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Van Yahres stresses education in solo race

Although he is running unopposed this former tree surgeon is still energetically campaigning throughout the 57th district, trying to make sure voters understand his position on the issues he feels are important.

For Mitch Van Yahres, a Democrat from New York who has been involved in Virginia politics since 1968, the uncontested election for his seat in the General Assembly has given him the opportunity to draw attention to public school education and Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III's (R) attempts to increase state control over higher education.

Van Yahres, who has served as a delegate for 18 years, said he has somewhat mixed feelings about running unopposed. Although campaigning is more straightforward, the public only hears his opinion on the issues he feels are important, and is left with no choice, he said.

"Obviously the campaigning is easy, but since there is no opposition, the public has no choice as to the candidates," he added. "They have to accept my philosophy only."

However, lack of opposition has not stopped Van Yahres from campaigning and highlighting his ideas about both primary and secondary education.

Gilmore's involvement in higher education hits home at the University, where Van Yahres said Gilmore has sometimes exercised too much influence over the governor-appointed Board of Visitors.

"Governor Gilmore makes people march to his tunes," he said.

Since his term began two years ago, Gilmore has been attempting to control the cost of college tuition. He has made moves to allow the state to review fundraising information from private Foundations.

"The Board of Visitors essentially were foot soldiers for the Governor," Van Yahres said. "The atmosphere is strained because they are afraid to speak out."

He said he believes that a more centralized government where individuals are not "bent to the will" of the Governor would benefit everyone.

In addition to his concerns about Gilmore's politics, Van Yahres said education for younger children is another one of the issues he feels strongly about.

Van Yahres said a child should not have to "play catch-up" as far as schooling is concerned.

"Only 60 percent of at-risk children are helped in the schools," he said, noting that this is a figure he wishes to improve.

Van Yahres spent his own childhood in Long Island, New York. After graduating from high school, he joined the Army and served in the United States Army Air Corps from 1944 to 1945, and shortly thereafter attended Cornell University. He studied science in agriculture and majored in Botany.

In 1949, he moved to Charlottesville and earned a living working as a tree specialist. It was in 1968 that Van Yahres first became involved with local politics. He became interested in an issue concerning low-income housing and decided to run for City Council.

Van Yahres ended up serving on the Council from 1968 until 1976, and in 1970 he served as mayor for two years. Recently retired from his job as a tree surgeon, he now serves as a consultant, perhaps because of the satisfaction he got from this line of work, he said.

"Meeting people" was probably the greatest joy, although "saving old trees, and big trees," and the aesthetic and environmental aspects of his work were very satisfying to him as well, he added.

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