Many members of the area’s Democratic political community were reluctant to discuss the issue, hoping the push to replace Miller would not begin in earnest until she was buried and the respectful period of public mourning passed.
But the informal political network of opinion and insight, two days after Miller’s passing, began buzzing signals and passive “announcements of interest” from various politicians in the Fifth District who were interested in running for the seat.
As a result of the last redistricting, a good portion of the district that Miller represented still rests in Norfolk and now Chesapeake. Because of her energetic fight over court appointments during recent sessions of the General Assembly, the GOP-driven redistricting process removed parts of Miller’s district out of Virginia Beach.
On Monday (July 8), elite Black political figures in the area, out of respect for Miller, said they would wait until after her funeral before announcing who they would line up behind solidly. So there was a tentative list of politicians who reside in the district in Norfolk and Chesapeake whose names are being floated to test the weight of their intentions among their fellow pols and the general public.
That initial list included current Delegates Algie Howell of Norfolk and Lionell Spruill of Chesapeake, and former Chesapeake Councilman Cliff Hayes . But the strength of those intentions appears to be slowly dissipating for various reasons.
An informal poll of Democratic Party leaders in the region by the New Journal and Guide indicates that House Delegate Kenneth Cooper Alexander is considered favored to replace Senator Miller, who was his political mentor and close confidante.
Some of the most powerful Democrats in the region have been lining up in support of Delegate Alexander, say well placed sources with good confidence.
If so, then the next important question is who is being touted as the heir to Alexander’s seat?
Some of the most regarded and knowledgeable members of the Democratic Party elite in Norfolk and around the region are urging former Norfolk Councilwoman Daun Hester to toss her hat into the ring.
One official said that if Hester’s intentions are strong that “ it would be her call to lobby the party leaders to back her efforts to run for the 89th district.”
In a brief interview with the NJG Monday afternoon, Hester said that out of respect to the homegoing services for Senator Miller, she would wait until after the funeral to make her intention. But she said she was “seriously” considering the option.
Hester left council several years ago after a failed effort to run against incumbent Paul Fraim to become Norfolk’s first Black and female mayor.
Alexander, in 2002, with the help of Senator Miller, captured the 89th District House seat which was once held by Jerrauld Jones before he was appointed to the Norfolk Juvenile and Domestic Court Bench.
It is not clear when an election will be held to formally elect the next State Senator for the Fifth Senatorial District or the 89th House District, which Alexander represents, should he run for the Senate.
Delegate Spruill was the only politician of stature, interviewed for this story, who was confident enough to go on the record for this article. He showed his support for Alexander’s ascension to Senator Miller’s seat.
“I think everybody else will finally make their views known, but I think Kenneth is going to the likely candidate,” said Spruill, who has been in the House of Delegates for two decades. “In fact, I have applied for the job as his campaign manager in Chesapeake, which makes up 45 percent of the district. Senator Miller was his mentor, a mother figure politically in many ways, and I have been his political father during his tenure in the House, so he is well prepared.”
Over the years, this reporter and Delegate Alexander have talked about his ambitions and his interest in going into the Senate in the event of Miller’s death or retirement.
Even when this reporter sought to get her to talk about the subject, Senator Miller was always evasive, noting that “I have much more work to do before I even consider retiring and God will determine when He will summon me from my work.”
Alexander noted that Senator Miller has been not only a political mentor, and strong supporter of his over the years, but a surrogate mother.
Early last week, Alexander, whose funeral home handled the Senator’s funeral arrangements, refused to talk about his ascension to her seat or “all the talk on the street about it all.”
“Right now, I am concentrating on making sure that Senator Miller has a good homegoing. Any decisions politically will come later,” Alexander told this reporter.
Alexander, who now owns the three Metropolitan Funeral Services, said several years ago that by age 27, both his parents were dead. He said that his grandmother who raised him, and Senator Miller were close friends. Alexander said Miller quietly played the role of mother and mentor, a fact which dawned on him several years ago when he began to look back at how his career had flowed to where it was then.
When he was 18-years-old, Alexander said he participated in a political program with Miller which may have inspired him to consider a role in public service, especially politics.
“I was 18 and I emceed a program at Antioch Baptist Church organized by its Political Action Committee,” said
Alexander several years ago. “I was very impressed with her and over the years she supported me in so many ways. In 2002, she told me I would run for Jerauld’s seat.”
“Once I won the election, she took me under her wing and groomed and schooled me. We built trust for each other, and I was her point man on many issues if people wanted her views on them,” he continued. ”It took me a while to understand her role In my life. She had no children of her own. My parents were gone. So as I look back, she assumed that (role) as a friend, supporter and mother and a person who was interested in helping me fulfill my role in life and as a public servant.”