Monday, May 22, 2017

Local Politics

Often a member will come to the floor of the House of Representatives and deliver a speech that focuses on an event or figure of importance to them.

Recently in the case of  Congressman Robert Scott of Virginia, he stood before his colleagues to honor someone who has been a very loyal and supportive figure in his life and career.
“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to a remarkable woman who has dedicated the last 40 years of her life to serving the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia–my friend, closest adviser, and Chief of Staff, Joni Ivey.”

Three days later, after packing  up her office and bidding farewell to staff members, old and young,  Ivey retired.

Ivey  and  Scott have been inseparable figures working from the halls of the state and federal legislatures of power seeking to support and help  people and institutions.
The two were active in the Newport News civic and political affairs before they met in  1976.

Scott, the son of Dr. Waldo Scott, a physician and a mover and shaker in  the elite circle of political and  civic power, was groomed in the same community service spirit.
He is a Harvard undergrad  and a graduate of Boston College Law School.

Ivey, the product of blue collar parents, grew up in  the Newsome Park community of Newport News, one of seven children of Willie and Carnetta Ivey. She graduated from Carver High School in 1971, the last graduating class of the high school which served Blacks during Jim Crow. She attended Christopher Newport University and graduated from Norfolk State University.

One of her first summer jobs was at King’s Department Store in 1968, during a heady political time, nationally and locally.

These two offspring  from varied economic and social classes  joined forces to support and serve their community.

Their paths crossed while working for her pastor, Rev. W. Henry Maxwell, who was running for city council.

Ivey was  in her 20s and had cut her teeth in Newport News’ Black grassroots politics  by  “dropping” campaign literature  for Jessie Rattley on the door step of neighbors when she ran for city council and mayor.

Ivey said Rattley, Thelma Crittenden and  Madam Annie B. Daniels, who recently passed, were  a trio of role models who inspired her civic activism and “invested so much  into young people,  including me.”

Carver High now wears the name of Crittenden Middle School.

Maxwell lost his bid for council, but later  won seats in the  state House of Delegates and Senate.

A year  later, the political bug bit Scott, who made his first run for Virginia’s House of Delegates. Impressed with Ivey’s work ethic and approach with people, she was hired  to run his campaign headquarters,

He won the June 1977 primary and then the November election, and she joined his staff doing various administrative and political jobs.

For Scott, there was a Senate race in 1983,  and a decade later, a successful run for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Scott was the first African-American  elected to the Congress from Virginia after Reconstruction.

Ivey was the second African-American  Congressional Chief of Staff from the Commonwealth. Norman Sisisky hired the first.

“I did not like D.C.  When Bobby won, I moved to Capitol Hill,” she recalled. “I moved in, drove  back home to pick up something and returned to discover I had a break in.

“I told  the Congressman and Larry Dillard   this would not work for me. I wanted to go back to Newport News,” she said.  “They  looked at me like I was crazy.  They convinced me to stay. A year later I had another burglary. So I started coming home  every chance  I could.

“Finally I was allowed to just stay in Newport News and commute to D.C., if needed. I  loved my work.  But I felt better when I was coming down (Interstate) 395 to 95 to 64 to home.”
As Chief of Staff,  Ivey coordinated and managed the work of the Congressman, hired for the D.C office  and various other positions.

Much of the work by a staff member in the district    involves constituent services. This includes resolving issues related to Social Security, health benefits, veterans affairs,  and other programs of Uncle Sam.

Also, there is the task of coordinating with cities, educational, military and other institutions on policy or funding.

The Third Congressional District is still majority Black.

It has  643,478 people  and once stretched  from Portsmouth to Richmond, and pulled in cities such as Norfolk and Newport News Hampton and Petersburg  and had three district offices.

Now the district is concentrated in Hampton Roads,  including the Peninsula, Norfolk, Portsmouth and slices of Chesapeake  and Franklin and Yorktown.

There is only one district office in Newport News, but the staff logs endless miles and hours driving through it, serving the inhabitants.

Just as important, according to Ivey, is that the Congressman or staff representatives  attend events around the district, to show support, listen to ideas and concerns of  constituents.

“People love  seeing Bobby and see him all over the place,” she said. “When he could not attend,  I was a stand-in,  talking and listening to people at small or big events. People were glad  to see us; it meant a lot to them. They can look you right in the eye and ask for help.”

While she did not like  Washington,  D.C. that much, she did like rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful and  of course,  trips to the White House.

“Before Bobby was in Congress, he took me along to an event hosted by President  Carter,” Ivey recalled. “I was worried about what to wear and say.  When we arrived the President was dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans.  I was relaxed. I adopted the motto ‘never sweat the small stuff.’”

“The last event was the Obamas’ last (Christmas) holiday party,” she recalled.  “It was very real at that point for us and Obama.”

Ivey could not point to any “lows” during her tenure as Chief of Staff of the Scott  operation.

“We just worked every day on the issues we knew were vital to  Hampton Roads, that is military, the shipyards and the schools and programs to help  the challenged,” Ivey said.  “We  also worked for issues for people in adjacent districts like (Republican) Rob Wittman.”

The Chiefs of Staff  of the Virginia 11-member congressional delegation are supportive of each other, Ivey said.  Whether conservative, liberal, Democratic or Republican, they leave their political differences at the office.

