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Some Virginia Beach voters will pick a new City Council candidate in special election

Voters in Virginia Beach's District 1 will pick a new City Council representative on Tuesday, Jan. 9. (Photo by Mechelle Hankerson)
Voters in Virginia Beach's District 1 will pick a new City Council representative on Tuesday, Jan. 9. (Photo by Mechelle Hankerson)


Voters in Virginia Beach’s First District will pick a new City Council representative for the third time in as many years in a special election on Tuesday, Jan. 9..

Now-Sheriff Rocky Holcomb held the seat until he was appointed to replace retired Sheriff Ken Stolle in September. The sheriff is usually an elected position, so Holcomb couldn’t hold both.

Special elections operate the same way as regular elections, but the early voting window is shorter and fewer polling places are open. In Virginia Beach, the election only involves voters in the city’s new First District, which is in the Kempsville area.

Early voting for the special election ends this Saturday, Jan. 6 at 5 p.m. Polls on Tuesday, Jan. 9 are open 6 a.m.- 7 p.m.

For information about what you need at the polls, check WHRO’s election guide

Meet the candidates

THERESA GLADNEY Retired federal employee, community activist

Theresa Gladney is a retired federal employee with extensive volunteering experience in Virginia Beach schools and her immediate neighborhood, Whitehurst Grove.

She mentored and tutored at-risk youth in Virginia Beach and Norfolk and volunteered with a number of organizations including the Urban League of Hampton Roads and the Virginia Beach Probation and Parole office.

Gladney, 59, helped organize opposition to a road project that would have opened neighborhood roads to cut-through traffic from Indian River Road. Since then, Gladney focuses her efforts on monitoring city amenities in the neighborhood, like parks, to ensure they are clean and safe.

“This campaign is about the government of the people, for the people, by the people,” she told WHRO. 

“This is more so about getting more community involvement, more community engagement, because this is a critical piece to the decision-making process.”

The following responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Why would they make a good City Council representative:

I've been a public servant for 25 years. It's about civic responsibility. When is the average, everyday citizen going to have an opportunity to make a difference? District 1 should reflect the will of the people. The citizens should be the (visionaries) of the community, not the government, not developers. Community engagement is a critical aspect of the decision-making process.

It's about the future of Virginia Beach, a thriving city where people of diverse backgrounds can live a prosperous and more fulfilling life.

What they want to do as a council member: 

Many families are struggling. There is homelessness, citizens are concerned about inflation, they're skeptical about what's going on in the community. Citizens in District 1 are frustrated with the city's choice of over-development in the Kemps River Shopping Center and the Fairfield Shopping Center. The burden of congestion and the lack of consideration for those who live in the district has negatively impacted community relationships. 

Homelessness, on the other hand, affects businesses because businesses can't hire people because people don't have anywhere to live. Citizens in District 1 are concerned about the lack of affordable housing. It puts a financial strain on military families. 

We need to implement strategies to reduce the housing shortage. First, we need to have policies that prohibit new construction in high flood risk areas. Next, reforming the land use regulations by issuing credits to developers to rehab … and transform old buildings will increase the supply of housing. Incentives (and) programs that encourage developers to transform properties will also increase the supply side. 

For example, the city might consider purchasing the Rock Church. It can be converted into a housing complex. 

Budgetary integrity is paramount. So much is going on with the city's budget with a $2.4 billion budget. The city needs to show a budget to the public that does not include wasteful and unnecessary spending and tax increases. The Virginia Beach Sports Center and the convention center are money dumps. They are a waste and abuse of taxpayer money. The city ought to figure out ways to retain control of the Sports Center. They could figure out ways to generate revenue. Here's a couple ideas: They can host events such as the Christmas Classic. They can sublease to company teams who are willing to pay rental fees. They can host a Dr. Martin Luther King celebration or Afr’Am Fest. They can host homeschool sporting events … (or) open the complex up to birthday parties, corporate events, large church gatherings.

DAVID HUTCHESON Retired fire chief, operations manager of family business, Greenbrier Florist

David Hutcheson is the former Beach fire chief who led the department through 2019’s mass shooting.

Hutcheson, 57, started as a volunteer firefighter 35 years ago and worked his way to chief. He was an original member of the Urban Search and Rescue team where he was sent to assist in emergencies including the Oklahoma City bombing and 2010 Haiti Earthquake; was in charge of the response to the 2012 jet crash and helped broker the agreement that allowed the city to build a fire station on Fort Story.

“Anything that's important to the district is important to me because I live here and I'm never moving,” Hutcheson said. “I've represented (Virginia Beach residents) for 35 years …  in the Virginia Beach Fire Department and I loved every day.”

The following responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Why would they make a good City Council representative:

The last 12 of my 35 years in the fire department was what we would call the senior staff level.You're starting to really work in the command structures of all the other public safety entities. (The fire department) still the backbone for emergency management. So the Patriotic Festival, Something in the Water, any hurricane, the (emergency operations center) that was stood up for the shooting – we are handling logistics. At the festivals, we're helping write the master plan, plus what the fire department plan is. 

