By Al Markowitz
On May 3, Norfolk citizens will be electing a new Mayor. Paul Fraim has led our city since he was appointed to the position by City Council in 1994. We have since moved to elected rather than appointed Mayors. Fraim has been re-elected twice by big majorities.
As Mayor Fraim has decided not to seek re-election, it is time for us to choose a replacement. There are three candidates running: Sheriff Bob McCabe, City Councilman Andy Protogyrou and Virginia Senator Kenny Alexander. It is always important to see who is backing the candidates. I looked for this via “Open Secrets” and the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP). Sen. Alexander has the greatest amount of financial backing. Some of his backers include Dominion Power, Virginia Natural Gas, Verizon, the AFL-CIO and Virginia Beverage Wholesalers. He also has the backing of the Democratic Party, namely US Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, along with Governor Terry McAuliffe, US Representative Bobby Scott.
Bob McCabe has the least financial backing. Some of his backers include the “Right to Rise” PAC – begun in support of Jeb Bush, Bank of America, and Correct Care Solutions — a health care contractor for prisons. Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northram and real estate developers including Raleigh Commons and Oakbrook Commons also have contributed to his campaign.
Andy Protogyrou, like Kenny Alexander, has the backing of the Democratic Party and the AFL-CIO. Other backers include the Virginia Education Association, Pro Choice PAC, Kotarides Developers, and Communication Workers of America COPE.
Rather than reviewing each of their records, which are publicly accessible, I opted to ask them the following questions.
What do you see as the emphasis of your potential mayoral leadership?
Protogyrou: Leadership is defined by vision, communication, competence and the ability to execute. I’ve exhibited a strong track record of leadership throughout my life and especially during my time on City Council. I’m part of a new generation of reformers and doers on City Council who have been in office for a few years and who, under my leadership as Mayor, can transform vision into a reality that moves the city forward. We have added cameras in Council work sessions, a fraud hotline and an online dashboard for anyone to monitor the progress of city projects. I will improve education, expand economic development, advance regional cooperation and enhance our port’s attraction. There’s no place where I can do the greater good for the city of Norfolk than as its Mayor. I have the right aptitude and proven knowledge to achieve what needs to be done.
McCabe: My priorities are to focus on improving our schools, not just talk about it. Meeting with school board members on a regular basis is important. I am very concerned about the increase in violence occurring in the city. We need more police officers. Citizen surveys confirm that it is the number one concern of Norfolk. If fortunate to become mayor, I will retire from my position as sheriff. I am the only candidate able to maintain a full-time schedule as mayor. The city manager will run the day-to-day business of the city. However, I will be in the community to meet with civic leaders and businesses, to stay engaged and hear firsthand concerns and suggestions. Additionally, I will have a weekly live chat and/or radio show to stay engaged with our citizens. Communication and transparency will be paramount in my administration, citizens – feeling safe in their neighborhoods! I will be engaged to make sure public safety has the support and resources needed to effectively prevent and combat violent and property crime in our city.
Alexander: I will answer this question in two parts, my priorities for improving the quality of life for our citizens and my style of leadership. My programmatic emphasis will be on developing and supporting overlapping strategies that attract, create and retain good-paying jobs in Norfolk, that bolster our middle class, help more people achieve middle class and encourage people to live in Norfolk. I also want to emphasize that this strategy is for all sections of Norfolk. These strategies will encompass an array of city services and goals, including our public schools, public safety, workforce and economic development, a range of housing options, safe and strong neighborhoods, multiple transportation modes, a clean and protected environment, and parks and recreation.
As for my leadership style, I will be proactive in promoting an open, honest, transparent, ethical and inclusive government. I will fight for your right to know and understand what our local government is doing. My administration will value and encourage innovative ideas from our citizens as well as city employees. I want to help turn the best ideas – from wherever they come – into best practices. City Hall needs to enthusiastically welcome the participation of Norfolk citizens. Citizen involvement has always been important to me. I got my start in public life that way. I also will work to bring people together and have several ideas, including a monthly Mayor’s Roundtable and neighborhood leadership development. Listening will be a hallmark of my tenure. I also will encourage my fellow citizens to listen respectfully to each other. In that way, we can all better appreciate our city’s challenges and, from that, we can more effectively build upon our successes to create an even greater Norfolk.
Norfolk is particularly vulnerable to the effects of rising seas due to climate change, what is your plan to address this? Would you support efforts to further mitigate coal dust emission in our communities from the Lambert’s Point coal terminal?