“We worked for  Bobby, a Virginia gentleman,” she said. “We believed in work and outcomes  based on facts and figures  not personalities and name calling.”

But as most people with her energy and love of  community, Ivey said she does not plan to ride into the sunset and find some charming place to watch the world past idly.

“I am going to stay busy. I am going to work  in my church  (Ivey Baptist Church), of course, and the community,” she said. “I will volunteer at the free clinic and, of course, I will be helping Ralph (Northam) in his campaign.

“I will still be working for the party.”

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

Special to the Guide

Norfolk School Board Chairman Rodney Jordan says a new report on the adverse effects of reduced state funding for schools is must reading for anyone interested in public education.

Norfolk Public Schools is among six Virginia school divisions analyzed in a report on the adverse effects of reduced state funding for schools.

The report concluded that the ability of the six divisions has been  significantly impacted due to    reduced state funding since the recession.

The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, an economic and policy research organization, in its report said Norfolk Public Schools and other divisions had  to  eliminate  teachers and instructional specialists. This action has placed increasing responsibilities on teachers, reduced critical support positions such as school counselors, not kept pace with the changing language needs of students, eliminated student clubs and shortened after school programs, and allowed facilities to deteriorate and fall into disrepair.

The funding reductions, according  the report, has   weakened the ability of school divisions to provide  day-to-day operations and forced schools to cut back on critical education positions and programs.

The divisions have been forced to make these decisions in order to balance their budget as the state reduced financial support.

Chairman Jordan said, ”This brief by The Commonwealth Institute is must reading for elected officials, policy makers, parents, and business leaders. Investing in our public schools and students matters if we want high paying jobs, growing regions, and a strong Commonwealth with a vibrant economy.”

In addition to Norfolk, the report summarizes findings from focus groups with teachers and administrators in Brunswick County, Fredericksburg City, Richmond City, Rockingham County, and Wise County.

“These experiences from instructors around the state show that years of the state cutting corners to balance the budget has finally caught up with teachers and schools trying to do more with less,” says Chris Duncombe, a policy analyst with the Institute and co-author of the study. “This is not a recipe for success.

In Norfolk, state support has fallen 15.3 percent per student since 2009 in real dollars. Today, the division has 306 fewer teachers than it did in 2009.

Overall, Norfolk has over 500 fewer staff in its schools than in 2009.

Meanwhile, the number of English learners has more than doubled, increasing by 669 students since 2009.

The report endorses proposals from Virginia’s Board of Education that would undo some of the harmful cuts made during the recession and ensure Virginia schools have adequate staffing for critical positions such as principals, assistant principals, school counselors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, and other support staff.

In the report, an administrator in Norfolk expressed concern about the general cleanliness and upkeep of school buildings, “You want the kids to go into a nice, clean environment. It’s hard to do that when you don’t have enough staff to … just literally clean … and do those things that keep the building up.” He said that custodial staff are forced to “hit the high spots” rather than doing a thorough cleaning of the facilities. Lack of upkeep has led to infestations of insects and rodents in some of the schools, including a problem with cockroaches in one of the cafeterias.

According to the report, mold is of such concern in Norfolk’s Historically Black Booker T. Washington High School, “That teachers are now writing to [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] … That is how bad the mold is in that building,” explained one Norfolk administrator.

The full report, Demonstrated Harm: Cuts to School Funding Are Impacting Virginia Classrooms, is available online at

Chef Jamie G of Bowie, Md., has been added to the line up of personalities who will be “throwing down” in the upcoming Celebrity Chef Throw Down charity event on April 8, 2017. The event is an outdoor celebrity cook-off that is pitting news teams from stations WTKR and WVEC in cooking competition to benefit the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.

Chef Jamie G specializes in creating upscale comfort meals for entertaining. With 20 years of food service experience and 7 years of professional kitchen experience, she also has appeared on Food network cooking competitions.

Previously announced, Celebrity Chef J Ponder, media correspondent, Paula Beckett and the Jones Family along with Charmisey Events, are sponsoring the “Celebrity Chef Throw Down” from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. on the property of a private estate. Ticket costs are $40 and $45 the day of the event.

Only one news team can dominate and bring home the title of BEST COOK! Teams will create several dishes using only ingredients provided in a mystery basket. Each team has a set amount of time to work their magic before the judges cast their votes. In addition, there will be live entertainment, a cash bar, silent auction and heavy hors d’oeuvres, so bring your appetite.

Confirmed personalities include WTKR’s meteorologists, April Loveland, Dominic Brown, traffic reporter/co-anchor Kristen Crowley, WVEC’s anchor, Andre Senior, meteorologists Timothy Pandajis and Iisha Scott. Sponsors will announce special guest judges the day of the event.

Beckett says, “This type of event has never been done before in Hampton Roads. My vision was to build a dynamic team to bring my vision alive. So I partnered with celebrity Chef Jacoby Ponder and Shannon Gibson, Philanthropist and owner of Charmisey events to help me put together a wow factor event.”
For more information, email

A week before her death in the summer of 2012, State Senator Yvonne B. Miller held her last political meeting. Instead of sitting at a table in an ornate office, she conducted it as she lay in her death bed.

Throughout her career in the State Senate, Miller worked with and mentored Senators L. Louise Lucas and Mamie Locke.  Miller was a pioneer.

Miller, an educator, was the first Black woman elected to the House of Delegates and State Senate.

