New Journal and Guide
Norfolk residents had an opportunity on Tuesday night (April 5) to hear from the three men who are seeking the office of the city’s mayor. On May 3, voters will go to the polls to elect a new mayor, two members of city council, and two members of the school board. State Sen. Kenneth Alexander, Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe and incumbent City Councilman, Attorney Andy Protogyrou answered questions about their platforms, priorities for the city, and their vision for Norfolk’s future under each of their direction as the city’s next mayor. One of them will replace Mayor Paul Fraim, who announced last year that he would not seek reelection.
The candidates’ forum was hosted at the Academy for Discovery, formerly Lafayette-Winona School, by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, Norfolk NAACP, League of Women Voters, South Hampton Roads and Norfolk Federation of Civic Leagues. Questions from attendees were allowed along with prepared questions posed by the moderator, Martha Rollins, from the League of Women Voters. The three candidates aptly responded to questions about city spending, education, neighborhoods, public safety, economy, light rail extension, environment and sea level rise, jobs, housing, mental health, civil discourse and transparency.
Their opening statements set the tone for their platforms which generally centered on two top priorities they each embraced: first was education; and second was public safety. The third priority was linked to overall city development and planning that are needed to boost Norfolk’s economy. Here, the candidates differed somewhat in how each would embrace that need. Calling Norfolk “the hub of Hampton Roads”, Alexander, drove home the point on several occasions that Norfolk must “leverage its relationship” with Richmond and Washington. Alexander, currently a member of the Virginia General Assembly where he served first as a Delegate and now as a Senator, said the city must work more closely with state and federal governments to improve funding for resources and essential services in the city.
Alexander stressed providing incentives for and recruiting new high tech businesses to Norfolk (outside of relying on the defense industry which is the city’s main supplier of jobs). This would be done concurrent with a city workforce development plan to prepare residents to occupy those higher paying “21st century” jobs.He pointed out that of the 120,000 people who work in Norfolk, at the end of the day, many leave the city for nearby cities where they live and pay property taxes because Norfolk has not adequately addressed community housing development.
Sheriff McCabe called himself the “commonsense” candidate who, as mayor, would be Norfolk’s “biggest cheerleader”, interacting with residents and building better relationships. He pointed out the successes he has had in fostering public safety, engaging the neighborhoods, and maintaining transparency at the jail during his 22 years as sheriff. McCabe drove home the need to make the city “business friendly” to attract new businesses and support existing ones. He pointed out the “disconnect” by past and present Norfolk leaders who have focused on business development in the downtown area at the expense of the rest of the city.
McCabe offered as an example that the Oceanview area hasn’t had a new hotel in 30 years. He also cited the gradual business demise over the years of the Military Circle Mall, formerly a thriving business enterprise, and now a shell of its former days. In March, the mall lost the last of its main stores with the departure of Macys. Recently, an announcement was made that the mall’s closed J.C. Penny’s building which the city owns will be occupied by a major mortgage firm.
Incumbent Protogyrou expressed confidence throughout the evening that current council leadership is working hard to ensure all sections of the city are positively impacted by budgetary decisions. He noted that being a good steward of taxpayers money is a job he takes seriously in his current position, and as mayor, he would be positioned to bring heightened leadership to building up the city.
The incumbent pointed out the city is building five new schools that are expected to significantly upgrade student education in Norfolk. On neighborhood development, he noted the city has plans to upgrade and redevelop the Five Points/Norview area where the city will disperse pockets of poverty with new single family homes. On small business development in the city, Protogyrou cited the presence of small business incubators supported by the city, providing free broadband, free rent and other incentives that encourage local entrepreneurial development.