Portsmouth voters force political shake-up: ‘Grassroots at its best’

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — All eight candidates endorsed by a political action committee won their respective races on Election Day.

People for Portsmouth (PFP) organized in the spring of 2015 after the city council voted to fire then City Manager John Rowe and City Attorney George Willson.

On Tuesday, the majority of Portsmouth voters helped Rowe become the city’s new mayor.

Nathan Clark, Lisa Lucas-Burke and incumbent Vice Mayor Elizabeth Psimas won their races for a seat on the city council.

Together, the mayor and council candidates call themselves “The Dream Team.”

“We are willing to work with each other,” said Clark. “We all know that we might not agree on every issue, which is fine, but we will do it in a respective manner.”

Since their first meeting, PFP President Pam Kloeppel says 17 high-ranking city officials have either been fired or quit. As the city council became more divided, she says citizens lost trust in their elected leaders.

“We made a decision when we became a PAC that we would endorse candidates who wanted fiscal integrity, wanted long-term vision in the budget, wanted transparency…” said Kloeppel.

Mayor-elect Rowe took 51 percent of the vote compared to incumbent Kenny Wright’s 29 percent. Shannon Glover placed third in the highly-watched race.

“I think the community is ready for coming together and unity,” said Rowe. “This whole experience has been both humbling and flattering, because it really started off as a grassroots effort.”

Clark says he hopes the days of divisive council meetings are over, that often included shouting and racial tension.

“We’ll have a discussion and when the votes comes, we’ll vote what each person feels accordingly and we’ll keep moving forward,” said Clark. “We should be able to go make those votes and go out and have dinner afterwards if we chose to.”

LaKeesha “Klu” Atkinson, one of four candidates PFP endorsed for school board, says all eight candidates canvased together and supported each other on the campaign trail.

Atkinson says the endorsement helped fuel her victory.

“I am a new candidate, newcomer to the political realm, so that was just a blessing,” said Atkinson. “Some of us actually made donations to each other’s campaigns. It wasn’t an individual thing. A lot of us were unselfishly helping each other … I believe we can unify Portsmouth from this point on.”

Angelia Allen and incumbents Sarah Duncan Hinds and Ted Lamb were also elected to the school board.

Kloeppel says the election results show Portsmouth residents will not stand for rotten government.

“I think it shows [democracy] still works,” said Kloeppel. “I think this is grassroots at its best.”

Kloeppel says PFP will remain active and develop a slate of candidates for elections in 2017 and 2018.