PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Portsmouth voters are about to elect new members for the city council.
Incumbent Bill Moody is a familiar face, having served since 1998. He said he wants to “right the ship.”
Moody said his priorities are fighting crime, making it easier to do business in the city, fixing infrastructure, and introducing trade and technical education programs for high school graduates.
“The ship has been teetering through some bad decisions and some actions that are all too well-known," Moody said. “Working with the new council in January to get back to making Portsmouth stop this embarrassment and these bad decisions and get back to fixing some of the problems that we face.”
Incumbent Paul Battle said despite all the drama surrounding the group, everything he’s done during his time on the council has been for the benefit of residents. He said he has a proven record of success and leadership.
“Where we have a problem, we’re going to fix it," Battle said. "Everybody knows me. They know why I’m here.”
He said he’s active in the community and no stranger to giving back. He’s focused on revitalizing neighborhoods, funding infrastructure projects and creating afterschool and youth programs. He said he’s also committed to lowering taxes for homeowners.
“It will be the first time in the history of the U.S. that a city in a recession is able to roll back the taxes on its citizens," Battle said.
School board member Vernon Tillage is now running for city council.
“It’s time we get new leadership in our city that’s going to serve the citizens with integrity and also leadership that has a vision," Tillage said.
He said thanks to his time on the school board, he understands the needs of the city. He plans to focus on recruiting police officers, investing in education, attracting and retaining businesses, lowering taxes, and rebuilding infrastructure.
“Many of our water systems are about 100 years old, which is 30 or 40 years above the life expectancy for that," Tillage explained. "I refuse to let our city become the next Flint, Michigan, or Jackson, Mississippi.”
Another new name on the ballot is Portsmouth NAACP Vice President Lakesha Onyx Hicks.
“I can advocate for change all I want, but unless it becomes law, we’re just talking," Hicks said.
Her priorities are similar to other candidates - but she says what sets her apart is that she already has boots on the ground in the community. She said she understands legislation, contract negotiation and common sense.
“The truth is that all of us are saying the same thing... public safety, infrastructure, education, economic development," Hicks said. "The difference is that we need to understand the person behind what our priorities are.”
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In the race for Portsmouth City Council, Mark Hugel is on the ballot again this year, after previously running in 2020.
The former Norfolk Naval Shipyard Commander said he’s frustrated by what he’s seeing in Portsmouth and doesn’t want to sit on the sidelines when he knows he can help.
“As I sit and watch our current city council I don’t see them working on the things that I hear our folks in Portsmouth are most concerned about," Hugel said.
He said “everyone has the same concerns:” crime, education, taxes, and infrastructure. He has a five-point plan for public safety that includes better trade and technical education programs for high school graduates.
“The shipyard is currently hosting hiring fairs every month this year and cannot find enough tradespeople to fill the open positions that they have,” Hugel said.
A new name on the ballot this year is retired businessman Ronald Diggs who said he wants to change the direction the city is heading. He said current council members are more focused on themselves.
“People speak well, they talk well, but then they don’t follow up on what they promised the people to get elected," Diggs said.
Diggs also wants to address the issue of homelessness and panhandlers in the city. He said all residents in the city are important and council members must listen to their concerns to move Portsmouth forward.
“Right now they’re clients and we need to find out what they need to be more successful in their lives and get back in the game," Diggs said.
This year will be the 5th time Donna Sayegh is running for city council.
She said her foundation is communication and relationship-building. She wants to help citizens better connect with city leaders and improve communication in government.
“My real focus is on the structure and focus of the city," Sayegh said. “There’s no structure in the city for communication. You have this department, and this department. It’s just not connected.”
Incumbent Christopher L. Woodard is also on the ballot this year. But he and other three other candidates, LaKeesha Atkinson, Nathan Clark, and Sharon Anderson, did not return requests for an interview.