CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — A clear divide can be found among Chesapeake Republicans when looking at the money raised by two candidates for Chesapeake City Council.

Current Councilwoman Susan Vitale and political newcomer Amanda Newins are the top fundraisers so far in this year’s race according to campaign finance reports compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project. Vitalie has raised nearly $60,000 while Newins has collected roughly $50,000.

But it is who has donated to their campaigns, and their public messaging that shine light on a lack of unity within the local GOP, around a time the party typically channels all their efforts in defeating those who align with the DNC.

There are 13 candidates in the race, vying for five seats on Chesapeake City Council. With changes in the voting system in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake is now the largest city in Virginia to elect council members at large.

While the field of candidates has been larger in the past, this is the first year City Council candidates will appear on the ballot below candidates for U.S. Congress. In the past, municipal elections were held in May.

Dr. Benjamin Melusky, a political science professor at Old Dominion University, says the election shift from Spring to Fall makes a world of difference in how a campaign is run.

“There is potential that many of these people that will be coming out to vote will not be focused on municipal races,” Melusky said. “They just happen to be on the ballot. They’ll be focused on their congressional races.”

In half of Chesapeake, that means the highly publicized and highly partisan race between Rep. Elaine Luria, (D-Norfolk) and challenger State Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) will top the ticket.

City Council races are technically non-partisan, with no “D” or “R” appearing next to the candidate’s name.

However, if you ask Mayor Rick West, national political tactics have found their way into the local races.

West, who is not up for reelection, was one of the more vocal critics of the General Assembly action that shifted the election dates. In a recent Facebook post, he expressed that his fears were realized.

“This is our city’s first November election and they are already shaping up to look exactly like national elections,” West wrote Monday. “We no longer respectfully debate issues or our voting record. It appears more efforts are placed on smear tactics and character assassination. We all can do better than this!”

While West didn’t mention specifics on Facebook, he tells 10 On Your Side he was referring to the recent events surrounding City Council candidate Newins.

Newins, a practicing attorney, is running for political office for the first time. She is one of five candidates endorsed by the Republican Party of Chesapeake.

Last month, Newins great-aunt filed suit against her. The suit claims Newins abused her and her late husband both financially and emotionally. Her attorney has called the lawsuit “baseless” and suggested it’s politically motivated.

Days after the suit was filed, six local elected leaders, who also received the Republican Party of Chesapeake’s endorsement in the past, released a statement saying: “Due to the lawsuit and a subsequent criminal investigation involving Amanda Newins, a candidate for Chesapeake’s City Council, effective immediately, we are withdrawing our support for and endorsement of Ms. Newins.”

The statement was signed by City Council members Steve Best, Don Carey, Robert Ike, Commonwealth’s Attorney Matt Hamel, Clerk of Courts Alan Krasnoff, and Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan.

However, 10 On Your Side hasn’t been able to find any evidence that the six ever endorsed Newins or supported her campaign. None of the individuals immediately returned a request for comment asking where the former endorsements could be found.

“It doesn’t surprise me that a group of individuals who have worked tirelessly against me for the past 7 months and have supported instead a non-Republican candidate, now say they continue to not support me,” Newins said in a Facebook post following the statement. “What does surprise me, is that they would suggest it is due to a complaint filed 59 days before the election, where the lead attorney has known political ties to that same non-Republican candidate they support.”

Newins went on to thank supporters who stand by her. Those include West and Kiggans, as well as Vice Mayor John De Triquet and Councilwoman Debbie Ritter.

Campaign finance reports also show they have all donated to Newins’ campaign.

When looking at where those who stated they were pulling their support have donated, Carey, Ike and Hamel have donated to Vitale’s campaign. Ike’s PAC, Hampton Roads Freedom PAC, is Vitale’s largest donor at $11,750.

No local elected leaders have donated to both Vitale and Newins.

Melusky said that, along with the statements, very much paints the picture of a party divide.

In 2018, when Vitale first won her seat on City Council, she was endorsed by the Republican Party of Chesapeake.

Unlike Newins, this year she is not. She said it is a move she is disappointed by.

“I think that anytime you don’t endorse an incumbent, I mean that is the first time in the history of the Republican party of Chesapeake that they have not endorsed an incumbent,” Vitale said.

Nicholas Proffitt, chairman of Chesapeake’s Republican Party, didn’t immediately respond to requests explaining why Vitale wasn’t endorsed. However, Vitale said she was told it had to do with her vote appointing Dwight Parker to the City Council late last year over Tanya Gould.

Parker in the past aligned himself with the Democratic party, while Gould is a Republican.

“What voters should know is that I am nobody’s puppet,” Vitale said. “I don’t think voters would want somebody representing them that won’t stand up for them.”

It’s worth noting that Best, Cary and Ike also voted to appoint Parker.

When it comes to Newins, Vitale has taken no stance on the allegations made against her.

“I’m focusing on my campaign. I want to run a positive campaign. I have a great message,” Vitale said.

When asked if her campaign was coordinating with supporters to bring produce statements opposing Newins, Vitale said: “Absolutely not. Absolutely not. That’s not the way I operate.” 

Besides, Melusky said in a crowded field incumbency is key. One must only look to the 2020 election for mayor in Virginia Beach where Republican-endorsed Bobby Dyer won re-election handily while Democrats dominated up the ticket.

“It doesn’t really matter where they are in the food chain of offices,” Melusky said. “Incumbents tend to win at much higher rates.”

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