human trafficking, mental illness and wrongful convictions.
He championed his “pushback” against big government and his pro-business stance, citing the need to maximize opportunities associated with the Port of Virginia.
While Cuccinelli attracted a sizable audience, many attended Wednesday simply to hang out with friends, drink a few beers and eat a type of fish they wouldn’t normally eat.
“It’s a good opportunity to spend time with friends and learn more about Virginia politics,” said Rhodes Ritenour, who came from the Shenandoah Valley with his father, Bill Ritenour.
“It’s good times — it’s friendly,” said Candy Lanning of Kill Devil Hills, N.C.
About 360 fish were cooked, said Carl Nyman, Shad Cooking Committee chair.
More have been cooked in previous years, he said, but “the crowd is less … Democrats are shunning us for some reason.”