The Virginia House of Delegates election made a stop at the University of Richmond earlier tonight during a 73rd district debate in the Alice Haynes Room.
Republican incumbent Del. John M. O'Bannon, who has held the 73rd district seat in the House of Delegates during the past eight years, joined his opponent, University of Richmond professor Tom Shields, during a 90-minute debate. About 150 students, faculty and community members attended.
The candidates fielded questions from moderator Dan Palazzolo, a University of Richmond political science professor, about health care, transportation, education and the economy. Palazzolo wrote eight questions before the debate and audience members submitted an additional eight. The candidates also both delivered opening and closing statements.
Shields, a Democrat and political rookie, said that he supported bipartisan cooperation in the House of Delegates.
"I believe in putting partisan politics aside to get things done," Shields said.
Job creation and education should be the top priorities, Shields said, and the government needs to think long-term.
"We need to reach across the aisle and say what can we do to make the Commonwealth better, not two years from now, but 20," Shields said.
With an established political background, O'Bannon stood by his political record while agreeing with Shields on a number of issues, including the need to create jobs and avoid tax increases.
"I'm running on my record of accomplishment," said O'Bannon, the only physician currently seated in the House of Delegates.
Education, health care and the economy dominated most of the discussion, but issues such as same-sex marriage and energy reform were also addressed.
"Education is the bread and butter of our society," said Shields, who voiced his support for improving Virginia's community colleges to give citizens the opportunity to go back to school.
O'Bannon again pointed to his record when discussing education, citing increases of funding to Henrico County public schools since he took office even during the recession.
After the debate, the candidates joined audience members for a brief reception.
Senior Rasheed Nazeri said he enjoyed the debate for its purpose.
"I'm glad we got a chance to see the candidates side-by-side," Nazeri said. "The voters could understand that Tom gives them something new. He brings the new generation of leadership the district needs."
The audience primarily consisted of local community members, one of whom was Richard Cocke, who lives in the neighborhoods across from campus. Cocke has been a patient of O'Bannon and said he came to support his friend.
"I think he did fine," Cocke said of O'Bannon. "He's been an active member of the House of Delegates for years and being the only physician in the General Assembly, that viewpoint contributes to the discourse."
Cocke also questioned why Shields would run against O'Bannon, who he thought had been successful during his previous terms.
The audience included only a few independent voters, as demonstrated when O'Bannon asked the independents to raise their hands and only a few people did so. One independent, though, supported Shields.
Steve Leibovic, an independent voter from Henrico County, said he had come to the debate to get a better understanding of the issues and see how the candidates interacted.
"I think they both did respectively well," Leibovic said. "They both stuck to their decisions. They didn't hit anything too controversial.
"The debate didn't change my vote and I'm currently voting for Shields. I just favor the way he feels on the issues."
The two candidates will meet several more times during the coming months before citizens of the 73rd district, which includes parts of Henrico County and Richmond City, cast their votes for delegate on Nov. 3.
In the end, both candidates thought the debate was a success.
"When I started this [debate] I didn't think I was going to enjoy it," O'Bannon said, "but we really had a good civil discourse tonight."
Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org