Roanoke’s longtime chief prosecutor, Donald Caldwell, has formally announced he will seek an 11th term of office.
Caldwell, 70, is currently Virginia’s third-longest serving commonwealth’s attorney, behind E.M. Wright, Buckingham County’s top prosecutor since 1974, and C. Phillips “Phil” Ferguson, of Suffolk, who was elected in 1978.
First appointed to the position in Roanoke in 1979, Caldwell won 10 consecutive four-year terms, nine of them as an unopposed Democratic candidate. He split from that party in 2015, to launch a Virginia Senate run as an independent, against Democrat John Edwards, but was unsuccessful.
During the 2017 election, attorney Melvin Hill nabbed the Democratic nomination, and gave Caldwell his first contested race for commonwealth’s attorney. Caldwell prevailed, taking 53.8% of the vote total, with Hill drawing 46.7%, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.
Last month, Hill announced that he is returning this year for a second run at the job, again with Democratic support. There is no Republican candidate in this year’s race.
Although Caldwell verbally confirmed last month he would pursue reelection, his written statement on Tuesday included a list of six responses to the question, “Why am I running?”
Three of those reasons are of a more personal nature. Caldwell said he wants to continue to serve the community, that he continues to enjoy the work, and because he wants to complete unfinished projects, including remodeling the former law library in Roanoke’s courthouse into new, ground-floor office spaces for his attorneys, as well as two special prosecutions he’s handling — a voter petitions fraud case in Virginia Beach, and a police shooting in Bristol.
A fourth motivation addressed his status as an independent, with a barb.
“The City’s next Commonwealth’s Attorney should be decided by the voters, not by a political committee obviously willing to embrace a candidate without scrutiny or question,” he wrote. “The bottom line is: If I don’t run, the position would go to that candidate by default.”
With his fifth and sixth answers, Caldwell drilled down on that tack by specifically calling out his opponent, Hill, for a documented history of unpaid federal taxes from 10 individual years between 2017 and 2006, and a similar debt dating back to 1995. Caldwell raised Hill’s financial issues during the last campaign, and in interviews at that time, Hill said he was on a payment plan to square the debt. But in early 2020, Hill declared bankruptcy and, through that process, was released from about $186,000 in obligations to the Internal Revenue Service.
Hill has since declined to discuss those matters and, on Tuesday, he did not return a voicemail or respond to text messages regarding Caldwell’s news release.
“I would appeal to all voters to put aside partisan politics and vote based upon the most qualified candidate available,” Caldwell wrote. “My opponent’s career is riddled with continuous financial trouble, poor decision making, and disregard for his obligations under the law.”
Although Hill has primarily acted as a Roanoke defense attorney since coming to the city in 1984, the two men have worked together in the past — Hill was as an assistant prosecutor in Caldwell’s office in 1988, and then again from 1996 to 2001.
In addition to his career as Roanoke commonwealth’s attorney, Caldwell is a retired colonel with the U.S. Army Reserve.
Roanoke’s early in-person voting, at Office of Voter Registration, begins Friday and runs weekdays through Oct. 30.
The general election will be on Nov. 2.