According to Lucas, Miller knew the sun was setting on her life and career at that point.  But, she wanted to be assured that Locke and Lucas, who had emerged as political brokers in the state legislature’s upper chamber, stayed focused on pursuing legislation for the poor, supporting public education and bolstering civil rights for all.

“There are so few of us (African-American women) serving in the General Assembly that it is critical to our individual and collective success that we work together and support each other,” Lucas told a GUIDE reporter.

“Senator Miller was my mentor. There was nothing that she would ask of me that I would not try to do for her.

“As for the instructions she gave on her death bed, I have tried, as best I can, to follow, and I think I have done well.”

Lucas recalled that when she and Janet Howell arrived for their first session of the Senate in 1992, Senators Yvonne Miller and Jane Wood were the only women serving in the chamber at that time.

Their arrival made a total of four.

 By contrast, there are 10 women elected to serve in the Senate today. Lucas and colleague Howell are the two longest serving women in the body.

As Miller mentored and supported her, Lucas is sharing her wisdom and experience with younger lawmakers. She is also seeking to be a leading voice on issues and policies that affect constituents in the 18th Senatorial District and the Commonwealth.

Ambitious, assertive, blunt, effective, prickly, and in tune with the issues of her constituents are qualities which have been used to describe Senator Lucas.

After 25 years of serving in the Senate, Lucas has accrued a respectable level of seniority. The longer a member serves in the Senate and on any committee, they gain seniority and a chance to chair that committee.

 Lucas served as Chair for Senate Local Government and Senate Education and Health when Democrats were in the majority. There were, however, White senators with less seniority who acquired the “plum” seats on the powerful Senate Finance Committee before either Miller or Lucas.

Despite the 21-19 Republican majority in the State Senate, Lucas and her fellow Democrats managed to rebuff most of the draconian proposals for legislation submitted by their GOP counterparts this year. Among her legislative/budgetary victories this year, Lucas secured $1.7 million each year for three years to compensate the City of Portsmouth for lost personal property tax revenues due to transfer from private to public state ownership as part of the lease for the Virginia International Gateway.

Again, passage of her annual Casino Gaming legislation was defeated this year.

Lucas said although the legislative session has ended, the work of constituent services is ongoing and drafting legislation aimed at improving the quality of life for the people of the Commonwealth continues year round.

“It is unreasonable for me to expect a victory on every issue, major or minor,” Lucas told a GUIDE reporter, “but every year I go to Richmond and work to fight, whether I win or lose.”

Each session, and in every day she serves as a public servant, Lucas says the spiritual voice of Yvonne Miller follows her around as she moves about the halls of power in Richmond and elsewhere.

“Yvonne Miller and I were fighters but she was a spiritual warrior,” said Lucas.  “She was patient and I try to follow her example, but I am a bit impatient and a bit more assertive in dealing with my colleagues when I am trying to achieve a goal for the people I am elected to represent.”

Lucas is not only a successful lawmaker, but a successful businesswoman, too. She said there are two factors which have guided her: preparation and determination.

“I believe, however, that no matter how prepared you are, you have to be determined,” said Lucas. “You have to be if want to win.”

In a White male-dominated legislature, “my biggest frustration is the lack of consistent support for issues advanced by African-Americans,“ said Lucas. “Yvonne Miller revealed that to me when I arrived in the Senate.  Also, there are times when you will not receive credit for your work. You can propose legislation and get it shot down. Then someone else the following year introduces the same Idea and is accepted.

“That is very frustrating!,” said Lucas.

Sen. Mamie Locke, who was first elected to that body in 2003, said about Lucas, “I think her legacy is that she speaks her mind.

No one ever has to question where she stands on issues or where they stand with her.”

Locke continued, “Another factor is that she is effective.  During the last redistricting, there were voters in some rural areas who fought against losing her as their Senator. She knows how to take care of her district.”

Lucas was not born with a silver spoon in hand. She was born in Portsmouth’s Douglass Park, which is near the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, an area which fostered a middle class community for Black families.

Her parents bought a home in Cavalier Manor when she was 16-years-old where she has lived all of her adult life. Currently, she resides in the Crystal Lakes Section of that neighborhood.

Lillie Louise Boone Lucas’ path to her current position has been an example of overcoming economic limitation and underestimation fueled by a desire to show both obstacles could be overcome.

She attended the segregated Portsmouth Public School System before receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree (cum laude) in Vocational-Industrial Education from Norfolk State University in 1976. She also received her Master of Arts Degree (magna cum laude) in Urban Affairs with a concentration in Human Resources Planning and Administration, also from the same institution in 1982.

One of the first jobs she landed was in 1967 as an Apprentice Shipfitter at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY), becoming the first Woman Shipfitter four years later. She also served as Engineering Draftsman and Naval Architect Technician.

Lucas later became the Command Federal Women’s Program Manager at the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANTFLT) and Equal Employment Manager at the Supervisor of Shipbuilding Conversion and Repair (SUPSHIP).

In 1984 Lucas used her network of business and civic interests to be elected the first Black woman to Portsmouth City Council.

In 1985 she was appointed Interim and then the next year, Executive Director of the Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project (STOP, Inc.), a job she held until 1992.

From 1992-1994 Lucas served as Congressional Liaison for Sponsored Programs at Old Dominion University. From 1994 – 1998, Lucas was Assistant Professor, Department of Academic Affairs and Special Assistant to the Vice President for University Advancement at Norfolk State University.

