Charlottesville public defender kicks off Commonwealth’s Attorney campaign

Updated: Dec. 18, 2020 at 7:18 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The race for Charlottesville’s Commonwealth’s Attorney is already underway. A new candidate has thrown his hat into the ring for what could be a rare contested race for the position.

City Public Defender Ray Szwabowski officially kicked off his campaign for the Democratic nomination in front of Charlottesville’s Circuit Court on December 18, running on a promise of serious criminal justice reform he says cannot wait.

For the last five years, Szwabowski has worked at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Public Defender Office. It’s that first-hand experience representing defendants that cannot afford legal representation that leads him to this race, because he says he’s seen first hand that change is needed and long overdue. That change starts with ending prosecutions for simple drug possession and the criminalization of homelessness.

“My time as a public defender has shown me that, simply locking people up over and over again is not really addressing those underlying problems,” Szwabowski explained. “What I’m proposing to the people of Charlottesville is that we start getting at those problems.”

Szwabowski is looking to capture some of the magic that propelled Albemarle County’s Commonwealth Attorney Jim Hingeley to the office in 2019. Hingeley was also a former public defender campaigning on reform. Szwabowski says that while Hingeley is a mentor of his, they have not yet discussed this race.

Szwabowski faces a tough road to the seat – one that could lead through a rare primary challenge to incumbent Joe Platania, a fellow Democrat. Platania was elected unopposed in the general elections in 2017, ultimately winning the job with 98% of the vote. Platania’s immediate predecessor, Dave Chapman, faced a primary challenge just twice in a 24-year career. It’s not clear yet whether or not Platania plans to run again.

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