I've been a major part of the budget since 2010, but I also was in charge of the hazmat team before that. That team (operates off) the longest grant that the city of Virginia Beach has. Its budget is the size of a lot of our departments in the city;  it's $1.3 million. When you have those kinds of things going on, there's nothing about a budget that I haven't worked with or been a part of.

What they want to do as a council member: 

I'm very fiscally responsible … but on the other side of it, I've seen as the fire chief in recent years where not only firefighters but  lots of other city employees cannot afford to live in the city. That's very troublesome. (As a fire chief), when we're in the middle of a winter storm, I need people to live close to their stations or a station so they can go to work. But if they live in Chesapeake or Moyock, it's a lot harder for them to get here.  That decreases our availability to respond.

So to have a living wage is, in my opinion, extremely important. You want the young folks to live in the city they grew up in. 

As far as the festivals, Town Center, Oceanfront and the transatlantic cables, we have to keep all that going so that we can increase our revenue. We have to do that kind of stuff so that we can increase our budget without increasing taxes.

I will continue to do what's right by our students,  our teachers and administrators. It's been said for as long as I can remember that teacher salaries are really low and they're suppressed. Well, that's got to change. We saw during COVID …  the importance of people's teachers and educators. Everybody. It doesn't matter. I've learned over the years that it takes a village - your janitorial staff, your nurses, the principals -  it's not just one or two people, right? It's everybody that makes the whole system work. They have a hard time making ends meet. They have to take second jobs. They're doing UberEats and stuff like that at night. You know, they're trying to make it so they can afford to live in the city. That's just really rough sailing in my mind.

There's got to always be checks and balances. I'm not saying that it's just handing over the money … but we have a very high standard in Virginia Beach and we're known throughout the country. …  We have to continue so that we keep growing strong students so that we can have a stronger Virginia Beach moving forward. 

Getting (bike trail) money was phenomenal.  I'm a big cyclist, so I've ridden from Kansas City to Saint Louis … and I've seen little mom-and-pop shops pop up along the way because people want to stop and have a coffee or maybe have a lunch break. It's a lot of money on an outlay, but what you get for it and livability to me will far exceed us in our lifetime.

JOHN NAPIER Land use attorney and mediator at Hanger Law

John Napier is a land use attorney and mediator who lives in the Woodstock area with his wife. He attended Tidewater Community College, William & Mary and the Pepperdine School of Law. 

He works at Hanger Law, where Attorney General Jason Miyares once worked. 

After law school, Napier, 43, spent a year as a mediator in the Commercial Court of Uganda and worked at several law firms or companies handling primarily real estate disputes.

“I just honestly felt like it was the right time for me in my life and where I was with my family to be able to to pursue this,” Napier said. “The motivation is purely public service.”

The following responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Why would they make a good City Council representative: I believe that I have a lot of experience being able to bring people together through both the legal and the mediation background. Obviously, being a mediator and being an attorney really comes down to finding ways for people to come together and to find agreements and to be able to move forward. I tend to be more of a lover than a fighter when it comes to the law … so I really want to find ways for people to find resolution, to find win-win opportunities and to be able to move forward together.

What they want to do as a council member: 

One of the main things I'm focused on is finding ways to lower the cost of living for the citizens of Virginia Beach, and that can be done through a myriad of ways. I believe part of that can be tax relief, part of that can be really looking hard at the budget in the city and figuring out ways in which we can reduce the cost of living. Fiscal responsibility and the fiduciary duty that the council holds is important in that.

One of the other areas … (is) finding ways to create relief for the citizens of Virginia Beach on an economic level. … There are two prongs to that. One is finding good ways to support our local businesses and continue to grow the economic base and the job opportunities that are in Virginia Beach, because as we're able to grow as a city and grow in appropriate ways and in responsible ways, the more you can grow the economic base and the job base, the more that can actually relieve the residential taxpayer of their burdens, because you're getting more tax revenue from the businesses. I want to make sure that Virginia Beach is the best place to do business as well. I want to make sure that the processes in which the city has for doing business work are efficient and aren't over burdensome or overly difficult for anyone from small to large businesses, but especially with the small and the locally owned businesses.

There's the very much the fiscal responsibility part of (festivals), but then there's also cultural opportunities that we want to be able to foster. A lot of the discussion I've heard … tends to be a little too focused on just the one element of a festival as far as the economics of it and not always looking at the broader economic implications. So there's the festival itself and what that might cost or bring in. I need to be able to listen to all of the voices that are speaking about it and hear their perspectives. 

I want to look at things in a holistic way and from the broadest possible perspective. So maybe there was a festival that (the city) gave money to that, in and of itself, didn't bring a direct revenue, but there's a lot of indirect revenues that can actually end up helping the city in a major way. That's not a condemnation or support of any particular festival per se, but it is wanting to say, ‘What does this bring to the table from the economic side in and of itself and then all of the ancillary spending and all the other effects that it has in the businesses around it?’”

Mechelle is News Director at WHRO. She helped launch the newsroom as a reporter in 2020. She's worked in newspapers and nonprofit news in her career. Mechelle lives in Virginia Beach, where she grew up.

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