Political hot tomatoes

Published 11:43 pm Friday, November 16, 2012

With varying success, a handful of Suffolk citizens dug deep for their preferred candidates in 2012 races, including one who seems to pick winners and grow tomatoes with equal aplomb.

Among Suffolk’s bigger donors, Edward Keil, a confessed former liberal, threw his support behind Republican Congressman Randy Forbes.

He lives on a 9-acre organic hobby farm near Lake Prince in the city’s northwest, and says he grew 354 tomato plants this year. According to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), he also donated $3,500 to Forbes.

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Keil’s wife Kathleen Keil gave a further $1,500 to the congressman, while Edward Keil also improved Forbes’ re-election prospects with $1,500 in 2011.

“When we first met we were ideologically very different,” said the former Chesapeake Education Association president.

Before retiring in 2000, Keil taught American history and social studies at Oscar Smith High School, and when the men first met, he was interim department chair of the Chesapeake Student Leadership Program that Forbes had kicked off.

“At that one time (I was) very liberal,” Keil said. “(But) Randy saw we had common ground, and over many years we have built on that. What I have learned about Randy is he’s a man of integrity. We tend to agree on most things.”

Forbes, who was comfortably re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, won the Keils’ precinct, Chuckatuck, with almost 66 percent of the vote. So it was a sound investment for the organic hobby farmer.

But far outstripping — doubling, in fact — the Keils’ donations were those from Lemuel and wife Sandra Lewis, of North Suffolk’s Cedar Point.

He gave a combined $3,500 to Democratic candidates Tim Kaine, who won a Senate seat, and Paul Hirschbiel Jr., a House candidate defeated by Republican incumbent Scott Rigell. She gave $3,000 to Barack Obama, $2,500 to Kaine and another $1,000 to Hirschbiel, apparently bringing the household’s combined contributions to Democratic candidates to $10,000.

Reached by phone to verify the donations, Lemeul Lewis said, “I don’t quite know what my wife gave; that’s what the problem is. I’m not saying they’re (the amounts) wrong and I’m not saying they’re right.”

The former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s Board of Directors said he moved to Suffolk about 10 years ago.

Raised in Lynchburg, where he graduated from Dunbar High School in 1965 before earning a Bachelor of Arts majoring in economics and an MBA from the University of Virginia, he’s the founder and president of www.LocalWeather.com.

Lewis worked for Landmark Communications, owner of The Virginian-Pilot, for 26 years, becoming executive vice president and chief financial officer before retiring in 2006.

He confirmed he is still a director of Markel Corporation, a Richmond-based specialty insurance marketer and underwriter, and of the Dollar Tree company.

Lewis also served on UVA’s Board of Visitors and was a trustee of the Darden School Foundation, which supports the university’s business school, and Sandra Lewis served on the Alumni Association Board of Managers in 2010-2011, according to an online university publication.

Asked why he donates, Lemuel Lewis said, “I don’t have a reason and I think that’s personal. I think voting is important. It’s one of the rights that we have as citizens.”

In the Lewises’ precinct of Ebenezer, Obama pulled less than 29 percent of the vote and Kaine 32.5 percent, while Hirschbiel, whose district doesn’t cover Suffolk, wasn’t on the ballot.

Another large Suffolk donor to Democratic candidates in 2011 was Lenora Dyke, an administrator at Sentara Nursing Center in Portsmouth who gave $1,000 to Obama and $500 to Kaine, to whom she donated another $500 in 2011.

According to VPAP, Dyke lives in the southwest part of the city, where, counting donations above $200, Obama raised, $1,000 — indeed, all from Dyke — against Romney’s $600.

Obama also out-raised Romney in 23434 and 23439 — which incorporate downtown Suffolk — and the Lewises’ 23433.

Reached by phone at work and asked whether the News-Herald could inquire about her contributions, Dyke replied, “No you cannot; have a good day,” and hung up.

In zipcode 23432, incorporating land either side of Crittenden Road, Michael Bakwin this year gave $1,000 to Romney, $1,000 to Forbes and — he said — $4,000 to Kaine’s Republican opponent George Allen.

VPAP records indicate Bakwin gave only $2,000 to Allen this year, but donors can also give to political action committees, or PACs, which raise and spend on behalf of candidates.

“I happen to believe in the Republican Party,” said Bakwin, semi-retired from “the restaurant business” and who now “just does some real estate and oil business.” He said he has met Allen but not Forbes or Romney.

Antique automobile collector Dwight Schaubach, who lives on Crittenden Road, this year gave $2,500 each to Forbes and Romney, as well as $500 to Nansemond borough City Council incumbent Robert Barclay, who was ousted.

The household of Schaubach, who is in the waste disposal and collection business, gave a combined $10,500 to Republican candidates in 2011. He declined to comment on the contributions.

In zipcode 23435, the largest donor was James Baur, who gave Forbes $2,500 this year and $2,000 in October 2011. He could not be reached for comment.