She is President/CEO of Lucas Lodge, Lucas Transportation, Portsmouth Day Support Program and Southside Direct Care Provider organizations operating in The Lucas Professional Center located in Portsmouth.

In 2000, with the death of Congressman Norman Sisisky, Lucas sought to become the first Black woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress from Virginia, representing its Fourth Congressional District.

She came within 4 percentage points of beating Republican Andy Forbes.

In 2008 Lucas led an effort to develop a hotel and conference center in Portsmouth, but plans to build the facility and establish a viable Black commercial presence in downtown Portsmouth was denied.

Her daughter, Lisa Lucas-Burke, now sits on Portsmouth City Council.

Mae Breckenridge Haywood, President of the African-American Historical Society of Portsmouth, said, “I think she has a remarkable legacy because she is an example of someone who worked her way from working in the shipyard, while attending school and raising a family,”

She continued, “If there is any one to compare her with, it’s Shirley Chisholm.  She was ‘unbought and unbossed’,” said Breckenridge-Haywood.  “She is outspoken. When she raises her voice on any issue, it sticks because of her credibility and leadership.”

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

Jerrold Jay Jones

Two representatives of Norfolk’s millennial generation have launched campaigns to run  for the  House of Delegates seat  being vacated by incumbent Del.  Daun Hester, who plans to join the race for Norfolk Treasurer Joe Dillard, Jr., the current President of the Norfolk Branch of the NAACP and Jerrauld Jay Jones, a lawyer, have  announced their intentions to run for the 89th House District seat.

With 22 precincts, the  district  is the only one which covers all of the city of Norfolk,  from the southside’s  Berkley section to Rosemont to the Larchmont community.

Both of  the men are in their late 20s and have not run for political office before. But both have organizational and family links to the  political culture and machinery  of Norfolk.

Over the past couple  of months, Jones and Dillard have been courting  the voters at churches, civic group meetings,  cultural events and  other venues where they could cultivate support.

One intriguing aspect of this race be watching to see if one will get the nod from the Black political network.

Jones is an undergraduate  of the College of William and Mary, with a double major in Government and History. He obtained his law degree from the University of Virginia and  began practicing law in Norfolk.

He was an associate with Goldman Sachs where he focused on risk management and rating advisory.

In 2002, he stepped down to accept an appointment by Governor Mark Warner to serve as the Director of the Department of Juvenile Justice for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In his press release announcing his candidacy, Jones noted his grandfather, Hilary H. Jones, Jr., a lawyer,  is deemed an early  pioneer in the Hampton Roads Civil Rights Movement. He  became the first African-American appointed to the Norfolk School Board and subsequently the State Board of Education.

Both of Jones’ parents are longtime public servants and currently serve as judges in Norfolk. His father, Jerrauld C. Jones, served eight terms in the House of Delegates representing the 89th District.

Dillard, born in Richmond and a resident of Norfolk since age 6, is a member of both the Norfolk and Portsmouth Democratic parties. He holds a  Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Political Science from Norfolk State University and is currently enrolled in NSU’s  Graduate Program with the concentration in Urban Affairs.

He was appointed to the Norfolk Mayor’s Commission on Poverty Reduction;   Elizabeth River Tunnel Crossing; Community Advisory Board Norfolk Public Schools; and the  Eastside Community Development Corporation.

In 2014, Dillard became youngest NAACP Branch President in the nation, after serving briefly as the branch’s 2nd Vice President and Interim President.

At the State level, he is the Co-Chairman for the Virginia NAACP Resolutions Committee and  Region 7 National NAACP Credential Committee Member. He is a member of the Oakwood Civic League  in Norfolk.

The mostly Black  89th House District is one of the most economically diverse in the state.

It stretches from Berkley in the city’s  south end, eastward to Rosemont and Oakwood  and westward to include parts   of Norfolk’s Larchmont community.

When asked about  the major issues which will be addressed during the campaign leading up to the June 13 Primary,  improving Education, Economic Development and Public Safety were at the top of both candidates’ lists of priorities.

Both are interested in job growth and in criminal justice reform, and they support  reentry programs to  help ex-felons  re-acquire  their voting and other political rights after returning to their communities.

Dillard, the youngest Worshipful Master of his Prince Hall Masonic Lodge, is a member of Mount Gilead in Norview.

Jones, a member of the ODU Athletic Foundation Board, is a member of the Basilica of St. Mary in Norfolk.

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

Anthony Burfoot

Norfolk Treasurer Anthony Burfoot has been suspended from his duties without pay by order of Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Everett Martin. The  judge issued his 11-page decision based on a petition filed by Attorney Ron Batliner, a Norfolk lawyer.

Burfoot’s suspension began at 5 p.m. Monday  Feb. 20 and continues to April 21, three days after  he will be sentenced on six federal counts of corruption while a member of the Norfolk City Council.

The judge’s decision came two days after he had presided over a hearing on Feb. 14 on  the merits of Batliner’s petition.

Burfoot, who is appealing his convictions, could resume his duties if a court overturns the convictions.

His attorney Andrew  Sacks immediately filed an appeal of Martin’s order and asked for a  “Stay.”

The corruption charges against Burfoot were filed a year ago, and there were eight counts.   But after a month-long trial, a Norfolk federal court jury found him guilty on six in December.

