Nansemond residents speak out

Published 10:50 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Councilman Leroy Bennett speaks with Ken Carpenter, a member of the Suffolk Electoral Board, after the Nansemond borough redistricting meeting on Tuesday. About 25 people spoke at the meeting.

More than 100 residents attended a community meeting on redistricting Tuesday to show support for Nansemond borough incumbents.

Most of the 25 speakers expressed a fervent desire to keep Councilman Leroy Bennett and School Board member Thelma Hinton. Both would be drawn out of the Nansemond borough under a plan proposed by city staff.

“I’m for Mr. Bennett, and I’m for Mrs. Hinton, and I hope we can resolve this and go back to the way we were,” said Eva Taylor, one of citizens who spoke.

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The attendance at the meeting was greater than the four previous community meetings combined. Applause punctuated nearly every speech, and one speaker received a partial standing ovation. The audience even booed one woman who criticized Bennett.

Some speakers also had concerns with the fact that the city created only one working map and no citizen input went into its development.

“That’s a major concern,” said Vicky Wiggins-Pittman, who represented the Nansemond Parkway Civic League at the meeting. “That is not the only option.”

The city is required to redraw its borough lines every 10 years. Rapid growth during the last decade in the northern part of the city — the Nansemond, Sleepy Hole and Chuckatuck boroughs — necessitates those boroughs shrinking in population, while the others grow to include more people. Each borough must be within five percent of 12,084 people.

The working map produced by the city would place most of the current Nansemond borough into the Cypress borough — including Bennett’s home. The Nansemond borough would shift north to include much of what is now the Sleepy Hole borough, which would become much smaller in size.

But two other maps — one drawn by a professor at Norfolk State University at Bennett’s request, the other developed by the NAACP — would keep Bennett in the Nansemond borough. Some citizens, Bennett included, wondered on Tuesday why the other maps were not displayed.

City chief of staff Sherry Hunt, who has moderated each of the meetings, said staff had received direction from City Council to hold the community meetings based on the city’s proposed map.

Several citizens at Tuesday’s meeting said they think Bennett worked himself out of a job.

“The reason the population is booming is because of the excellent representation we have,” Lady Turner said.

But other citizens hinted that if Bennett is drawn into the Cypress borough, he would have a chance to challenge Vice Mayor Charles Brown for his seat.

At the end of the meeting, Bennett stood to thank his supporters.

“You have really made my heart feel good,” he said.

He also said he has contacted a lawyer about the situation and criticized city staff for not displaying the alternative maps and not seeking the input of City Council — though he said he thinks other council members knew the proposal would affect him.

“We do too,” one woman shouted from the audience.

Finally, Bennett didn’t rule out a run against Brown if the city proposal goes through.

“I have to look at all the options,” he said. “Everything is on the table.”

Two community meetings are left. They are:

  • Sleepy Hole — Creekside Recreational Center at Creekside Elementary School, Sept. 15, 6 p.m.
  • Whaleyville — Health & Human Services Building, Sept. 20, 6 p.m.