Candidates rally voters

Published 8:12 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Early voting is underway in Virginia. That also means it is candidate forum season. In Suffolk Thursday, the Suffolk Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. partnered with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, League of Women Voters of South Hampton Roads, and Smithfield Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., to host a candidate forum at First Baptist Mahan Church.

The six candidates vying for seats to represent Suffolk in Virginia House District 84 and 89 and for Senate District 17 were invited to attend the public forum.

Only three candidates accepted invites and took to the microphone to answer questions from organizations and audience members, which former Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson moderated. 

Email newsletter signup

In attendance for House District 84 was candidate Del. Nadarius Clark (D). According to Johnson, his opponent, Michael Dillender (R), did not respond to the invitation during the candidate introductions. For Senate District 17, Del. Clinton Jenkins (D) was present, but his opponent, Emily Brewer (R), could not attend. Finally, Suffolk Public School board member Karen Jenkins (D), candidate for House District 89, was in attendance. However, Baxter Ennis (R) was also unable to attend. 

The Suffolk Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. organizers said the forum received plenty of positive feedback from those in attendance but was disappointed all the candidates could not attend.

“We were very pleased with the turnout at the Candidate Forum,” Tracy Hamilton, Social Action Committee Chair, and Belinda S. Pitts, Chapter President, said in a joint statement. “So far, the feedback from those in attendance has been very positive. We are grateful for those candidates who took the time out of their busy schedules to join us. However, we are disappointed that the other candidates could not attend; we think their constituents would have benefited from hearing their views on the subjects presented.” 

According to an email from Ennis’ campaign manager Eric Paige, no Republican candidate agreed to attend due to the agendas of the host organizations.

“The forum in Suffolk was run by partisan organizations with agendas,” Paige said in an email to the Suffolk News-Herald. “That’s why no Republican candidate agreed to attend.”

Hamilton stated, “Both local chapters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Smithfield Alumnae, and Suffolk Alumnae, along with the Grand Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. are non-partisan organizations.  All candidates were invited to participate in this candidate forum with the agenda to engage and inform voters about the candidates they may see on their ballots in November.”

Questions ran a gambit of topics, including affordable health care, education reform, the rise in crime, and campaign finance reform. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer each question, and a League of Women Voters of South Hampton Roads member kept time.

The overarching theme of the night was ‘community involvement’ and more educational opportunities. For many of the questions, all three decisively said the community must come together to solve some of the major issues, and more educational opportunities are needed to prepare high school students for college or the workforce. 

A Suffolk native, John F. Kennedy High School graduate, and a Suffolk Public School Board member, Karen says we need people in office who care about people and what concerns the people.

“We need people that’s in office that cares about people, care about what concerns people,” she said. “Genuine people, caring about people, not having a hidden agenda.”

Clinton, a John F. Kennedy High School graduate, says he will continue to fight and be available to the community.

“You can count on me to continue to stand up for you, for your health care, to try to improve the education system, to try to attract better jobs to Hampton Roads and Suffolk,” he said. “You can count on me to stand up for you and be available for you out in the community. I’m a hands-on person, and most of you know that you can find me anywhere and see me anywhere.”

Clark, who resigned his seat as House District 79 Delegate to run for House District 84. He says he was called to serve while studying at Virginia Union University and hopes to continue his fight in Richmond for District 84.

“Suffolk is like home to me,” he said. “It is a home to me, my sister, my nieces, my nephews, my aunts; I go to church here, I work here, so, I thought, you know, let’s continue to change the hearts and lives of others.”

This will not be the last event the group plans to host before the Nov. 7 election.

“The Suffolk Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. will continue to offer opportunities in our community to encourage civic participation leading up to and beyond the November elections,” Hamilton and Pitts said.