Howell defeats Wright for School Board

Published 11:25 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2021

With most votes counted, Heather Howell has defeated Ebony Wright in a special election for the Suffolk School Board’s Sleepy Hole Borough seat.

Results from Tuesday voting in the Belleharbour, Driver and Bennett’s Creek precincts, along with early voting and absentee ballots counted, gave Howell nearly 55% of the vote (3,045 votes) to Wright’s 44.61% (2,475).

The special election came about following the retirement of David Mitnick, who stepped down in January for health reasons. Former mayor Linda Johnson was appointed to the seat on an interim basis, but did not run to serve out the remainder of the term.

Howell said on her campaign’s Facebook page that her win transcends political parties, as everyone wants their children to have a strong education in safe schools that are staffed by highly qualified and well-supported teachers.

“While I am newly awarded the honor of representing our Sleepy Hole Borough,” Howell said, “all of you can claim a victory for making our voices heard above all the drama, division and political polarity.”

Howell won big in Driver, with 1,444 votes to 547 for Wright in taking more than 72% of the vote. Wright, meanwhile, won more than 64% of the vote in the Belleharbour precinct, tallying 480 votes to Howell’s 259. The margin in Bennett’s Creek was tight, with Wright leading there by just 11 votes and less than 1% separating the two.

Wright won more than 51% in early voting, and took more than 56% of absentee votes.

Howell thanked God, her husband, mother and other supporters, and also praised Wright, calling her “the most worthy of opponents.”

“Opponent doesn’t even accurately describe Ebony, as she has also become a friend,” Howell said. “She graciously called and congratulated me … and offered her support, along with a promise to remain active in our community through her non-profit organization, continuing to promote the success of SPS students.”

Howell said the election season was important for several reasons — most importantly “the future of our kids.”

“The safety, stability and quality of our education system was at stake, and parents all across Virginia showed up to make it known that we will not be silent,” Howell said. “We will not be excluded from the conversation about education because we, in fact, are one of the top determinants in the success of children at school.”

School Board members, including Johnson, Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck, Vice-Chairwoman Phyllis Byrum and Sherri Story, said at their Nov. 4 meeting they looked forward to working with Howell, who was in attendance.

“I’m ready for you to take this chair and looking forward to having you here,” Johnson said.

Brooks-Buck congratulated Howell, and said the two had spoken at length earlier in the day, noting both of them are former special education teachers.

“We look forward to working together and doing the best that we can for children,” Brooks-Buck said. “

Byrum noted that she has known Howell and her family for many years and taught her and her brother at Nansemond River High School.

“I’m glad to welcome her to the board,” Byrum said. “I know she has experience in education and she will bring insight, and I know that she will represent Sleepy Hole well, and her constituents.”

Story said she looked forward to having her on the board and said it would be a good experience for her.

Wright gave thanks for the support she received on her campaign’s Facebook page.
“While I came up short in this election,” Wright wrote, “I’m proud of the race I ran. I’m grateful for the bonds I’ve made and most importantly, I’m glad I had an opportunity to meet many of the wonderful people in my borough.

“My resolve to advocate for our students remains. My work supporting the students and families of Suffolk Public Schools will continue through my non-profit organization, the S. Delois Mayes Scholarship Foundation and the PTA organizations where I serve. We are stronger together, we are better together and our children are depending on us to work together to build a better SPS.”

All results are unofficial until they are certified, which will happen Nov. 15. Provisional and mail ballots were accepted until noon Nov. 5, making results incomplete.