When sitting councilman Andy Protogyrou officially launches his campaign for mayor today on the grounds adjacent to Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, he’ll have beside him nearly enough votes to get a whole lot done in Norfolk.
According to a press release, “in company with” Protogyrou will be Angelia Williams Graves, Vice Mayor, Councilwoman Super Ward 7; Mamie Johnson, Norfolk City Councilwoman, Ward 3; and Tommy Smigiel, Norfolk City Councilman, Ward 5. On a council where five votes passes laws and directs funding, to begin as mayor with a coalition of four would position Protogyrou ready to shift the city’s agenda in a major way.
As we watched with Mayor Fraim, who has long held such alliances on city council, stuff gets done under this scenario, but one man can also be entrusted with too much power in a city where a “shadow government” of lawyers and developers still looms large, and Norfolk faces immense long-term threats to its viability. It’s heartening to learn that Tommy Smigiel, a local principal, is in Protogyrou’s inner circle; not only does Tommy live Norfolk public schools, he’s a guy who speaks his conscience.
While finding unity within Norfolk is obviously a key to progress, in our conversation this morning Protogyrou, a lawyer at Protogyrou & Rigney PLC downtown, was most passionate in talking about the untapped potential of regionalism in Hampton Roads.
“Day one I’m calling the Beach city council,” he said. “Let’s have our economic development director give you a briefing, and they give us a briefing. Next day we’re calling Portsmouth, next week we’re calling Chesapeake. At the end of each meeting we ask, How can we help you? And then they ask us the same thing back.”
“That’s a promise,” he said, of arranging meetings between Norfolk city council and the councils of other cities in Tidewater. “Day one.”
On the issue of light rail, Protogyrou said that he would have voted against light rail as it happened, but now that we have it, we have to make it a success.
When asked about the issues facing Norfolk Public Schools–which regularly are graded some of the worst in Virginia, and are a major drain beyond school grounds in terms of tax base lost as parents seek better public schools throughout the region–Protogyrou talked about the need to increase technical training.
“We’re hoping the Career Technical school at Lake Taylor will be the take off,” he said, noting that you also have to let the school board do its job.
From the press release:
Protogyrou has been a long-time advocate of all neighborhoods and communities, and has served on the Mayor’s Ocean View Task Force, the Greater Wards Corner Task Force and as Co-chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Poverty. Protogyrou has been key to the renaissance of Wards Corner, the inception of Norfolk’s Art District, and flood mitigation in the Mason Creek area of Norfolk’s Northside neighborhood.
Protogyrou believes keys to Norfolk’s future include attracting new – and new types of – businesses, creating job opportunities for Norfolk residents, improving the quality of life for Norfolk’s seniors, securing success and safety in all neighborhoods, establishing a Public Safety Director position and listening to the voices of all citizens, young and old, to help shape that future.
What I can tell you from my numerous personal interactions with Andy is that he is, without a doubt, one of the most intelligent people in local government anywhere in Hampton Roads. While everyone is susceptible to influence, Protogryrou has always struck me as his own man, a person who takes more pride in following his gut than the pack. The criticism you’ll hear is that he has an iffy attendance record as a city councilman. Being a mayor of a city our size–while also being a decent husband, father, and businessman–is spinning plates in the best of circumstances. From what I understand he has been dealing with other family heath issues, and that a greater time commitment should be expected.
The race for mayor of Norfolk just got a whole lot more interesting. Next we’ll watch as Sheriff McCabe rolls out more detailed policy positions, and we’ll keep an eye on Kenny Alexander’s team, and he mulls a run.
The event takes place today, October 19, at 288 E. Little Creek Road., at 4:30pm.