“It’s been a good minute,” says Joe Dillard, Jr., as he sits in Café Stella in Ghent, having found just enough time to take a short break from campaigning.
He’s referring, of course, to the amount of time he’s thought of running for office. That good minute of thinking about it ended in February, when he announced he would be seeking the Democratic nomination to run for the Virginia House of Delegates, representing the 89th District, which includes western and central Norfolk. Dillard will face Jerrauld “Jay” Jones as his opponent on June 13, the day of Virginia’s Primary Elections.
When asked about his platform, Dillard wastes no time in naming his issues. Among the most important of those issues is education. Dillard notes that per pupil spending is 20-30% less than in Northern Virginia, with Norfolk spending $11,000 compared to $14,000 in Northern Virginia. With 30,000 students, that translates into a $90 million differential. Access to higher education and revitalizing vocational education are also issues of high importance, stresses Dillard, noting that Norfolk’s Vocational Technical Institute is outdated, and Norfolk could be better served by refurbishing a bigger space, such as the current Lake Taylor High School, and converting that into a new technical institute. Dillard also named increasing the minimum wage in Virginia as one of his priorities, eventually to $15 per hour.
The biggest theme of Dillard’s campaign, he stresses, is his focus on grass roots support. “We have never been held accountable like I want to be held accountable,” said Dillard. He also focuses on the need for politicians to have more of a social media presence, and emphasizes that constituents should be able to make comments.
Dillard was born In Richmond, but has lived in Norfolk for as long as he can remember. He’s a product of Norfolk Public Schools, attending Camp Allen Elementary, Northside Middle School, and Granby High School. Since 2013, he has worked for Hampton Roads Transit, first as a government affairs liaison, which is essentially a lobbyist, and currently in External Affairs. He attended Norfolk State University for both undergraduate and graduate school, majoring in political science, and earning a Master’s Degree in Urban Affairs and Public Administration.
But for Dillard, his job at HRT is really just where he gets started, as far as community involvement. He currently serves as the President of the Norfolk NAACP. When elected to that position in 2013, he was the youngest person ever to become a chapter president. He also serves as the Vice President of the Virginia NAACP, Vice President of the Greater Hampton Roads Black Democrats, Outreach Chair for the Norfolk City Democratic Committee, and as an advisor for the Hampton Roads Young Democrats. On top of that, he is an active member of his Masonic Lodge. Last year, he attended the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, which he credits with giving him a “bird’s eye view of issues impacting the whole Commonwealth of Virginia,” and also preparing him for his campaign, by teaching him that “running for office is scary as hell.”
Dillard credits his father, Joe Dillard, Sr., as his biggest inspiration for his political ambitions. His father worked numerous different jobs to provide for him and his four siblings when he was growing up in the Titustown section of Norfolk. “To see him work so hard to feed five children, and keep education at the forefront, it was a great thing he inspired me to do.”
As far as campaigning goes, Dillard has said he has faced lots of obstacles along the way. “Certain people told me that I needed to wait my turn, or that I’d be blackballed. But it’s the grass roots that keeps me in the game. If you’re running for office, and just rely on political endorsements, you might want to reconsider. That’s a roller coaster. But the community, they’ll always be true to you if you’re true to them.”
And it is the grass roots experience and his resume of community service that he says separates him from his opponent, Jerrauld “Jay” Jones.
“I’m naturally an introvert,” says Dillard. “This has been one of the scariest experiences of my life. But it has also been the best experience of my life, without question, based on all the people I’ve met. If you can survive the first six days of this, then you can do it.”
And with that, Dillard’s time to talk is up. He has a lot more doors to knock. June 13, Primary Day, is approaching fast.
For more on this candidate, here is his Facebook page.