Independent Ray Ferris is seeking a third term on the Roanoke City Council while critics and opponents argue the city needs a change in direction.
He’s not having it.
“I don’t think that’s true,” he said. “I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
There are course adjustments to be made and work to be done, he conceded. “I’d like to be part of the team that does that work,” he said.
First elected as a Democrat in 2010, Ferris parted ways with the city’s Democratic Committee four years ago when it became apparent that he and Bestpitch would face a last minute intra-party challenge for the party’s nominations. Both left and ran as independents.
Lately, as he’s taken to the campaign trail against three strong Democrats, critics have tried to peg him as a conservative because he opposed using the council’s legislative agenda to promote gun control in 2017.
But Ferris has so far raised more money than anyone else in the race with more than $25,000, and he’s still able to draw large contributions from Democrats, and a few Republicans, too.
Although he said he never expects to see his name engraved anywhere, Ferris said he’s proud to have been part of a council that pushed through some major initiatives that have and will continue to benefit the city.
That includes the renovation of Elmwood Park and creation of the amphitheater there, creation of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority and the region’s Industrial Facilities Authority, through which Roanoke Valley governments jointly bought a potential economic development site near the Interstate 81/581 interchange.
Ferris also touted his support for setting a funding formula under which the city school system receives 40 percent of all local tax revenues.
Finally, he helped hire new City Manager Bob Cowell and wants to stick around to support him.
While all five of the challengers in the race complain that the city has focused on downtown redevelopment and more attention needs to be paid to economically depressed neighborhoods, Ferris disputes that claim.
While investment in downtown continues to be attractive to private developers, Ferris argued, the city hasn’t spent significantly on downtown revitalization since the $1.1 million renovation of the Market Square. City spending on the Innovation Corridor on South Jefferson Street has been limited to curbs and sidewalks and streetscape projects like those done in other parts of the city.
Grant funds were used to renovate the old Gill Memorial Hospital as the city’s technology accelerator, Ferris said. And the construction of the Amtrak platform had to be downtown because that’s where state transportation officials and Norfolk Southern said it had to be.
Ferris touts his experience and a common-sense approach that includes fiscal responsibility — something he sees lacking in his opponents.
“I get very aggravated when I hear somebody proposing a project but without proposing how to implement it or how to pay for it,” he said.
Multiple challengers propose expanding the service hours and coverage area of the Valley Metro bus system to aid more people in being able to get to work and being more self-sufficient.
Ferris said he understands that, because as a lawyer many of his clients depend on Valley Metro. “But I’ve also been in the council chair — our current subsidy of Valley Metro is $1.9 million,” he said. Finding the money to expand service isn’t easy.
Ferris’ opponents also have criticized him for being absent in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and anywhere other than the council chamber.
Ferris admitted he doesn’t get to many neighborhood meetings because he has a busy law practice and also serves as chair of the region’s Transportation Planning Organization, but he said he’s in all parts of the city regularly. Since before he was on the council, he’s read to kindergartners at Lincoln Terrace Elementary each Friday. He’s also a major player in organizing the annual Lebanese Festival that benefits his church, St. Elias Maronite Catholic.
On gun control, Ferris said he just can’t bring himself to support feel-good measures that won’t do any good as long as Republicans who oppose more gun regulation control the Virginia General Assembly. That’s why he wouldn’t get behind efforts to win the legislature’s favor to allow the city to limit the open carry of guns in some public places and ban guns from city hall.
But if the make-up of the General Assembly changed to where such measures even had a chance to get out of committee, he would support them as long as they actually benefitted public safety, he said.
“What the public really needs to decide in this election is, are they happy with the leadership that the city has had since Bill Bestpitch and I have been on council?” he said. “And if they’re happy, there’s no reason to make a change.”