Since then he has refused to resign.

The judge’s decision was met with applause by his critics, and with  some skepticism from Burfoot supporters who said the charges and the sentence were not justified.

Efforts by his opponents to push him from the Treasurer’s office have been ongoing and even the Norfolk City Council voted on a non-binding and symbolic resolution calling for his resignation. Burfoot is an independently elected official and not  under the panel’s supervision.

In his order, Martin wrote that if Burfoot were not suspended, the citizens of Norfolk would be continuing to pay his salary although he had been convicted of  “Crimes  of Dishonesty.”

The judge agreed with Batlinger’s position  that  Burfoot’s continued presence in the seat  and drawing a $164,000 salary would  further erode “the trust the residents of the city of Norfolk have that honest men and women administer their government.”

Batliner  filed his petition as a citizen  and not as a lawyer. He has announced that he will run against incumbent Norfolk Commonwealth Attorney Greg Underwood. He is currently working in the  Norfolk Office of the Commissioner of Revenue.

A special account is being set up to house Burfoot’s salary. If  he should win during the appeals process, it will be turned over to him.

Burfoot, who is being replaced by the chief deputy city treasurer, was elected the city’s first African-American Treasurer in 2013 after serving on the Norfolk City Council. Burfoot had served as Vice Mayor until he moved over to serve a dual role as Assistant City Treasurer before being elected City Treasurer.

Because most of Burfoot’s illegalities that led to his convictions occurred while he was on council and not Treasurer, he could stay in office until all of his appeals are exhausted in the state and federal courts.

However, Attorney Batliner used a state law which allows for the suspension of an official convicted of a felony.

Judge Martin said he could impose Burfoot’s suspension quickly because  the Virginia Code says officials convicted of felonies in a federal court can automatically forfeit their posts  or stay in office and exhaust all of their appeals in court, as Burfoot is doing.

Sacks called the decision “premature” because no federal judge has imposed sanctions nor sentenced Burfoot yet.

The leaders of the  Norfolk Citizens  Recall Committee (NCRC) which collected over 7,000 signatures early last year calling for Burfoot’s ouster via a city court, said they were pleased with the Martin decision.

Norfolk residents Bob Brown, Max Shapiro and John Wesley Hill are the  three members of the NCRC’s steering committee calling for Burfoot’s recall from office. The recall effort currently is on hold until May after Burfoot is sentenced in April.

Hill said the trio worked in coordination with Batliner who used  the strength of  Virginia Codes related to  misconduct and suspension   of officials: 24.2-231 and 24.2-236.

Hill said if Burfoot is sentenced on April 17 but is still free after April 21 when Judge Martin’s suspension order expires, his recall group will  go to court on May 7 to petition for the recall to be heard in Circuit Court.

But Hill and  his group hope that chapter in the Burfoot saga will not be  written.

The City Treasurer’s job is up for election this year and several people have thrown their hat into the  ring to succeed Burfoot, including current State Delegate Daun Hester.

“We are not surprised at the court’s decision,” said Hill, a former Norfolk Police officer and leader in the Norfolk NAACP. “We are just concerned that it was delayed. This should have taken place  last May.

But the special prosecutor said the laws were too vague and broad.

“Now that he (Burfoot) is suspended, I think the people of Norfolk will feel better because they have lost all respect and confidence in him. This was a step forward. But it was too long.”

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

Last November voters  in Portsmouth denied then Mayor Kenneth Wright another term and replaced him with former city manager John Rowe. Many said they hoped an era of group cooperation and peace would arise, having witnessed an often rocky relationship among council members.

Recently,  the council held its first retreat as a body tasked to move the city forward under its new Portsmouth mayor and new and continuing council members.

But City Councilman  Mark Whitaker, a close ally of Wright’s, was not  ready to join  his colleagues in their team building moment.

Whitaker boycotted the retreat,  he  said, to symbolize his belief that Mayor Rowe lacks the “social-consciousness and credibility to lead or participate in providing  vision for the city.”

On February 3, Whitaker released a press statement outlining his reasons for boycotting the retreat. Whitaker listed nine specific reasons for his stand, mostly involving Rowe.

Whitaker highlighted his view that payments Rowe, the city’s former city manager, has received from the Virginia Retirement System are improper and  against state  law.

Further, he said, if the VRA does not recover at least $83,000 of the retirement funds paid to Rowe, the city would be liable.

He questioned Rowe’s role in facilitating the transaction involving the city’s payments of $7 million to the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority to retire the Holiday Inn loan.

Whitaker said  he does not support diversifying  the city’s police and fire personnel in a city which is majority African American.

Whitaker said  the mayor is not a proponent of the “Living Wage,” and he chided Rowe for orchestrating  a criminal investigation of members of the  Portsmouth School board investigated several years ago  for appropriating funds to  expand school  facilities for students.

“There are so many issues which the council under Mr. Rowe will not address,” Whitaker told a reporter for the New Journal and Guide.

“This is due to the ‘Whitelash’  which has taken place locally and nationally. Also, Black ignorance of the  social norm of White Supremacy.”

Whitaker said while the council is seeking to establish a more unified “group dynamic,” the panel’s ability to address many of the diversity,  education and economic fairness  issues facing the panel may be co-opted.

He pointed out that Jaymichael Mitchell, who was arrested for shoplifting $5 worth of goods, was detained in the  Regional Jail and latter was found dead in his cell.

