By Randy Singleton
NJG Community Correspondent
Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck conducted this insightful interview with the Guide as Hurricane Isaias barreled through Hampton Roads on August 4. Mayor Tuck, 66, candidly expressed his thoughts on the phone even though he did not have electricity in his home at the time. Hampton’s Mayor is one of three African American mayors in Hampton Roads, along with Norfolk Mayor Dr. Kenny Alexander and Newport News Mayor Dr. McKinley Price. Tuck served on Hampton City Council from 2010 to 2016. He was elected Hampton Mayor on May 3, 2016 and re-elected to another 4-year term on May 19, 2020.
New Journal and Guide: Good afternoon, Mayor Tuck. Thank you for speaking to me after the Hurricane.
What are your thoughts about the 1619 Jamestown anniversary that was celebrated last year in Hampton?
Mayor Tuck: Thank you for having me. I think one of the significant events that occurred during the 1619 event was that the 1619 Project organization discovered around 2008-2009 that it occurred in Hampton and not in Jamestown. I thought that the event was spectacular. For a number of people, it was a sense of healing. We finally had a sense of understanding of where we started from in this country. Before this, we really had no sense about our beginning.
I have tried to do DNA research. I’ve gotten on Ancestry.com because I wanted to find out more about my origins in this country. And I think this happens for a number of African Americans. We come together in this one space and have our history actually celebrated.
Some people asked, “Why would you celebrate slavery?” It was not a celebration of slavery in as much as it was a celebration of our ability to survive and thrive and show amazing resilience. So here we are 400 years later.
Today, when you talk about these monuments and other things, people say you are trying to erase history. No, history is permanent. People try to omit history, which is what happened to us, or they revise history, such as the “Lost Cause.”
So, to see all of these historians do all of this research to show we have a beginning in this country that we can point to, I think this is significant in itself.
NJG: Mayor Tuck, is there anything you would like to say about the signing ceremony held in Hampton the other week when Gov. Ralph Northam announced the launch of Rebuild VA?
Mayor Tuck: We found in Hampton that there were some businesses that missed out on the original PPE program (Cares Act) that was announced in the stimulus bills. One of the things that we tried to do in Hampton was recreate the $500,000 loan/grant program that was supposed to be a bridge for some of our Hampton based businesses as they waited for PPE funding. We had about 50 businesses that could take advantage of that money; and there were a number of business who were left out so the Governor announced that he was making available $70 million which could help 7,000 businesses applying for up to $10,000.
I know 7,000 businesses across the Commonwealth may not seem a lot, but for the 7,000 businesses who were able to get the grant, it was a tremendous benefit. We were just ecstatic that he chose to announce it here in Hampton in an area (Phoebus) that is known for small business.
NJG: Mayor Tuck, what are some positive developments that are going on in the city of Hampton right now?
Mayor Tuck: We have some economic development projects underway. We just can’t announce them yet. One of the things we can talk about is that we finally have the redevelopment of our downtown. They started doing these masterplans back in 2005-2006. The city bought a lot of land down there, but because of the Great Recession, the city lost a lot of momentum. In 2016, we were approached by this developer, and we finally got the documents signed in 2018. The first building will go up in 2021. When this project is completed, there will be over 700 residential units and commercial and retail space downtown.
Back in the 1970s, when they did urban renewal, they knocked down all of the buildings, so they didn’t have the structures in place that happens in so many other downtowns where people can go in and maybe change the interior and maybe put some fancy stuff on the outside, and basically you have a new business. Here, we didn’t have anyone who was willing to build from the ground up prior to 2016. That is one good thing that I can tell you about.
NJG: Mayor Tuck, what are some campaign goals following your recent reelection that you are trying to accomplish?
Mayor Tuck: I want to keep Hampton safe. I am concerned about the recent uptick in shootings. I’m going to address this at our next city council meeting. We need to invest in our older neighborhoods and many of those are low-income neighborhoods, and we need to make strategic investments in those.
We got our schools 100 percent accredited. We are not sure yet about the effects of virtual learning but we are still hopeful that we can maintain our accreditation. We have to make sure we continue to try to assist our small businesses in their development and expansion.
NJG: Mayor Tuck, what are your thoughts about the activities of the Black Lives Matter 757 movement?
Mayor Tuck: I actually got an email today from the local leader of Black Lives Matter 757 (Aubrey Japharii Jones). He wants to meet with me. He wants to talk. And I would be happy to have that conversation. I have been looking forward to having that conversation. There is a time to march to get attention. There is also a time to sit down and talk about what you want to accomplish.
I don’t want to judge the marching, but at some point you have to sit down with the stakeholders, the community leaders and have those conversations about ‘this is what we are concerned about’ and let’s see what we can do to address those things, so I am happy to have that conversation.