I support term limits in all levels of government, but none more so than here in Norfolk.
Term limits would break the power that a shadow government of local un-elected insiders can have over long term incumbents, and stop the influence peddling in Norfolk that is being litigated in federal court today in the Burfoot case.
Term limits bring new and independent thinking along with critical thought. New to council in 2006, Theresa Whibley was a lone and loud voice against smoking in Norfolk’s bars and restaurants. Dr. Whibley used her vote to persuade new restaurants in need of a Special Exception to be smoke free, making it easier for existing restaurants to ban the butt and for Norfolk to be one of the first cities in the tobacco state of Virginia to heavily regulate indoor smoking.
In 2010, it was the recently elected council members Angelia Graves, Tommy Smigel, and Andy Protogyrou that were the only no council votes against the con job Tyvest office project that now has the developers in jail and our former vice mayor in federal court.
Long term incumbents with a war chest of political donations and favor make it difficult, but not impossible, as seen in our last election, for others to have an opportunity to serve. Vpap.org shows how for decades sums of monies in Norfolk went from candidate to candidate along with special interest groups to candidates in order to keep council seats filled by cohorts and secure the status quo.
In one of our most recent council elections it was Andria McClellan that was denied the nod by Norfolk’s “powers that be” but won the election overwhelmingly with the support of first time voters, millennials, the LGBT community, and constituents that supported her fight for an elected school boar,d which led to a hard fought battle with Norfolk’s council incumbents.
Term limits creates greater voter turn out and leads to diversity in politics. If former mayor Paul Fraim had decided to run for re-election he would have been re-elected. Fraim’s overwhelming popularity across party lines won him 94% of the votes in his last election. With lots of cash in the coffers and his connections within the city it would have made it all but impossible for anyone to run successfully against him. Former Mayor Fraim’s decision not to run led to one of if not the largest voter turnouts in Norfolk’s history but also to the historic election of the city’s first African-American Mayor, who sits at the helm of a council with as many female council members as male.
Norfolk has made national headlines in a court case that illustrates why we need term limits. The abuse of power by those staying in office too long and the influence of special interest groups that seek to control and govern without ever have gotten a vote make term limits the path to fair representation.
I am not proposing term limits because I don’t support or have confidence in our current city council; but on the contrary, it is because I do. We now have a diverse and progressive council that is working to connect closer to the neighborhood communities with fresh ideas like education, not cement towers, being the future of Norfolk. We must keep the momentum going and fight the failures of long term incumbency that supports special interest projects like a light rail system without regional partnerships that now has been voted down by the citizens in our largest sister city, giving millions in tax payer dollars for a hotel conference center that the numbers never supported and has restaurants that will be in direct competition to local small businesses, and voted to finance an office building by a corrupt developer that went to jail and now says he was in partnership with a former long term council incumbent that voted on the project.
Newly elected Ward 1 Councilman Martin Thomas Jr. doesn’t have a problem with term limits and said he thinks two or three four-year terms is a good idea. Councilwoman Andria McClellan says she thinks 8 years is plenty to get things done and then allow others to come in. A request by council or a successful petition drive and ballot vote is needed to have term limits addressed by the Virginia legislature for a change to the city charter.
For starters, our city council could take a non binding pledge to serve only two or three terms. Given all the trust that has been sapped from local government in recent years, it’s the right thing to do.