He also mentioned William Chapman, who  was killed by a Portsmouth Police  officer for allegedly shoplifting $50 worth of goods  from a Walmart.

Whitaker said while these two young Black men died for petty crimes, Rowe is allowed to go free for various issues, including the VRS issue.

But during a telephone interview with the Guide on February 13, Rowe sought to counter Whitaker’s  assertions which he called “opinions and not facts.”

“The retirement that I receive is for my 30 years of earned service prior to becoming Deputy City Manager of Portsmouth and later as City Manager of Portsmouth,” Rowe said in a statement he supplied to the Guide on Feb. 13.  “Portsmouth did not contribute even one dollar to the retirement that I receive.”

Rowe continued by saying, “Both contracts were developed by the City and signed by all parties in good faith years ago. One contract is almost 12 years old and signed by the current City Manager (Patton) who was Deputy City Manager in 2005, and the second was provided to me nearly five years ago and signed by the former Mayor Kenny Wright in 2012.

“However, the matter is now between VRS and me to resolve,” said Rowe said.

Rowe also refutes Whitaker’s charge that he was involved in the City’s paying $7,000,000 to the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority for the retirement of the Holiday Inn loan because he was not working in Portsmouth.

“On January 8, 2008, while I was serving as Deputy City Manager of the City of Portsmouth, I told the then City Manager Ken Chandler that I would leave the City at the end of April 2008,” Rowe said.   “This was a public announcement, and the whole City knew that my last day with the City of Portsmouth was April 30, 2008.  I did not resign or leave ‘abruptly’ as alleged by Dr. Mark Whitaker.”

Six months  later,  he said the  Town Council of Windsor hired him as Interim Town Manager.

“The Town’s previous Manager was retiring the end of June 2008 after serving as the Town Manager for 12 years, and the Town Council hired me to be its Interim Town Manager,”  he continued.

“As Interim Town Manager, I was fully immersed in running the Windsor municipal operations, and I had no interactions with the City of Portsmouth. Consequently, I was not aware that Portsmouth had developed and signed this October 31, 2008 agreement with the Greater Portsmouth Development Corporation.”

Rowe submitted a document, dated  October 31, 2008  which was an “agreement, six full months after I left the City of Portsmouth, the then Portsmouth City Manager Ken Chandler signed this contract in which the City agreed to pay $7,000,000 to retire the loan on the Holiday Inn. The then City Attorney Tim Oaksman approved the form and legality of the agreement.”
Rowe said he was disappointed that Councilman Whitaker did not attend the retreat with  his colleagues.

He said the city has devised a four-point vision for its future, including creating a  poverty taskforce  to attack and end the problems “as best we can.”

Rowe said on education, council wants  to reverse the fact that only eight of the city’s 19 public schools are fully accredited  and wants to develop a community wide strategy to reverse that trend. He said that effort will begin Feb. 27 when the council will meet with the school board to approve its budget and outline  plans on its vision for the future in that area.

He said the plan calls for reform in the city’s  ordinance system from  its current “form system” which has been an impediment to recruiting and  retaining  job creating businesses in Portsmouth.

Rowe said that  in 2008 the city eliminated its Marketing and Tourism Department and the current council  will work to revive  it.

Rowe countered  Whitaker’s contention that he was not for diversity and civil and social justice and does not carry his concern for  the “issue on my sleeve.”

He pointed out when he was City Manager for Emporia/Greenville, he received a citation  from the local NAACP  in 2003 for “fighting for Freedom  and Justice for all.”

And from the city’s Oak Grove Baptist Church, he was cited for his “dutifulness  to justice and equality and use of  his “resourcefulness in development  and growth of Emporia/Greenville.”

Rowe said he had no knowledge of and was not involved in the Grand Jury Investigation of the city of Portsmouth School Board over allegations related to funding that “was not returned”   to the city.

Before last November’s elections, Blacks had a 4-3 majority on council, with Wright as Portsmouth mayor.

Now there are four White and three Black council members, including Portsmouth Mayor Rowe who may determine the deciding vote on the panel now if the voting is along racial lines.

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

Lawmakers use the U.S. Census 10-year head counts to determine  the boundaries of local,  state and U.S. Congressional voting districts representing thousands of voters who elected them to office.

It’s called redistricting. But, some see the process as subject to gerrymandering because it is controlled by the state legislature, and the political party in control of the legislature has a political advantage.

In Virginia, since the mid-1990s the Republican Party has controlled  the redistricting process. Today the GOP owns a 66-34 majority in the House of Delegates and a slender one in the Senate 21-19.

This is typical across the South. The Republican party has invested funds and rhetoric into drawing borders for voting that have sought to make White Democrats extinct in the U.S. House, Senate  and state legislatures.

Currently there are 32 GOP-controlled state legislatures compared to 12 for Democrats and six which are split.

In Virginian, Republicans control seven of the 11 U.S. House Districts.

The GOP party lost one of the seats when a federal court redrew  the 4th Congressional District. A suit filed by Black voters claimed  it had been racially gerrymandered to give an advantage to White Republicans.

That suit allowed Democrat Donald McEachin to now represent the 4th District in the newly convened U.S. House of Representatives.

Unless state Democrats mount a successful run to reduce or overcome the GOP dominance in the 2017 and further elections, their rivals will control the process in 2021 and their erosion of power will increase.