Protogyrou: Sea level rise is indeed, a threat but I also view it as an opportunity for economic development that will help further mitigate its adverse effects not just on Norfolk but elsewhere. We’ve been acknowledged by the Rockefeller Foundation as one of the “100 Resilient Cities” in the world. From our joint efforts with State and Federal governments, Norfolk has received $120M to begin flood mitigation. We are one of only three cities in the world – the first in the US – to have a dedicated Resilience Officer. Let’s bring the world to Norfolk to help solve this problem. We can make Nauticus a global center of excellence in resilience and the study of solutions to sea level rise by leveraging the confluence of existing city and regional resources in higher education, innovation, workforce development and technologies. Such an approach also directly benefits Norfolk’s workforce by providing job opportunities in the growing marketplace of threat resilience.
McCabe: Norfolk is second only to New Orleans when it comes to the threat of sea level rise. Flooding is already here. It affects us at any time we have a heavy downpour. Norfolk is a resilient city, and we are one of the few cities that has already hired a resiliency officer. I’m proud of ODU for leading an effort to win a $120 million grant from HUD to help Norfolk adjust to rising sea levels. We will continue to aggressively pursue these opportunities to provide necessary aid for our families and businesses in low lying areas. Good news – Norfolk has a flooding strategy! It includes shoreline buffer projects, berms, rain barrels, permeable pavements, floodgates, etc. I will continue the momentum of these strategies and not let them get mired in bureaucratic red tape!
Regarding coal dust, the concerns are valid, and I will support mitigation efforts in the future. Both the coal terminal and the homes have been in our community a long time. Everyone needs to find an economical way to co-exist.
Alexander: Norfolk already has begun to address the major challenge of a rising sea level. Our work must go far beyond preparing for frequent flooding. Our solutions must include turning problems into opportunities so all Norfolk citizens and communities can benefit, such as through job creation and improvements to our neighborhoods and public infrastructure. We must stay on top of state-of-the-art solutions. Also, let’s always keep in mind that resilience is in Norfolk’s DNA, overcoming major disasters of the past. We must continue to tap into our historic grit and historic to ensure a better future.
I very much support efforts to further mitigate coal dust emission. I grew up in Norfolk’s Berkeley neighborhood, where residents were affected by emissions and loud sounds from at least three major ship repair yards. I have always been very sensitive to the environmental concerns of all neighborhoods.
How would your leadership improve our public schools?
Protogyrou: Norfolk’s schools have a number of positives. As example, Granby High School has been rated by “The Washington Post” as a “Top-5 Virginia State High School” for academic rigor. Ninety-nine percent of our teachers are rated as “highly qualified.” I co-chaired the Poverty Commission where we looked at ideas like a longer school year, with longer days, which was rejected by the General Assembly. So instead, we can focus on after-school programs at schools, community centers and Boy and Girls Clubs. I’ll work for expanded principal autonomy, substantive teacher pay raises and reduced class sizes. We will save an entire generation of children through certified, expanded pre K. We will build a new Madison School, transforming it into a Renaissance Academy, where we provide alternative education. Our Career Technical School is taking on a regional focus, something I requested and got implemented, to teach vital proficiencies, certifications and skills to children who do not choose college as their path.
(Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe)
McCabe: As Sheriff, I’ve formed partnerships with the community in order to keep our children on the right path, and to help people successfully transition back to life after spending time in jail. I launched the Sheriff Bob McCabe Foundation to offer six weeks of free summer camps to keep middle-school-aged children engaged in positive activities, to prevent them from getting into trouble. I also led criminal justice reform efforts, with a volunteer-in-jail program, allowing professionals to teach classes in Norfolk’s jail to help reduce recidivism. We even show weekly Ted Talks inside the jail to inspire people to change how they think and rise above!
As mayor, I will continue to engage our community, especially about our schools. Parents are not always involved in their children’s education, and that’s where our community can help. I’d like to see Norfolk try the community schools model, which is working well in Nashville, Tennessee. Basically, the school becomes the center of the community. After the school day is over, kids stay at the school for wrap-around services, like tutoring, mentoring, sports and even health care services. We can utilize more community partnerships and volunteers to bring this idea to life at minimal cost. Many kids thrive in a regimented environment that they do not get when they leave school grounds.
