Democrat Jim Hingeley defeated incumbent Republican Robert Tracci in the race for Albemarle County commonwealth’s attorney on Tuesday, according to unofficial election results.
Hingeley’s election capped a contentious race, during which the candidates traded barbs at a series of debates and painted themselves as polar opposites.
As of 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, preliminary results from the Virginia Department of Elections showed Hingeley securing about 56% of the vote.
Hingeley was greeted by cheering supporters at the Democratic election night party at Three Notch’d Brewing in Charlottesville.
Hingeley said he was proud of the team that helped get him elected and that he believes his victory sends a strong message about what Albemarle residents are looking for in their criminal justice system.
“I think the voters of Albemarle showed that they want a voice in how criminal justice is dispensed and that reform is needed in the face of mass incarceration,” he said.
The use of prosecutorial discretion, which refers to the ability of a prosecutor to decide how a case will proceed through court, served as perhaps the largest division between the candidates.
Hingeley, the retired founder of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Public Defender’s Office, campaigned on the idea that a prosecutor should help to address perceived issues within the legal system by employing discretion more broadly than Tracci. Tracci repeatedly rebuffed the idea of using prosecutorial discretion in the way Hingeley advocated, arguing that a prosecutor should not “reform” the law, and should leave that task to lawmakers.
Hingeley has said he saw his campaign as an opportunity to change the way the county prosecutes criminals. He also has suggested the creation of a community advisory council, similar to a group from the public defender’s office that helped create what would eventually become the mental health docket.
Having the community involved in the policy that guides the office of the commonwealth’s attorney is important, Hingeley said in an interview prior to Election Day.
Tracci could not be reached for comment by press time.
Tracci’s term saw office staff entirely turn over since he was elected in November 2015. The number of felony charges also rose during his term, part of a broader trend in Albemarle and Charlottesville over the past decade.
Despite running as a Republican, Tracci claimed that politics do not influence his job as a prosecutor, championing the slogan “equal justice under law.”
During the campaign, Tracci pledged to seek additional enhancement to lawful, judicially approved alternatives for non-violent offenders, including low-level offenders with mental health and substance abuse needs; to expand rehabilitation and re-entry opportunities; and to advocate for legislative reconsideration of cannabis laws.
Tracci, who worked as a special assistant attorney general under the presidential administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, argued that Hingeley’s experience as a defense attorney does not translate to prosecution.
Hingeley, in turn, argued that his 40-plus years as an attorney and his work leading the public defender’s office, and pointed to what he described as “rookie mistakes” Tracci has made.
Chan Bryant, a Democrat, defeated independent Ronnie Roberts to become Albemarle County’s next sheriff.
As of 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Bryant had secured about 60% of the vote, according to preliminary results.
Bryant is the first woman elected to the position. She was endorsed by outgoing Sheriff Chip Harding.
Roberts served with the Charlottesville Police Department for 40 years before becoming chief of police for the town of Louisa.
During her campaign, Bryant highlighted her work in the Sheriff’s Office and outlined steps for programs that would combat teenage drug use and help check on seniors.
Despite running as a Democrat, Bryant has pledged that politics will not play a role in her decisions.
Llezelle Dugger, Charlottesville’s clerk of court, ran unopposed and won re-election.
Dugger, a Democrat, has been in the position since 2012. She previously served as a public defender and as a member of the Charlottesville School Board.
Lonnie M. Murray and Steven G. Meeks won re-election to the Soil and Water Conservation Thomas Jefferson District for Albemarle. In Charlottesville, Joseph W. Thompson won re-election to the same board. All were unopposed. The second open seat on the group for Charlottesville will be determined later.