Mayor, council members reflect on election

Published 8:09 pm Thursday, November 5, 2020

Under normal circumstances, the comment period for members of Suffolk City Council near the end of their meetings is relatively benign, as they praise or honor various members of the city, ask questions of city staff on matters, and, in Mike Duman’s case, offer up a “quote of the night.”

But it was in that quote at the Nov. 4 council meeting, on the day following the election, that the moment resonated with Linda Johnson, who finished second to Duman in a four-way race for mayor.

“Before I start my comments, Councilman Duman, read your quote again,” said Johnson, the first woman in the city to become mayor and also the first elected to the position.


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Duman read it back:

You know what I’m going to do the day after Election Day if my candidate loses? 

I’m going to go to work, I’m going to be happy, I’m going to live my life, and I’m going to love others. 

And if that candidate wins? I’m going to do the same thing.

Duman, when he read it the first time, said he saw the quote shared on Facebook by local banker Bill Pollard but did not know its origin.

“I couldn’t keep it all together, so I wanted you to read it again,” Johnson said, “‘cause that’s exactly what I’m going to do with my life, so that’s what I wanted to say.”

Duman topped Johnson, Brian Bass and Vanessa Harris in the race, winning 19,934 votes among those counted so far, or 41.65% of the vote, to Johnson’s 14,016 votes (29.28%). Bass received 17.07% of the vote, while Harris earned 11.69%. Vote totals for that and the other city races are not yet final, and more votes from absentee ballots are set to be added to the total Friday.

“I want to congratulate Councilman Duman on becoming the mayor,” said Johnson, the first woman in the city to be mayor and its first elected mayor. “You’re going to love this seat. It’s a little hot sometimes, but it’s a good place to be.”

Johnson also congratulated the other winners among councilmembers — Nansemond Borough Councilman Lue Ward and Sleepy Hole Borough Councilman Roger Fawcett.

She said she has enjoyed her time on council, and as mayor, noting that some of her decisions made people happy, and others less so.

“That is the way it works in the world of politics, and if you are the incumbent, you have a record, and you have a record that people see, and that’s where it ends up,” Johnson said. “I just want everybody to know that I have enjoyed this time, and I’m going to keep on going until the end of the time there, and I have some new ventures in life that I’m going to be excited about doing, and so, life goes on. It truly does, and I’m looking forward to that part of my life.”

Duman, for his part, praised the work of election officials during his comments, and on his campaign’s Facebook page, thanked several people, including Councilman Lue Ward, his wife, Fran, and campaign manager, Eileen Gizara.

“I am elated that my support has been from all areas of our city,” Duman wrote. “This is an enviable position to be in and this cohesiveness must be maintained for our city to grow and reach its full potential.”

In a video posted to his Facebook page, Bass congratulated Duman and thanked his voters and volunteers.

“Together, we raised the conversation about our water bills and improving our roads to address congestion,” he said, noting some of the issues in his platform. “I want to thank everyone for helping me in guiding this conversation.”

Harris, on her campaign’s Facebook page, also congratulated Duman, saying “show Suffolk what you will do for the people!”

Curtis Milteer, who has served on council for twice as long as Johnson, noted his length of service in his own comments thanking Whaleyville residents for allowing him to be their representative for the past 40 years, which included stints as vice mayor and mayor, before it was a separately elected position.

Milteer finished third in a three-way race for the Whaleyville Borough seat, as LeOtis Williams had 2,895 votes, or 52.13%, to 1,334 votes (23.23%) for Mike Britt and 1,290 votes (23.23%) for Milteer.

“All of us know that in an election, you have some winners and losers,” Milteer said. “No one has ever been elected to 10 consecutive terms other than myself. And I’m grateful for that. And we’re hoping that this city — I was born in Nansemond County in the Saratoga area — I’m hoping this city will continue to show prosperity. No matter who sits in the chair, we want them to work on behalf of the city.”

On his Facebook page, Williams said he wanted to “take this time to thank all residents of the Whaleyville Borough for your support and votes for his campaign. He will work hard for the community and listen to your and your concerns.”

Ward, who is ahead of challenger Courtney Wolfe for the Nansemond Borough seat by 318 votes — Wolfe acknowledged her loss in a post to her campaign’s Facebook page — gave thanks to God and to residents throughout the borough for electing him.

“I wanted it to be said that as an elected official, there are certain things that give me honor,” Ward said, “and when the people I serve know I’m going to go to bat for them, and that I’m going to tell them the truth — what I can do, and what I can’t — for my sake, my elections have showed that the people I serve have that trust in me.”

Ward, who had been down in the count before the results of the early voting were tallied late in the evening on Election Day, acknowledged people were surprised when they woke up Wednesday morning and found him ahead.

Wolfe offered thanks to her family, friends and supporters while calling for Suffolk’s leaders to be more responsible for their actions.

She also called for growth to be balanced and for them not to ignore pleas from residents to be accountable and take action on roads, overcrowded schools and high water bills. She said having a divisive School Board is not good for the city or its children.

“I can’t help but feel I let so many people down,” Wolfe wrote as part of her message. “I am proud of my campaign and my only regret is that the early voting did not go my way. The ‘what-if-I-had’ is not running through my mind, but instead, I am thinking, ‘we almost did it,’ and for that, I am proud.”

Roger Fawcett ran unopposed for the Sleepy Hole Borough council seat.

School Board Chairwoman Phyllis Byrum did not have ballot opposition for the Whaleyville Borough seat, but she did have a write-in challenger in Valerie Barnes. David Mitnick ran unopposed in the Sleepy Hole Borough.

Andy Hilton, who challenged Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck for the Nansemond Borough seat on the school board, was ahead in the count of votes of those who cast ballots on Election Day, but Brooks-Buck overcame that with those who voted early. He said the results were disappointing, but acknowledged the early vote totals made a difference.

Hilton called for a new high school in the Nansemond Borough, prioritizing special needs students, more pay and a better work environment for teachers and for tax money to be properly invested in public education, and greater transparency by the board. He also thanked his supporters and asked them to demand better from those who represent them.

“I am resolute,” Hilton said, “about serving the community.”