Currently, more than 60 percent of Norfolk schools are not accredited. City council and the school board must communicate more frequently about the needs of the school system, and we must hold our newly elected school board accountable. We should also raise teacher pay in order to attract and retain the best educators. Virginia Beach and Chesapeake teachers earn about $7,000 more a year than Norfolk teachers. We are losing our best teachers to better wages in neighboring communities.
Alexander: An excellent school system is essential to many of our goals, such as attracting and retaining businesses with good-paying jobs and building middle-class families. Our schools must be safe, nurturing places where our children and teachers can soar. However, not all students should be prepared the same way. For example, we must do more to help non-college-bound students develop skills in emerging, good-paying fields that do not require college degrees.
We must make sure our efforts reach all students. I am very concerned about the impact of poverty on so many children. In Norfolk, 66.1 percent of public school students qualify for free or reduced lunch. This figure reflects the concentration of poverty in our school-aged population. That’s important because the poverty rate is the most significant predictor of performance. Knowing this, we have to work harder and smarter to give all students better options to succeed.
Although the School Board sets policies for our schools, my leadership abilities, experience and resources will help bring about improvements. For a decade, I served on the Education Committee in the House of Delegates. I continue to work closely with the Superintendent, members of the School Board, the Secretary of Education, and key members in the Virginia legislature.
What would you do to improve our economic quality of life, including our community services, public transportation and access to affordable housing and how would you see us working with other cities on these issues regionally?
Protogyrou: We are in a renaissance of economic and business development that is providing opportunity to every citizen to obtain a good job and earn a decent standard of life in areas that encompass more than just downtown. I pushed for Wards Corner development with a $7.25M investment that’s resulting in 700 new jobs and over $22M in private investment. Small business incubation is a cornerstone of prosperity. We have a number of empty, city-owned spaces throughout Norfolk. We’ll provide free rent and free Wi-Fi for a limited period of time to entrepreneurs seeking to start new businesses and will also give those businesses a better, and continued, break from the BPOL tax, something that council has recently approved.
Norfolk is a city that depends on transportation arteries that can be clogged by one accident or heavy rains. Light rail is only one component of a solution to transit woes. I ride the bus and my bicycle. Bicycle paths become an increasingly important component as we attract more people to live in town. A third crossing is a future component that is vital to the city and the region. We have to embrace AMTRAK as a means of transportation within the Hampton Roads-DC corridor. As Norfolk’s port grows, we’ll need to monitor how the trucks that carry containers impact the flow of automobiles. Norfolk’s social and economic success is tied to the interests of other cities in Hampton Roads.
As importantly, the social and economic success of other cities in Hampton Roads is tied to the interests of Norfolk. I will work hard to build and maintain strong bridges among the leadership, governing bodies and municipal offices of each Hampton Roads city because together we can contribute to each other’s success. I support efforts of other cities, such as Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, to expand light rail into a regional system that helps attract new businesses and that serves transportation needs. I have met with leaders in Chesapeake who seek to link their city to ours through light rail. Three routes have been proposed to expand service to the Navy base, ODU and other key nodes. We will rigorously pursue State and Federal funding and grants to build a system that meets the needs of citizens throughout Hampton Roads.
McCabe: We need to diversify our economy to not rely solely on the military and to provide more well-paying jobs to build a strong middle class. We must take full advantage of the Port of Virginia and the jobs that can be created because of global commerce. Additionally, I will work regionally to ensure Hampton Roads has high-speed Internet to accommodate tech-companies that need to process big data, and to improve WiFi service for our citizens.
We should advance and support innovative concepts that lead to small business growth, including ideas like Hatch Norfolk, ODU business incubators and Vibrant Spaces. I know we can offer better services in our community. Let’s promote facilities like The Kroc Center or Boys and Girls Clubs so all kids have a place to go to do something constructive, have fun and feel safe. We should boost parks and leisure services, including activating Town Point Park on non-event days and improving the condition of the Elizabeth River Trail. I’d like to make Norfolk the most “bike friendly” city in Hampton Roads via bike lanes, sharrows, bike racks, maintenance stations and signage.
We also need more access to reliable, public transportation. I support extending the light rail system to Virginia Beach, the Naval Base and the airport.
We need more affordable housing in Norfolk. For more than half of our residents, they have to spend 30 percent of their income on just paying rent. We should offer incentives to builders in order to promote the development of more affordable housing options.
