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New mayor, council members sworn in

Despite what he noted as broad support from across the city, new Suffolk Mayor Mike Duman said he would strive to win over those who didn’t vote for him, but understood that he would not be able to please everyone.

A self-described numbers person, Duman said he likes them because they are not subjective and can tell a story. After looking at the final election results, in which he defeated former Mayor Linda Johnson and two other candidates, Duman noted that he received support from 20,038 residents, or 41.64% of the total votes cast.

“Combine that with the other stats, and I was feeling pretty good about myself,” Duman said following a swearing-in ceremony Jan. 4 at Suffolk City Hall. “And then reality set in. If you tally the number of people who voted for one of the other three candidates, the total is 28,080. That means 28,080 voters thought somebody else could do a better job than me. That, in itself, is eye-opening.”

But that, he said, led him to this goal.

“That goal will be, at the end of my final term in office, affirm to those 20,038 that they made the right choice,” Duman said, “and for the other 28,080 voters, for them to have little or no regrets that their candidate did not win.”

Duman said he was humbled, honored and most appreciative” for those who voted for him to place their trust in him. As he said he has done as a councilman, he would continue to weigh the short- and long-term effects of decisions.

“I have spent … many sleepless nights analyzing and contemplating issues being considered,” Duman said, “not only the immediate effects, but the future ramifications as well. My new position will only add to that angst, but rest assured that I am prepared for the additional weight of that responsibility.”

Duman touched on a range of issues within the backdrop of COVID-19’s impact on the city.

“The results of the pandemic will have to be dealt with for months to come,” Duman said, “Rest assured, our city will continue to respond in a manner that addresses any impacts affecting our citizens.”

Along with Duman, Councilmen Roger Fawcett and Lue Ward, and new Councilman LeOtis Williams, were also sworn in. Afterward, during a brief reorganizational meeting, council members selected Leroy Bennett to once again serve as vice mayor.

Williams, who beat longtime councilman Curtis Milteer for the Whaleyville Borough seat, cited his motto in saying that he just wants to make a difference in his service. He said he would strive to represent everyone, from those in the borough’s most rural areas to its core city neighborhoods.

Fawcett, who ran unopposed and was re-elected to the Sleepy Hole Borough seat, said it takes everyone on council and all of the city’s employees to make it function as well as it does. He praised former city manager Patrick Roberts, saying he was “like a brother” to him, but he also praised the current administration and city staff, in particular first responders.

Ward, in winning re-election to the Nansemond Borough seat, said he would continue to be a quiet, yet strong voice for the residents in his borough and the city. He said being re-elected was important for him — to support Duman and incoming councilman Williams.

“I have a friend, and I call him a friend, he ran for mayor, and I backed him all the way,” Ward said, referring to Duman. “I did, and I’m going to tell you why I did that. …I know that he wants to do what he can do (and) hopefully, he will take this city to the next level.”

Duman noted the efforts of council, Linda Johnson and myriad city staff and constitutional officers in helping the city grow — and said he would continue to need the support of council, city staff and residents.

He pointed to successes such as a AAA bond rating for the city, significant growth in business and capital investment, job creation, along with what he said were significant investments in infrastructure, recreational facilities, public safety and schools.

Duman said he wants to expand upon the city council’s vision statement and its emphasis on public safety, financial stability, growth management and comprehensive planning, civic engagement, economic development, public education, the social well being of residents and transportation.

“My agenda is to acknowledge and continue to improve on all the previous successes and accomplishments,” Duman said. “To achieve our full potential, we must embrace any and all opportunities to advance our vision statement.”

He said the city needs to be a strong regional partner, negotiate through a position of strength and work with state representatives to advance initiatives and address concerns of city residents. He is also calling for more transparency and inclusiveness, and said he would strive to eliminate racial disparities and promote equal access and opportunity.

“While our goals remain relatively unchanged, I will suggest new processes and perspectives,” Duman said, “that among other things, allow for increased citizen engagement, more equitable allocation of resources and vigilant fiscal oversight.”

He said he would continue to be a strong advocate for public safety and work collaboratively with and support Suffolk Public Schools with available resources.

“If our city is going to reach the next plateau, our schools must achieve, and must be perceived, as one of the premier education systems in Hampton Roads,” Duman said.

He has set a goal for the city to be in a better position in four years than it is today, but he said he plans to be transparent and show candor to residents, knowing he will be unable to satisfy all of the people, all of the time. He asked for patience and understanding as he embarks upon his mayoral term. Duman said he would not take offense if anyone questions his decisions or judgment, but “there will never be a reason to question my integrity or my motives.”

“I will tell our citizens what they need to hear,” Duman said, “not what they want to hear.”