Candidates spar at NAACP forum

Published 8:58 pm Saturday, October 20, 2012

Redistricting and a “secret” city of Suffolk came under fire during a political forum Saturday hosted by the Nansemond-Suffolk branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Nine candidates took part in the Political Breakfast Forum at the East Suffolk Community Recreation Center, with School Board incumbent Phyllis Byrum and Congressman Randy Forbes both represented by surrogates.

The forum, moderated by the branch’s Paula Scott, had planned to include audience questions, but after running long was limited to three minutes for introductions and pitches.

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Lue Ward, challenging Robert Barclay for Nansemond borough, came out swinging against a City Council he says has grown closed to citizens.

“Right now, we have so many things going on at City Council that are so secretive,” the former NAACP chapter president said, describing “one of the big reasons” for his candidacy as the redrawing of election districts, a process local NAACP leaders fought after two black incumbents were sidelined by it.

Barclay, the incumbent, spoke of his time as a lawyer and in the military. “I feel like those experiences have qualified me for this office,” he said. “What I would like to continue to do is to serve the citizens of Suffolk, to improve the quality of life that we all enjoy.”

Arthur Bredemeyer, in a three-way mayoral race with Leroy Bennett and incumbent Linda T. Johnson, also took a sharp tone against city leaders. “I grow concerned, because I see taxes going up, fees going up, the redistricting … fiasco … then substantial raises for city employees,” he said.

Bennett touted his public-service experience. “I want to continue to be that same voice that I have been for that 16 years,” he said, “and I will continue to work my heart out to do whatever I can to make Suffolk a better place to live.”

Johnson, whom financial disclosures show leads the contributions race, said she has worked “long and hard” to improve quality of life in Suffolk. “I’m running to keep economic development going, because we need more money,” she said.

Sleepy Hole challenger Roger Fawcett called Suffolk “a great city that is moving forward.” “I’m quite familiar with how government works,” he said, adding, “I’m interested in what the families have to contend with.”

Among School Board candidates, Whaleyville challenger Marion Flood described her experiences working to improve education in Baltimore and organizing a summer camp for children from low-income Suffolk families.

Whaleyville incumbent Phyllis Byrum, whose husband has been hospitalized, was supported by a friend who said Byrum “is committed to this position.”

Judith Buck, challenging for Nansemond borough, spoke of her passion for teaching and declared, “I’m unashamedly black and I’m unapologetically Christian.”

Sleepy Hole incumbent Diane Foster described her fondness for Suffolk after 26 years here and said that her role on the School Board is a “natural progression” from heavy prior involvement in parent-teacher associations.