We can come up with solutions and best practices for all of these challenges by working together – regionally! Funding incentives for regional cooperation – such as the recently created Go Virginia! – will help us move in that direction.
Alexander: Improving our economic quality of life is an issue that affects every Norfolk citizen and every neighborhood. As the question suggests, economic quality is connected with other key issues, so we must have well-coordinated, overlapping strategies that involve public schools and adult education, community services, all modes of transportation and the availability of an accessible range of affordable housing options. We must develop a sustainable and adaptable strategy for current residents and also for future generations. For example, our schools must prepare students for good-paying jobs currently in the marketplace and also for emerging jobs, such as in cybersecurity.
Drafting a comprehensive strategy is just a start. Successfully moving it from the drawing boards to the effective implementation will require more than city government actions. We need the involvement of nonprofits, charities, individual businesses, business coalitions, public and private regional agencies and neighboring cities, and incentives from our state government to encourage more regional collaboration on solving problems and enhancing quality of life. Norfolk already is involved with many of these other entities, but we also need to talk more with people involved in delivering these services and the citizens who need them. We need a clearer picture of what’s working well and what needs strengthening.
Also, I have working experience in some of these areas. I served on Norfolk’s Human Services Commission, I led the nonprofit Beacon Light Housing Development Corp., which helped create an innovative community credit union, and I am currently a member of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission. These are just three examples of areas where I have forged good and effective relationships for solving community problems and improving services.
What efforts at police reform do you see as necessary to insure community engagement, transparency, unbiased law enforcement and to address institutional racism? Would you support efforts to implement Department of Justice guidelines including citizen oversight?
Protogyrou: I was approached by mental health advocates to bring the Crisis Intervention Team model, used by other communities, to Norfolk. It’s important that our law enforcement community understand how to recognize and deal with those whom they encounter who suffer from mental illness. Our police now have about 250 officers trained in this model. Our goal is to train an additional fifty officers by year’s end. I have demanded from the city manager a police force that reflects the racial and ethnic makeup of our community; one that also reflects this same diversity in its leadership ranks. We need to build a bridge of trust and confidence between law enforcement and Norfolk’s diverse population. I believe the best way to achieve that is through the substantive and transparent explanation of complaints to our citizens. Other cities have used a police commission model and I believe a study of such a model should be discussed and hearings held regarding its implementation.
McCabe: I support, and will be personally involved in, the existing community outreach efforts by NPD Chief Mike Goldsmith and City Manager Marcus Jones. Both have been heavily engaged with community and civic organizations to include the Norfolk Branch of the NAACP. The Norfolk Police Department is a leader regarding unbiased policing practices.
Citizen oversight of the police department exists today through the City Council. I would like to see our police department’s racial makeup reflect the demographics of our citizens, if possible. We should hire more officers to fill vacancies in the department, with an emphasis on diversity recruiting.
Alexander: I have always supported positive community engagement between the Norfolk Police Department and our citizens since the days I was president of the Berkley neighborhood’s Beacon Light Civic League some 20 years ago. I have been involved with some community policing programs, starting with Norfolk’s original PACE (Police Assisted Community Enforcement) program.
I also recognize that there is a trust gap between some citizens and police. As such, I strongly believe in the need for ongoing, excellent communication between the police and neighborhoods and especially in reaching out to young people. Formal citizen oversight review boards are one method, but there are many other ways to have meaningful citizen participation to improve police-community relations. As U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in February when she released a series of guidebooks on police engagement with diverse communities, “Establishing strong bonds of trust between law enforcement officers and the people we serve is essential to public safety.” We need to work harder on that, but this issue needs to involve more than the police.
Good police work is hard. Most Norfolk citizens understand and respect the challenges. Our citizens deserve to feel safe wherever they live, work or have fun –all throughout the city. They also deserve unbiased police work. So, yes, I very much support unbiased law enforcement, equal justice and transparency in the explanation of police operations (including release of body camera videos) where it does not jeopardize police safety or the security of our communities. The Police Department has worked hard to address bias and racism, and improve sensitivity in cases where citizens with mental health problems are involved. I support continued vigilance, training and innovations to improve even more.
I also want to say that we must stop gun violence and other forms of violence in all our neighborhoods. This requires adequately funding our police department. We also must work harder at all levels of government to better address educational and social supports, especially as they concern poverty and mental health issues. We ask a lot of our police, but they can’t do it alone.