Damiani’s ‘hot seat’

Published 10:47 pm Saturday, September 15, 2012

Damiani show: Andy Damiani, right, host of “Roundtable Talk,” interviews Councilman Robert Barclay on Wednesday during a taping of his show.

One by one, local candidates sat down in a chair across the round table from Andy Damiani.

The former mayor admonished the candidates to look directly at him and not to pay attention to the cameras to their left or the media representatives seated out of camera range to their right. The television crew hooked each candidate up with a clip-on microphone.

Once the cameras were rolling, each candidate introduced himself or herself, told about his or her background and answered a question on a city issue posed by Damiani but usually selected by the candidate from a prepared list.

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All the preparation was for Damiani’s “Roundtable Talk” show, which will air beginning this week. The first episode features Nansemond borough incumbent Rob Barclay, Mayor Linda T. Johnson, and Sleepy Hole borough candidates Raymond Batton and Kevin Alston. The second episode features mayoral challengers Leroy Bennett and Arthur Bredemeyer, Sleepy Hole borough candidate Roger Fawcett and Whaleyville borough incumbent Curtis Milteer, who is running unopposed.

Barclay’s opponent, Lue Ward, declined to participate in the show, Damiani said.

Barclay was the first in the hot seat. He told of his time growing up in Portsmouth, attending Nansemond-Suffolk Academy and University of Virginia, serving in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps and later joining his father in private law practice.

He chose a question about managed growth.

“I very much understand the value of a comprehensive zoning ordinance,” he said, adding that the location of schools is a critical piece. He said fiscal responsibility, public safety and public education are among his other priorities.

Johnson came next to the table. She came to live in Suffolk when she was 12, she said, and attended Suffolk Public Schools and later the University of Richmond. She married a “Chuckatuck boy,” and they moved back to Suffolk after college.

Choosing a question about Suffolk’s biggest challenge, she pinpointed transportation as the answer and talked about the importance of funding for U.S. Route 58, Nansemond Parkway and railroads.

“I hope to keep the city moving forward,” she said.

Next up was Batton. He told of growing up in “the projects,” becoming emancipated at 15 and becoming the first in his family to finish high school. He served in the Navy, but it was ultimately his wife’s family that brought him back to the area. He began his JaniKing business in Portsmouth and has built it to have a $25 million budget, he said.

Answering his chosen question about cooperation between the city and schools, Batton suggested City Council tours of schools and said the relationship needs improvement.

“I think we can always improve whatever we do,” he said.

Alston, a Suffolk Public Schools administrator, fondly recalled growing up in Suffolk schools and majoring in geology in college. He returned to Suffolk to teach and moved up through the ranks of assistant principal, principal, middle school coordinator for instruction and finally assistant superintendent.

Alston also chose the question about city-school communications.

“I don’t think it’s a real great working relationship at this point in time,” he said.

Bennett, next to sit across from Damiani, recounted his career in the Newport News shipyard, serving on the Economic Development Authority and as an auxiliary police officer, and finally his 16 years on City Council so far.

“If I’m elected, I would have more open government,” he said, adding that he wants to address communication with small business owners, high water rates and other fees, and recreation for youth in the downtown area.

Fawcett, a retired fire chief from the federal government, talked about his two businesses in Suffolk, Elizabeth River Lawn and Landscape and Evergreen Turf Management.

“I’m formally retired, but working at the same time,” he said.

His experience in business would be an important benefit to the city, he said.

“I’d like to work on continuing Suffolk to be a great place to live,” he said. He criticized city-school cooperation, saying a lot of time had been eaten up in indecision over where to put the new elementary school in the southern portion of the city.

Bredemeyer, an attorney who specializes in elder law, was on active duty with the U.S. Air Force. He also has served the city as president of Suffolk Tomorrow and on the airport commission and Craney Island Commission.

“I think I am a consensus builder,” he said. “Suffolk has unlimited potential.”

He added that more growth is needed downtown.

The last in the seat, Milteer touted his experience of 32 years on City Council and, before that, five years on the Planning Commission.

He talked about the importance of revitalization of neighborhoods and bringing more industry to the city.

The show airs seven days a week on Charter channel 13 at 8 a.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Another show will air next month that will focus on issues.