But a counter campaign  which has considerable bi-partisan support is gathering steam to create a state non-partisan  commission to redistrict the political voting districts.

Recently, Hampton Roads Mayors Kenneth C. Alexander of Norfolk and Will Sessoms of Virginia Beach hosted a community forum entitled “Gerryrigged” at Virginia Wesleyan College with the redistricting advocacy group, OneVirginia2021, to demonstrate support for the campaign.

“I participated in the process that enabled legislators to help draw their own districts…(choosing)  who gets to vote for them,” said Mayor Alexander who is a former state Senator. “Even  with the best intentions, we were apt  to draw those lines for political benefit. I better understand this now so that’s why I’ve joined the movement.”

Brian Cannon is the Executive Director of OneVirginia2021.

“People want to know why the system is not serving them well  so far as ethics or issues,” said Cannon.  “Hopefully the legislators will see the growing support  for these reforms and take action to  create a fairer system.”

For the past two and half decades, proposals have been submitted during the Virginia General Assembly session to achieve that goal. But each time the legislation is aborted and not even given a potentially life-saving vote in either house of the legislature, Despite pressure being brought to bear by this new campaign during this legislative session, similar legislation may meet the same fate.

In 1992,  Democratic State Delegate Kenneth R. Plum of Reston, sponsored one of the first bills to take the process of redistricting out of the hands of his colleagues,
Instead, Plum’s and other bills sponsored by his colleagues promoting this idea have died in committee.

Delegate Plum hopes this will be the year that lawmakers will adopt his bill,  creating a non-partisan commission, a third group that is  not connected with either the Democrats or Republicans.

If successful, redistricting in 2021 will not be done to  ensure the incumbency of  Democratic or Republican lawmakers and thus giving one party control over the legislative future of the state.

“It’s had such strong support from both sides of the aisle over the years,” said Plum.

“People  from both parties thought it was a great idea to give the people more voice and not the politicians. But the bills never got  out of committee, died and most voters did not know about it.  Both parties, over the years, have  wanted to protect their legislative and Congressional seat majorities and they killed those bills.”

According to recent polls, over 70 percent of state voters want the redistricting process reformed.

When the Virginia State Legislature convened on January 11, 2017, two bills were entered calling for an independent Commission  to perform  the redistricting process sponsored by Democratic Delegates Plum and  Rip Sullivan of McLean.

As of last week, according to Plum and Democratic party operatives, the bills were still stuck in the GOP controlled House  Rules Committee.

A Democratic party  media spokesman said that the bills will come up for a vote on January 29.

Democrats and other supporters of the measure have been lobbying House Speaker William J. Howell to coax Republicans on the panel to send the bill to the floor for a vote.

A letter sent to House Democratic Leader Delegate David J. Toscano noted that after the last election cycle, Americans increasingly “believe our system is ‘rigged’” in favor of the powerful.

“Constituents want to know where we stand on re-districting reform and the only way they can find out is if we have a floor vote,” said Toscano. “A system that gives incumbent politicians the power to pick their own voters and draw political opponents out of districts is undemocratic and unacceptable. Voters should choose their elected leaders – but in Virginia, the opposite is true. Since both parties have been guilty of gerrymandering, both parties must fix it. I call upon Republican leadership to send these two amendments directly to the floor.”

Cannon said currently four states – Arizona, California, Hawaii and Idaho – have set up non-partisan and independent commissions. Eleven others have some form of third party apparatus  used to draw post census voting districts.

The size of the panels vary, among those four commissions from five in Idaho to 14 in California.

Cannon said none of the commissions are manned by  elected officials. State officials, such as the Secretary of State or director of the Department of Elections,  and  others from the two respective parties who hold no political office,  are chosen by the Governor and legislative leaders.

Cannon said in Virginia, supporters of such  a commission envision at least a five to seven-member panel.

Also, if the outcome of the panel’s work is deemed unfair or flawed, there will be an option for “vetoing”  it and seeking corrections via legislative or judicial revision.

Delegate Plum said supporters of redistricting reform  are optimistic that Republican party  leaders will heed to bipartisan pressure.

He said if the legislation is not adopted, then the courts may step in and force the hand of Republican party leaders.

In 1981, an election year, Virginia Democrats controlled the redistricting process.  They shut out Republicans and Blacks in the process until the federal court  and the Department of Justice ordered them to draw districts to increase the number of Blacks (12) and Republican seats in the House.

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

Norfolk’s City Treasurer Anthony Burfoot could get at least 100 years in prison for activities related to his time as a city councilman and vice mayor.

But for now, Burfoot and his attorney Andrew Sacks will be waging an appeal from his  federal convictions, and Burfoot is back on the job as City Treasurer. The position is a state constitutional one, and state law says a convicted  official cannot be  pushed from  office until all appeals have “expired” or been used  before the respective courts.

On December 9, after only five hours of deliberations,  a jury found Burfoot guilty of six of the eight charges he was tried for in a federal court in Norfolk.

Federal prosecutors persuaded jurors during the five-week trial that Burfoot  sold his vote to developers  who sought  access to projects and other favors while he was serving on the  Norfolk City Council from 2002-2013,

In exchange Burfoot acquired over $400,000 in cash and other gifts, including cars and  materials to rehabilitate one of his homes.

While the  Burfoot trial did lay bare some very damning revelations about  his illicit activities while on council, the Black community’s reaction to the convictions has been mixed.

