This is the Norfolk that I want to lead as mayor: A Norfolk that continues to grow stronger not only as the business, financial, education, cultural and medical hub of southeastern Virginia, but also as a place infinitely strengthened and nationally renowned for the vibrant civic participation of its diverse citizenry.
An engaged and informed citizenry is a key underpinning to our city’s success as the regional hub and in so many other ways. We must do more to help develop and tap the civic skills and talents of our fellow citizens – from all segments of our community. Our job as city leaders is to be good stewards of Norfolk’s resources, and there is no greater resource than our citizens.
Norfolk’s mayor, as the only council representative elected citywide, can do much to set the tone for constructive civic engagement and to foster a City Hall environment that genuinely and enthusiastically welcomes citizen voices, concerns and ideas.
Here are a few of the citizen-engagement ideas and activities I will advance:
- Create a monthly Mayor’s Roundtable composed of a cross-section of residents and business executives who will bring up concerns and ideas for civil discussion – and who will learn from one another, even as I learn from them. Membership will rotate periodically but with staggered terms for continuity.
- Launch an annual civic fair where citizens can learn about public, private and nonprofit community resources and volunteer opportunities, and also participate in problem-solving workshops.
- Re-establish a neighborhood leadership training program that teaches residents about city government operations, problem-solving, conflict resolution, motivational techniques and other community-based skills.
- Look into how we make appointments to our municipal boards and commissions to see if there are ways to improve the process.
- Conduct focus groups and tap into the expertise of local universities to develop insightful metrics for evaluating civic engagement in Norfolk so we may continually improve.
I will also promote good examples of how we all can listen to each other better and with respect, even when we disagree.
By now, you can tell that citizen involvement at all levels is important to me. I will come to the office of mayor with a lifetime of interest – and successful practice – in reaching out to people, listening to them, encouraging them and helping them turn their ideas into reality.
My notions about participation are rooted in growing up in a blended family that included nine other children. We learned to get along well and to help each other succeed. In this same household, I also saw how relatives, especially my grandmother, reached out to help neighbors and to harness community resources to solve problems.
Having to share so much within our household and community helped me learn to appreciate the talents and accomplishments of others – and to celebrate them. I developed a sense for how networks of people can work together, support one another and be united around a common goal.
Youthful experiences shaped me in other ways, too. I am a successful business owner, and I gleaned the entrepreneurial spirit from my father, including learning how to negotiate, judge talent and work well with people of diverse backgrounds.
In the community arena, I became the youngest president of my neighborhood civic league and expanded my knowledge and skills through serving on several important municipal boards, including Norfolk’s Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority.
I’ve been a member of the Virginia General Assembly since 2002, including four years as a state senator. In the legislature, I’ve usually found ways to work across the political aisles to achieve positive results for our commonwealth.
In these critical times – and for whatever problem – we must work harder to bring people together, not only among those who serve on our City Council but within and across our neighborhoods and schools, our business districts, our nonprofit organizations and our faith-based communities. We must reach out to more people and welcome them when they bring their concerns and ideas to City Hall.
Openness, transparency and honesty in government are essential in our municipal operations. I will fight for your right to know and understand what your city government is doing. And I want my fellow citizens to feel that their voices are heard at City Hall and that their ideas and concerns are seriously considered.
Better schools, a stronger local economy, workforce development, good housing, safe and attractive neighborhoods, environmental protections and improved transportation options – all will be much easier to achieve, maintain and enhance when citizens and City Hall understand each other and push forward together.
I’m excited by the prospects of what we can achieve.