By Jeff Maisey
Virginia Beach restauranteur Laura Habr has long been an advocate for positive change. Over a decade ago she led the effort to ban smoking in restaurants — a bill then Governor Tim Kaine signed into law at Croc’s 19th Street Bistro, the restaurant Laura co-owns with husband Cal.
Habr and Croc’s were also on the forefront of making the restaurant a certified green business. She brought the Old Farm Market back to life by opening the restaurant parking lot up to local farmers and other complimentary sustainable small businesses on Saturday mornings.
In addition to all of these environmental and healthy living improvements for the betterment of the community, Habr — this year’s official First Citizen of Virginia Beach — was instrumental in the creation and running of the ViBe District, the city’s now trendy, popular arts district.
Laura Habr brings these positively community-minded experience with her to the front door of an office — City Treasurer — that is long overdue for modernization and a customer-friendly approach. Endorsements keep pouring in in support of her campaign including Governor Ralph Northam, Senator Tim Kaine, Virginia Beach Commissioner of Revue Phil Kellam, and Senator Mark Warner.
I recently had coffee with Laura to hear why she’ll be asking for the informed votes of Virginia Beach residents on November 5. Here’s an excerpt.
With all of the initiatives you’ve successfully spearheaded it seems to me you’d make a great choice to be the mayor of Virginia Beach, but you are running for the office of Treasurer. Why Treasurer?
It started with a delinquent notice to my business earlier this year. It took me literally down a rabbit hole with phone calls trying to trace down why we were getting this notice, only to learn it was an erroneous delinquent notice and that I was one of thousands of people that received it because the Treasurer’s office didn’t synch their computers up at the end of 2018.
This seat has been held for over 40 years by the same regime, and it needs to be updated and modernized.
I have years of experience for this job for running a small business, starting non-profits, managing hundreds of folks, and an innovativeness I think our city needs right now.
It also needs synergy with the Commissioner of Revenue’s office. That would be better for the citizens.
Our city is in an interesting time right now. There’s a lot of uncertainty with leadership, so this in some small way will help bring new leadership.
I work very well with City Council and also the General Assembly. We need to have somebody that brings a leadership skillset in order to turn this office around.
Do you have a good working relation with the Commissioner of Revenue, Phil Kellam?
Phil and I have a good relationship. Our parents were friends. Our kids have grown up together. He and I have always worked on projects.
When I started the Farmer’s Market and I couldn’t get answers or information from the Treasurer’s office he was always able to step in and show me the way, and help little businesses get setup.
When I started the Restaurant Week for the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association in 2004, I needed numbers to show what the slowest month of sales was. He was helpful in identifying January as the month.
When he was explaining there was this opportunity with the old treasurer stepping out, he endorsed me to run and supported me to bring synergy to his office.
If you are elected City Treasurer, will you promote Virginia Beach as a place that is now more friendly to small business with a transparent, streamlined and modern process?
I think the first order of business will be customer service. If you look at the Google ratings they currently have a 1.7 rating. If you were a restaurant with that rating you’d be out of business.
We’ll also work on modernizing the office. E-billing should be standard. You think it’s happening but it’s not. We need to address that so it is efficient for customers. They won’t have to come in to the office, but if they do they’ll be treated nice and with respect.