Democrat J. Chapman Petersen would like the voters to send him to Richmond as Virginia's next lieutenant governor. But the candidate said yesterday that he doesn't want to spend too much time in town.
Chapman, a state delegate from Fairfax County, proposed shuttering the lieutenant governor's traditional office space near Richmond's corridors of power and opening six regional bureaus across Virginia.
"I just want to get it off the state Capitol campus and out of downtown Richmond and make it more accessible to people," said Petersen, who is competing with three other Democrats for the party's nomination in the June 14 primary. Two Republicans are running in their party's primary.
"What I'm trying to do is completely reorient the position of lieutenant governor and take it out of its somewhat ceremonial role."
Petersen said his plan does not involve the lieutenant governor's cubby office near the state Senate chamber. The lieutenant governor's main job is to preside over the state Senate and break tie votes.
Petersen said he would close the lieutenant governor's main office, located in one of the state government's major buildings at 900 E. Main St., in favor of the six regional offices. The lieutenant governor's budget is a relative paltry $312,000, and Petersen said he would look into obtaining donated space for those new offices.
During the renovation of the Capitol, scheduled for completion by 2007, the lieutenant governor will have a temporary work space near Capitol Square.
Petersen's plan drew criticism from four other candidates running for lieutenant governor. Several called it a ploy to get headlines two weeks before the primary. A fifth candidate, state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell), said he thought the idea wasn't bad.
"I'm not opposed to doing something like that," Puckett said. "Whether we have enough money is another question. But I would and have certainly talked about opening an office in [my home area of] southwest Virginia."
Sen. Bill Bolling (Hanover), who is vying for the Republican nomination, said the lieutenant governor could be accessible without the cost of opening six offices.
"There are a lot more important issues facing Virginia than this, and if this is how Mr. Petersen plans to solve the problems facing Virginia, then his campaign is in a lot of trouble," Bolling said.
Democrat Leslie L. Byrne, a former congresswoman who is running against Petersen, said Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine managed to visit every school district in the state without opening more offices. Kaine is the Democrats' candidate for governor.
"Even with donated space, you have to have staff or a sign," Byrne said. "I don't know why you can't listen to people across Virginia without additional offices or staff."
The campaign staff of fellow Democrat Viola O. Baskerville, a delegate from Richmond also in the race, doubted that the move would be cost-effective even with donated space.
"This type of release is exactly the thing that desperate candidates put out at the end of a campaign on a slow news day," said Baskerville's campaign manager. B.J. Neidhardt.
Republican candidate Sean T. Connaughton, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said the lieutenant governor should concentrate on the workings of the Capitol rather than on touring Virginia.
"The whole office needs to be focused on Richmond and getting Richmond to be facing the challenges of the commonwealth," he said.
Petersen called his plan a common-sense idea. "I expected my opponents to be dismissive," he said.
Staff writer Chris L. Jenkins contributed to this report.