Democrats set Ninth District primary, Berry asked to step aside

Published 12:23 pm Monday, December 18, 2023

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Just as Republicans are meeting this week to choose a candidate, Democrats in the Ninth District don’t want to be left out. The Ninth District State Senate Democratic Nominating Committee announced on Sunday that they will hold an unassembled caucus or firehouse primary on Tuesday, Dec. 19 to choose their candidate. 

What does that mean? Democrats will have seven locations where they can go and cast ballots in the Ninth District. To be clear, this is not like an open primary. This is only for Democrats who live in District 9. That covers Charlotte County, along with Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway and Pittsylvania counties, part of Prince Edward County and the city of Danville. If you are a Democrat who lives in the district, you are qualified to show up at one of the polling places and choose who you want as a Ninth District candidate. The primary will be held between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. at each of the seven locations. 

Those seven locations include:

  • Hampden-Sydney Volunteer Fire Department (108 S. Boundary Road in Hampden Sydney)
  • Drakes Branch Municipal Building (located at 4801 Drakes Main Street in Drakes Branch)
  • Kenbridge Town Hall Conference Center (located at 511 East 5th Avenue in Kenbridge)
  • TJM Center (located at 1011 Cluster Springs School in South Boston)
  • Boydton Library (located at 1294 Jefferson Street in Boydton)
  • UBC Community Center (located at 1719 West Virginia Avenue in Crewe)
  • **UPDATE** No longer Frank’s Pizza. The Pittsylvania County/Danville site will be the Greater Triumph Missionary Baptist Church, located at 581 Fairview Road in Chatham.

Why is this happening? 

This election is to replace Virginia State Sen. Frank Ruff, who had been elected in November to the District 9 seat. On Friday, Dec. 15, Ruff announced that he’ll be retiring on Jan. 9, due to his health. 

“Having recently been diagnosed with cancer, and entering into an aggressive and ongoing treatment regimen, I have concluded I may not be able to devote 100% of my focus to doing the work needed in the General Assembly,” Ruff said. “Consequently, I believe now is the right time to retire.” 

The newly elected senator for District 9 said he announced his resignation plan now so that a successor can be elected before the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 10, 2024. 

The Ninth District Democrat race

Now unlike the Republican race, where six candidates rushed to declare in the hours after Ruff’s announcement, the Democratic side has been a bit quieter. 

The first person to announce her candidacy was Ruff’s opponent in the 2022 race, Trudy Berry. A former legal services specialist with the U.S. Air Force, the Victoria resident ran in 2019 for the 61st District seat in the Virginia House, losing to Del. Tommy Wright. She then ran last fall for the District 9 seat, but had to go as a write-in candidate, after a clerical mistake by Democratic officials caused her email to be mistyped on the campaign paperwork, removing her name from the ballot. 

Gary P. Miller is the only other person as of yet to file. The current vice mayor of Danville, Miller also owns and operates a cardiology practice in the city.

“I have been humbled by the outpouring of people asking for me to run for the Democratic nomination for Senate District 9,” Miller said in a statement. “I have decided to pursue this opportunity to serve. As a dedicated public servant and experienced healthcare professional, I believe that I bring a unique blend of skills to address the robust challenges facing our district.”

Berry asked to step aside

Here’s where it gets complicated. Berry says that this weekend after she declared, a member of Virginia’s Democratic leadership asked her to step down. She claims that Virginia State Sen. Scott Surovell, who was recently chosen as Majority Leader for the upcoming Assembly session, asked her to let someone else run for the seat. 

“I am appalled that someone would have the gall to ask me to step down, that Democratic leaders want to pick and choose,” Berry told The Herald. “I don’t understand what is going on in my district.” 

Berry said that Surovell had asked her to step aside in favor of Danville’s Vice Mayor Gary Miller. 

“(The) Senate Caucus selecting their nominee shows that the Byrd machine is alive and well, and now that Sen. Ruff stepped down, they show support for a Dem,” Berry further wrote in a Twitter post. “That a sitting senator, majority leader no less, would ask a candidate to step down from a race is appalling enough, but to ask a female candidate to step down in favor of a man is (well) fill in the blank. Because I can win with party support, just as easily as a man.”

The Herald reached out to Sen. Surovell’s office but had not received a response by press time.