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City bracing for big change

Change is just around the corner.

In two months, the city of Suffolk will have its first direct election of the mayor in the city’s history.

Direct election means that Suffolk voters will cast votes to choose the mayor.

Until now, council members, who are directly elected, have had the responsibility of electing a mayor from their own ranks. The idea was that council members would know the eligible mayoral candidates better than the average citizen because they had worked so closely together previously.

Suffolk was the only city in Hampton Roads that did not have a direct election for mayor.

Two years ago, City Council voted 5-2 to allow citizens the right to elect their own mayor. Both the General Assembly and the U.S. Department of Justice had to sign off on the legislation.

The council’s resolution increased the body from seven to eight members – one for each of the seven boroughs, plus an additional seat for the mayor.

The mayor will be elected by citywide votes. Plus, the mayor would have to get the most votes in at least four of the city’s boroughs. The vice mayor will still be chosen from council, by council.

Council decided that the mayoral term would be for four years, instead of the current two-year term. The mayor will have the same right to speak and vote as any other member. The mayor will not have veto power, but will be recognized as the head of city government for ceremonial purposes and events.

It was also decided that members of council could run for the position, but he or she must resign from their seat on council if elected.

This year, Mayor Linda T. Johnson is the only council member vying for the mayoral position and has put up her seat representing the Sleepy Hole borough to run for the seat.

Of course, Johnson is not the only candidate running for mayor. Joining her in the race this year are Andy Damiani, Roger Leonard, Tom Powell, Debbie Wahlstrom, Dwight Nixon and Michael Debranski.

There are more voters than there were two years ago too.

According to the city registrar’s office, so far this year 51,506 voters in the city of Suffolk have registered. This time two years ago, 47, 648 voters had registered.

While the increase may be due to the citizens’ new found role in electing their mayor, registrar staff also said it was not uncommon for registration to spike during presidential election years.

For more information on the election process, or to find which borough you belong to, log unto the city’s Web site at www.suffolk.va.us.