Mayor Faye O. Prichard won reelection earlier this year (with fewer than 300 votes!) to keep representing Ashland, Va. The town has been unofficially nicknamed The Center of the Universe since the 1980s (probably as a joke, since it’s a quiet college town with more trains passing through than visitors). Even Prichard holds a another job more than 20 miles up the road in Richmond. But with one of the most exciting political stories of the year taking place here, the nickname suddenly fits.
After David Brat, a professor at the town’s Randolph-Macon college ousted Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary this week, the town (and college) is now home to the two candidates currently running for the seat. Prichard isn’t exactly thrilled, but as the woman in charge of the town, she’s getting herself prepared. Below is an interview edited for length and clarity.
Washington Post: What are some of the stresses that come with all of a sudden actually being the Center of the Universe?
Faye O. Prichard: First of all, we’re always the center of the universe, every single day whether that happens or not. A lot of it is you guys. I’m delighted to see you or else I wouldn’t be here. We’ve had major candidates come into town and sometimes the crowds it draws can be very divisive. A candidate who was here not long ago, someone shoved me in the street in front of traffic to try and get to the presidential candidate. We want people to see what Ashland is all about, but it can get a little overwhelming when people are here.
WP: Has the town seen anything like this before?
FP: We have a somewhat exciting political history. A little more than a dozen years ago we had the giant war of whether the Wal-Mart could come here or not. I hate to bring up bad news, but we were the sight of a D.C. sniper shooting. We have seen what it’s like when hundreds and hundreds of press descend on us like they did back then. So those are sort of the negative highlights, but that is not what we are about.
WP: What’s the town like normally?
FP: The town has been here since 1858. We’re a railroad town. We have 50 trains a day that go right through the center of town. The railroad travelers are very integral to what we do. Most of the visitors we get here are, some that drive from hundreds of miles away, come to see our train station and watch our train. It’s not that we don’t see a lot of visitors we do see a lot of visitors. They just don’t usually arrive en masse.
WP: Up until now you’ve had one of the most powerful people in Congress representing you. Is it a big loss having Cantor head out the door?
FP: No. Honestly, we’ve had relatively little interaction with Mr. Cantor. I can’t say we’ve had negative interaction but we’ve had relatively little. Mr. Cantor has frankly not had a lot of public meetings in our part of the world. No, I don’t think that changes much for us.
WP: So what’s with the nickname? What makes Ashland the Center of the Universe?
FP: Because we are.