By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
The election to determine the next mayor of Norfolk will not take place until next May, but the race for endorsements, cash and political momentum is already underway.
Nearly a month after Mayor Paul Fraim announced he would not be seeking reelection, the electorate and the city’s political elite have been watching to see who will join the list of candidates seeking to replace him.
After 21 years, Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe wants to change jobs and move from his office at the city jail across the city hall plaza to the mayor’s office.
Recently Councilman Andy Protogyrou made his intentions known during a fundraising event showcasing all of the city officials who are throwing their weight behind his bid.
Vice Mayor Angelia Williams-Graves, Council members Tommy Smiegel and Mamie Johnson stood behind Protogyrou, along with Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer and Commissioner of the Revenue Evans Poston.
Some political observers in Norfolk took note that Poston and Schaefer have been long time political allies of Sheriff McCabe.
One high profile members of the city’s political class, who did not want their name used in this article said that McCabe supported Poston’s campaign to oust Sharon McDonald from her seat as Commissioner of Revenue several years ago.
Williams-Graves’ support behind Protogyrou could pull Black votes in his direction.
African Americans are expected to make a significant difference in the upcoming Mayoral contest, and whoever seeks that post will be devoting resources to ensure that support.
In the coming months, the political class will see whether the other Norfolk council members will support someone directly or sit on the sidelines.
In recent interview with the New Journal and Guide. The Sheriff said he was not distracted by the list of high profile political city officials who are lending support to his announced rival.
McCabe said he will formally open his campaign during a similar public event in January. He said he expects to have a strong cadre of high profile civic, church and political figures showing support for his bid, too.
“I think a stronger symbol of support is not the political leaders who will be standing with you, but the civic leaders … the voters who will support my candidacy,” said McCabe. ”I do not begrudge anyone for seeking that kind of support.”
During his tenure as sheriff, McCabe has cultivated, considerable support from people, due to his leadership in the Democratic party, and his use of the resources of his department to support various civic and social activities citywide and especially in the Black community.
But McCabe and Protogyrou are not the only ones eyeing the city’s most visible position of power and prestige.
State Senator Kenneth Alexander has been giving hints at a run. But he has told members of the political class and the media that he would wait until the outcome of the November 3 General Election to determine if he would toss his hat into the ring.
If Democrats should win enough seats to secure control of the State Senate, Alexander may stay in the General Assembly because his seniority would assure him a powerful Committee chairmanship such as Finance.
If the Democrats fall short in the their quest, Alexander may give heavier thought to running for Mayor of Norfolk.
As sign that he made be covering his bets on continuing his political life in Richmond, or coming home to run for mayor of his hometown, Alexander has been quietly lining up support himself, among civic, church and political leadership.
Alexander got a glimpse of the potential level of support for a bid, if he so chooses, on October 24. Alexander was one of the “Impacting Lives In the Community” awardees sponsored by the New Journal and Guide.
Former Councilman and Lifetime Achievement awardee Father Joe Green noted the historic significance of a successful mayor campaign by Alexander.
The same sentiment was expressed by State Senator L. Louise Lucas, also an awardee. Both Green and Lucas drew loud applause from the huge crowd attending the Guide’s event at the Murray Banquet Center downtown.
If Alexander should choose to run and win, he would be the city’s first Black mayor.
Political watchers point out that with the large segment of eligible Black voters in the city, and Sheriff McCabe and Councilman Protogyrou splitting the White vote, Alexander’s chance increases of achieving that major historic and political goal.
Norfolk and Virginia Beach are the only two major cities in the region which have never elected an African-American as mayor.
Like McCabe, Alexander took the same egalitarian view toward those who would support for his cause..
“I would rather stand with the people who are out there standing before me than those politicians who are standing behind and next to me,” said Alexander. “If I choose to run those are the people whose lives I would impact more with increasing jobs, bettering the schools and neighborhoods of this city for them.”
But one of the most interesting aspects of the characters of the 2016 Norfolk Mayoral campaign during the early stages is will the Black political leadership and vote be split between all three or two of candidates.
All three of the candidates have significant support from all channels in the Black community
But the Vice Mayor’s support for Protogyrou over Alexander, signified a significant rift among two of the most powerful political figures in the city.
She has said her stance is not due to any animosity between her and Alexander, “but my efforts are to do the best for the city.”
On one hand, her stand could stir some resentment among Black voters who assume she should support Alexander; on the other, Black voters may follow her to give Protogyrou inroads into securing a portion of the Black political voter.
But if the political efforts of Alexander or Williams-Graves produce the coveted prize, the winner may have created a powerful political operation which may dominate Norfolk’s political landscape long after Paul Fraim has left the field.