Blacksburg’s town elections this year won’t be anywhere near as crowded as neighboring Christiansburg, but there is a contest for mayor.
Mohsen Manteghi is set to challenge current Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith for the seat that she initially won following a three-way race in 2017.
Manteghi’s candidacy was confirmed by the Montgomery County registrar’s office, but the challenger couldn’t be reached for comment for this article despite attempts via multiple channels.
As for the council members whose seats are on the ballot: Incumbents Susan Anderson, Susan Mattingly and Lauren Colliver are each running unopposed.
Hager-Smith, Blacksburg’s first female mayor, was first elected to town council in 2008. In 2017, she won a mayor’s race that also included Hager-Smith’s former council colleague Krisha Chachra and banker Ed Lawhorn.
Hager-Smith said she doesn’t know much about Manteghi, but said: “If it presents an opportunity for dialogue, that’s always a good thing. I look forward to learning more about him and seeing what he has to offer.”
Hager-Smith described Manteghi as “kind of an enigma at this point” as she doesn’t recall interacting with him at any town meetings, other civic events or email correspondences.
As far as issues, Hager-Smith said she’s pushing for continued support of the business community. She said she believes the town has done a tremendous job assisting the business community throughout the pandemic, which she describes as “horrible, horrible time.”
As has been the case with many other localities, the COVID-19 pandemic has financially impacted Blacksburg. Key revenue streams such as the meals and lodging taxes and business licenses are over the near future expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars less than they had in some previous years.
Hager-Smith, however, pointed to the provision of outside funding such as last year’s federal CARES Act and touted what she sees as an almost renewed sense of cooperation between the various agencies in the region to wade through the challenges of the health crisis. She specifically referenced a task force that was formed last year to handle much of the local response to the pandemic and a years-long campaign that helped with plans to return passenger rail to the New River Valley.
“It’s a highly developed sense of regionalism that’s going to benefit us in the future,” Hager-Smith said.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Blacksburg continues to see growth, a fact demonstrated by a number of ambitious developments downtown. Those projects include the long-awaited redevelopment of the old Blacksburg Middle School site and an ongoing Virginia Tech Foundation project on the shopping center property set among Prices Fork Road and Turner, Gilbert and North Main streets.
“We’re seeing a lot of really good development,” Hager-Smith said.
The mayor specifically pointed to the redevelopment of the old middle school site, a project called Midtown. The redevelopment includes the construction of a new town police station and parking garage, each to be paid for and to be owned by the town.
Hager-Smith also touted the town’s involvement in efforts to combat the challenge of housing in the area. She said it’s not just an issue of affordable housing, but of overall housing availability for many in the general population.