Facebook and casual conversations with  people once close to  Burfoot and those who only know him via the media, range from cold damnation and calls for him to step aside  to sympathy for a Black leader “scapegoated” by rivals via a vast conspiracy.

There have been some positive mentions of his efforts to revitalize parts of his ward while on council (Ward 3), especially, the Broadcreek community, his lobbying to build the Kroc Center to Norfolk, and the hiring of people from his community for city jobs.

“There  are a lot of questionable behaviors on his part, but why are the  White  developers who have been making millions  off the process not given the same attention and sanctions, “ said one Norfolk resident who agreed to talk on the  condition of anonymity. “I am sure there are others who the feds should  looking at, too.  I am believing that Burfoot is just a scapegoat to divert our attention.”

On the other hand, there are those who say the trial was an embarassing mark on the Black community’s leadership and abuse of powers  to enrich themselves when there are so many poor people they represent.

Another Black person took a different tact; he, too, did not want his name used for this article having known Mr. Burfoot for years.

“I don’t think race has anything to do with the outcome of this case,” the person said. “Burfoot was arrogant, careless and greedy. He claims he had to make a living. You do not do it this way, at the public trough. Most disturbing, he took advantage  of one of the few minority firms which was asking for his  help. He shook them down for thousands of dollars. It’s like something you see on the Sopranos (an HBO drama  about New Jersey mobsters)  not community service.”

Efforts have been renewed by the Norfolk  City Recall Committee  (NCRC) which has been seeking to remove Burfoot from his treasurer’s job. The process was delayed to allow the criminal trial to proceed.

John Wesley Hill, one of the NCRC leaders, said his group is  looking forward to January 6, when a Circuit Court session will convene to address the situation.

His group collected more than 7,000 signatures from Norfolk residents calling for  a recall trial to allow Burfoot to come before a judge to state why he should or should not be removed from office.

“There will either be a trial where he will  have to make his case to stay in office or a hearing to delay. We don’t know right now,” said Hill.

Hill said he and other members of the recall  committee have been lobbying state and local political officials to help build pressure on Burfoot to step aside.  Hill went before the Norfolk City Council meeting on December 13 to  explain the committee’s positions and to urge members to address the issue.

Two  Norfolk City Council members, Tommy Smiegel and Andria McClellan, had called earlier for Burfoot to resign and led colleagues in an 8-0 vote to do the same at the council meeting. But there is very little the Norfolk City Council can do to force Burfoot from office, since it has no constitutional control of his office.

“Burfoot has laid open the fact that corruption is ripe in this city. And people want something to be done about it,” said Hill.

At the heart  of the federal prosecutors’ case was Burfoot’s associations with three developers.

In exchange for his vote of support on various projects, it was revealed during the trial that  Burfoot received over $400,000 and bribes and other material gifts from developers  Dwight Etheridge, Tommy Arney and Ronnie Boone, Sr.

One of the most damning revelations involved $56,000 Burfoot deposited in a local bank which was not  from salary. Federal prosecutors  linked the cash to Tivest which was given to Burfoot over a three-year period allegedly to  help with the firm’s development  project.

By Lauren Victoria Burke
(NNPA Newswire Contributor)

Reality star billionaire Donald Trump won the presidency in shocking fashion, but African-American candidates also made history on November 8.

There will be a record number of African-Americans in Congress during the time Trump is in the White House. That number will rise from 48 to 52. There have never been more African-Americans elected to Congress in American history.

Kamala Harris of California will be the second African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. Former Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown will serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both Republicans in the House, Mia Love (R-Utah) and Will Hurd (R-Texas) won re-election, as did the only Black Republican in the Senate, Tim Scott (R-S.C.).

Lisa Blunt Rochester was elected to the U.S. House in Delaware. Former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings will also serve in the House. Virginia State Senator Don McEachin was elected to the House in a newly configured seat in Virginia that covers Richmond.

Though there will be more African-American members serving in Congress, the dilemma they find themselves in is obvious: All but three are Democrats who will be serving in the minority in the House and Senate.

Being a member of the minority party in the House is one of the most powerless positions in Congress. It’s the majority that sets the agenda, the hearing schedules, the floor schedule and when the Congress will be in recess.

The Senate is different. The two African-American Democrats who will serve next year, Senator-elect Harris and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) could have some opportunities to influence the agenda moving forward. The Senate will be a narrower 52-48, and the rules allow for some disruption from members of the minority party.

But it won’t be easy. Currently members of the Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate are in a period stunned silence and are not even harping on the fact that Hillary Clinton won more votes than Trump and therefore no Trump has no real mandate.

The Democratic Party in recent years has not been anywhere as militant as the rightwing, who created the so-called Tea Party movement and the “alt-right” to deal with the growing influence of African-Americans and Latinos at the ballot box. Democrats in Congress are primed for a new set of younger leaders to take the place of those who are in their mid-70s and who have failed strategically to win over voters in a country where Democrats are in the majority.

That the Democrats had two candidates over the age of 68 running for the presidency as Republicans fielded a candidate in his mid-40s is a sign it’s time for younger and more dynamic leadership on the left side of the aisle. One of those young leaders could come out of the Congressional Black Caucus, who is soon to elect a new caucus chair.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African-American leadership. She can be contacted at and on Twitter at @LVBurke.