Name: Mike Maskell
Biography: Mike Maskell is a Virginia Beach native. He graduated from Old Dominion University with a master’s degree in physics and earned a law degree from George Washington University. He is currently a patent examiner, and works part time as a family law attorney.
1. Why should residents elect you to city council?
I have a unique combination of scientific and legal training in my background, having obtained a Master’s degree in Physics from ODU, and a law degree from George Washington University – this makes me an ideal nexus for the technical experts that are needed to solve issues like flooding to connect with the lawmakers who will decide what projects are done, who does them, and where. In my
daily work as a patent examiner, I communicate with inventors and attorneys to determine the proper scope of patent protection for their inventions; this requires being able to understand the language of both science/engineering and the law.
More important than what I bring to the table, however, is what I do not bring to the table – and that is any conflicts of interest. I have no connections to the construction, real estate, development, or banking industries, or any other industry that could lead to my benefiting in any unique way from city council decisions. The same cannot be said for the incumbent for my seat, who is in the construction industry and recently refused to abstain from the vote to reappoint his own business partner, who is also his mother, to the Development Authority. I encourage all voters to visit the Virginia Public Access Project at VPAP.org, and compare the sources of campaign contributions to each candidate. When making this comparison, please note that I have taken no corporate money, while the incumbent has received vast amounts of money from interested industries. Every voter should then ask themselves whom they think each candidate will be working for if elected, residents or corporate interests?
2. What is the most pressing issue facing your community, and how will you address the issue?
Most of the issues facing our community, from flooding to first responder retention, ultimately come down to how the city sets its budget priorities; therefore, the most pressing issue facing our community is the need to refocus these priorities on the needs of the city’s residents. Our current City Council denied the request of Public Works for $1,000,000 of stormwater maintenance funding in the 2018 Operating Budget, yet on July 10 voted to approve $68,000,000 for a new sports center (after said project tripled in price from the initial accepted bid). The failure to take care of basic municipal needs before funding optional investments shows that our current City Council is not responsive to the needs of residents.
Addressing this issue will require not only realigning our budget priorities, but also fixing the election system that has made City Council so unresponsive. In our current system, all seats on City Council are voted on by all Virginia Beach residents, regardless of district. Even though there are designated district representatives, they are not answerable to the voters of their districts, but rather to the entire city population. This counterintuitive and confusing system (which no other municipality uses) further entrenches powerful incumbents by diluting our votes with the largest city population in the Commonwealth. Currently, each voter is one out of hundreds of thousands for every seat on City Council, and corporate money is made extremely powerful by the need to campaign to the entirety of the largest city area in the Commonwealth. By moving to district voting (i.e. each district votes for its own representative, with the three at-large seats and Mayor still voted on at-large), each voter would be one out of tens of thousands instead for their district representative. This increase in voting power would give residents and communities the ability to obtain representation on City Council that they currently cannot. A community that makes up 20% of a district’s population should be critically important to that district’s representative, but instead our current system makes that community more like 2% of the voting pool for the district’s representative – thus neighborhoods that frequently suffer from problems like flooding are routinely ignored when their property values are not high enough, while pet projects for large campaign contributors are readily funded.
3. Where do you stand on raising taxes to balance your locality’s budget?
Virginia Beach has plenty of revenue, so there is no need to raise taxes. The issue is our spending priorities, as I discussed in the previous question.
4. What’s your plan to reduce crime?
Our police department has had difficulties with retaining trained and experienced officers for many years now, because the pay and benefits our city offers, relative to cost of living, is not competitive with neighboring municipalities. While City Council finally addressed the issue of pay compression for first responders this year after significant public pressure, the fix was only a temporary band-aid. A few targeted raises will not prevent pay compression from happening again; we need a grade/step system for first responders similar to that used by the military and Federal government, so that the intervals between pay steps are fixed and cannot become compressed.
5. What are your community’s biggest infrastructure needs, and how do you plan to fulfill them?
Virginia Beach currently has a twelve year stormwater maintenance backlog, which contribute to our flooding problem. If elected, I will fight to get us back on track and protect vulnerable neighborhoods. This is a critical part of realigning the city’s budget priorities, as I discussed in question 2.
6. What businesses and industries would you try to attract to your community?
I would love to invest in the arts to provide not only career opportunities but to attract younger tourists and keep young people in the area. Virginia Beach would be a great location for a music festival, ideally in the fall to attract off-season tourists and fill up our hotels. We need to also support small, up-and-coming local businesses, and help secure good, affordable retail space for local coffee shops, restaurants, and stores, especially worker cooperatives which, if successful, will create wealth and opportunities for dozens of people instead of one owner or a group of already wealthy investors. Many large cities have food markets, where local chefs and bakers can rent an affordable place to sell their cuisine while sharing a dining space. We could partner with TCC to provide a space for students and recent graduates to design and prepare their own menus, giving experience and exposure to the next generation of chefs. The city needs to stop investing public money into businesses that primarily create low-wage jobs and primarily benefit wealthy developers. The risk is lower if, instead of a few large, expensive projects, we support a variety of lower cost endeavors, and primarily support businesses that will benefit the local community as well as tourists.
As a member of the intellectual property law community, I also see the potential for Virginia Beach to become a favored place for intellectual property law firms to set up shop. Patent law firms in particular have a major advantage in that they only need to be registered to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to prosecute patent applications, and they can therefore locate themselves virtually anywhere and recruit attorneys from all 50 states without regard to where they passed the bar. Many of these firms have used this advantage to relocate from expensive areas like New York City to extremely low-overhead areas in the Midwest. I believe that Virginia Beach offers a happy medium of sorts between these two options – it is not as expensive to locate here as in NY or DC, and while it is more expensive than many Midwestern locations, our city offers incomparable lifestyle benefits. I would like to reach out to organizations like the American Intellectual Property Law Association to promote the benefits of locating IP practices in our city. Patent law is one of the most lucrative fields in the legal industry, and developing a reputation as a good place to locate a patent firm would bring high paying jobs and large amounts of money to our area.