NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Close to 100 people gathered at Zion Baptist Church to hear from candidates vying for a spot in Newport News city government.
Mayor McKinley Price has opted not to seek a fourth term, leaving the office wide open for the four candidates running to take his place.
The mayoral candidates include current city council members Saundra Cherry, David Jenkins and Tina Vick, along with businessman and Marines Corps veteran Phillip Jones.
13News Now’s Janet Roach was the moderator.
First, she asked each candidate how they plan to tackle gun violence in the city. All four said they want to support law enforcement in that fight.
"As the aesthetics of our communities look better, it’s going to keep out some of the crime because a lot of people who do crime, they don’t want to come to areas that look nice."
"We have a real-time crime center right now, we have shot spotters in the south and in the north, as well as a license plate reader."
"We’ve got to have grassroots involvement, we’ve gotta have wraparound services with early childcare development and also mental health available for our citizens."
"We don’t have a sort of internal witness protection program for Newport News. So a lot of individuals who see a crime, they don’t show up because they don’t feel safe. They don't testify, that individual is put back on the street... After said individual goes to prison, they do their time, we need to ensure as a community that we embrace them when they return... and they do not slip back."
When it comes to revitalization in the community, Roach also asked how they plan to make sure that remains fair throughout the city.
"Looking at the best use of being able to renovate properties. As you can see, we were able to win a $30 million grant to repurpose Ridley. That's going to make our area look so much better and to do something that we really need and that is bring affordable housing to our citizens in Newport News."
"Looking to see how we can utilize the properties that we have and build something that’s affordable, something that can be redeveloped and something that would be great for the residents of the city."
"There’s no excuse for not ensuring that every part of Newport News thrives and is successful. We cannot have the luxury of having some areas fail at the expense of others."
"We know we have a finite amount of housing. We know there’s limited resources. That being said, how do we ensure communities have a voice, a seat at the table, that they’re not displaced."
Roach asked the three city council members what they say to people who want to see someone new or more energetic as mayor. On the flip side, she asked 33-year-old Jones what he says to people who say he's too young and inexperienced.
Vick noted she's been a councilwoman for 14 years and having an experienced leader is important. She said she also wants to put some emphasis on revitalizing their waterways and providing some entertainment for young people.
Cherry said with age comes wisdom. She agrees the city needs vibrancy.
"A city to, not a city through," she said.
Jenkins said he's been an advocate for education and he wants to continue to work on things that have long been neglected.
As for his young age, Jones said he has Fortune 500 experience and leadership experience in the Marine Corps. He also noted Price had not served as a councilman before being elected mayor.
When it comes to why people should vote for them, here’s what they had to say.
"I have a heart for the community. I love people and I do want to thank all of you who have believed in me over the last 14 years."
"I want to make sure that we have strong public schools, that we have public safety and that we also have business growth in our community."
"I want us to be prosperous, I want us to be a great city. That starts with the basics. That means supporting our schools, that means supporting our law enforcement to ensure we get crime down."
"Newport News is at a crossroads. There are a lot of challenges that we have to face as a city. But with every challenge comes opportunity."
The crowd also heard from six Newport News School Board candidates: Incumbent Lisa Surles-Law, Jordan Gray, Incumbent Douglas Brown, Andrew Hlavacek, Incumbent Dr. Terri L. Best and Marlon Pendergraft.
They also heard from seven city council candidates: Willard Maxwell Jr. and Curtis Bethany III are vying for North District seat B. Cleon Long, Robert Coleman and Stephen Ferguson are competing for Central District seat B. And school board member John Eley and entrepreneur Yugonda Sample-Jones are squaring off to fill the South District B seat.
The school board candidates discussed things like safety, pandemic learning loss and the master facilities plan.
City council candidates debated topics like revitalizing the city, race relations in the city and where to find money for new projects.
You can watch the entire forum here.