By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Mayor Paul Fraim will not seek another term, clearing the way for the election of a new mayor of Norfolk, for the first time in 20 years.
“I have been involved in the civic life of Norfolk for four decades. I have served on the city council for nearly forty, the last twenty as mayor,” said Fraim, during a press conference last week at the Slover Library. “I have run in, and won straight elections. Each time I have received the generous support and confidence of the voters.”
Fraim’s exodus came as a surprise to civic and political leaders of all stripes who expected him to take at least one more lap around the political race track before the 65-year-old lawyer retired.
Fraim did not reveal any specific personal or other reasons for choosing not to seek another term. But he spoke to welcoming a new wave of political voices and personalities to step forward to lead the city he has served for some four decades.
“I am encouraged in my decision by knowing that there is a talented, eager, younger generation here that also cares deeply about Norfolk and is prepared to guide the city’s directions,” he said. “By making this statement now, it will allow for candidates waiting in the wings to declare and to articulate their visions for the future of the city.
“Elections are about the future and this one will be.”
Already Sheriff Bob McCabe has announced his intention to run for mayor next May.
Last week, State Senator Kenneth Alexander said he filed papers with the state election committee for a political action committee. He is expected to announce his official entry into the race in the coming days.
One potential candidate mentioned by the political network across the city is current Councilman Andy Protogyrou, who represents Ward 1 on the city’s governing panel.
If Alexander should enter and win, he would become the city’s first African-American mayor. Virginia Beach and Norfolk are the two largest cities in the region and Virginia which have not elected a Black mayor.
With Fraim’s announcement, there could be some significant rearranging of the political deck chairs in the city’s power structure.
There will be jockeying for seats of power not only on Norfolk City Council, but legislatively.
Traditionally, the city’s racial political protocol has granted the vice mayor’s slot to an African-American.
If McCabe or another White candidate should win the mayor’s job, the current Vice Mayor Angelia Williams-Graves or another African-American may maintain that spot.
But if Alexander should win, then it remains to be seen if a White member of council would ascend to the vice mayor’s post, based on seniority.
Senator Alexander is still on the upcoming November 3 ballot to run for his current seat in the Virginia Senate.
If indeed he should run and is elected mayor next May, then there would be a scramble for his Senate seat, perhaps, by an existing House member who lives in the 89th District that Alexander represents or some other ambitious civic leaders.
In the aftermath of Fraim’s decision, voters and the members of the business and political class of the city have begun assessing Mayor Paul Fraim’s legacy.
The Guide talked to several Black civic, religious and political leaders for their views.
One common thread of judgment conveyed by those who responded to this reporter’s questions on his legacy was commendation for Fraim’s ability to navigate and lead a city with a racial and political divide during economic and demographic changes.
The one issue Fraim and Black leaders have differed over has been the charge that his administration failed to provide ample policies and programming in the predominately Black neighborhoods and business corridors of the city.
Once Fraim exits from council, 5th Ward Councilman Paul Riddick, first elected to the panel in 1992, will have the longest tenure on the city council.
He and Fraim have been both allies and rivals on many issues over the years. But in the recent years, council-watchers have noted a more consistent form of cordiality between the two
“He had many accomplishments,” said Riddick. “Paul’s legacy as mayor would be based on the strength of his leadership politically.
“Also his even-handedness, recently, in spending and directing resources to varied parts of this city after devoting so much time to downtown which he helped to revitalize.”
Riddick continued, “If there is a down side to that list of accomplishments, it is his inability to secure regional cooperation on light rail. If so, we would have been farther ahead on expansion and acceptance of it.”
“He did have his share of enemies and friends,” said Vice Mayor Angelia Williams-Graves. “I think a lot of people like his leadership style in seeking to bring back downtown and using resources for the neighborhoods as well. At the same time, he made Norfolk a regional power.”
In recent years, the Fraim-led city council has managed to weather the storms battering the city’s majority Black public schools system which has been struggling with leadership and grades of students on state performance tests.
Next May, while the voters are choosing Fraim’s successor, they will be choosing the first wave of elected school board members.
Currently, the council chooses members of that panel. But there are those who have found a silver lining even related to this controversial part of Fraim’s tenure.
Betty Potts is the Chair of the City’s Democratic Party, a job she will be giving up in January.
“I commend him on supporting the city’s public schools,” said Potts. “I really commend him on supporting the construction of and renovation of schools, especially in the city’s south end.”
Norfolk NAACP President Joe Dillard, who said he has high regard for Fraim’s political and leadership skills, said Fraim’s economic development thrust in Black neighborhoods could have been pursued more strongly.
“I wish he could have reached out to experienced and highly respected Black business people to devise a strategy for helping to develop parts of the Black community which really need it,” said Dillard. “I wish he had used the expertise at NSU to develop viable plans as well.”
Imam Vernon Fareed, who lives in Park Place, is one of those who has been critical of the Fraim-led council for its inability to foster economic development in inner city areas like the one where he lives and works.
At the beginning of the year Croaker’s Spot Restaurants of Richmond will open a franchise in the main business corridor of his Park Place neighborhood on 35th Street.
Fareed, long concerned about the lack of economic development in the area, worked with the restaurants’ owner and developer to get the project moving.
At one point, the Imam said, the city was claiming credit for the plan’s evolution. But a letter to the city required city leaders to reinterpret that role and cast a greater spotlight on Fareed and other community leaders.
“The city and the mayor eventually began to get on board,” Fareed said. ”We have received grants from the economic development department and other assistance. It showed his (Fraim’s) interest in helping to develop all of the city not just downtown.”
Rev. Anthony Paige, the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church Lambert’s Point, said that he and Fraim have had a fair share of contention and consensus over the years on the vision for the city.
The two, he said, are still at odds on the plan to build a football stadium on the Lafayette River, which Paige said would cause a “traffic nightmare.”
“There was no one he could not talk to,” said Paige. “You can’t be a good leader if you can’t do that. I admire his intellect and his visions. I think his list of accomplishments would be quadrupled if he had benefited from regional cooperation in the area.”