Keep focused during the campaign

Published 6:24 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2009

With the coming of Labor Day, Virginia’s gubernatorial campaign has begun to heat up. Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds and Republican candidate Bob McDonnell are crisscrossing the commonwealth, sharing ideas, meeting supporters, questioning opponent’s positions and encouraging voters to get involved.

As Suffolk citizens evaluate the candidates, it would be helpful for the candidates to take stock of the issues that are of greatest concern to folks here in Peanut City.

In many cases, those issues are the same ones that worry people from Bath County to Arlington. Transportation, education, the economy — they are affairs of concern to folks of every political stripe, every geographic area and every social level.

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Suffolk, however, has a variety of concerns that — while they are not necessarily unique to the city — weigh especially heavy on the minds of its voters. Savvy political candidates for statewide office will find a way to address those concerns prior to the election in November.

The transportation problems in Hampton Roads, for example, have a major effect on the lives of people who live in Suffolk, many of whom spend significant portions of their lives caught up in the gridlock around the area’s river crossings. But Suffolk residents also are worried about the prospect of traffic on Route 58, especially with the truck traffic expected to result from construction of CenterPoint Properties’ intermodal commerce center along that already-overused road. Replacement of the King’s Highway bridge over the Nansemond River is another example of a vital local transportation issue desperate for attention from the state.

In the area of education, Suffolk is in dire need of the state’s help in battling the problem of dropouts. The city ranks just ahead of Portsmouth — at the bottom of the Hampton Roads rankings — in its ability to hold onto students through high school graduation. It’s a shameful distinction, and it’s clear that the city needs help. Since it’s also a situation that negatively impacts the state’s ability to attract new industry to the area, the commonwealth’s chief administrative officer would be well advised to have a plan to turn things around.

As a growing contributor of the taxes that allow Virginia to address those needs and many others, Suffolk is a vital part of the state’s economy. No longer just a sleepy farming community on the outskirts of Hampton Roads, the city has become a major player in Virginia’s effort to attract technological, medical and military industries. The new governor must have a development plan that accounts for the city’s unique position as a burgeoning economic center.

While every political campaign includes some degree of focusing on one’s opponent, if not outright mudslinging, Suffolk citizens will be watching the gubernatorial race closely to see who is focusing on their city and its unique needs. The candidates would do well to remember that fact when they come calling.