Exclusive Special Report: Kenny Wright One-On-One

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Former Mayor Kenny Wright led Portsmouth for six years. The last few years in his term were mired in controversy.

For the first time since being voted out of office, Wright is talking only to 10 On Your Side’s Brandi Cummings.

You may remember at one point during his term, Wright flat-out refused to talk to the media. He was charged with a felony, then cleared. Thousands of citizens even signed a recall petition.

Now, just a few months after the election, Wright wanted to talk. Cummings and her photographer Aaron Kurtz spent nearly three hours with him.

Before the interview got started, two people walked up to the former mayor, one asking for a picture.

Cummings asked him, “What does it mean for you to still have people come up to you?”

Wright responded, “It’s flattering. It just shows that when you put it all on the line for citizens, they will respond.”

Wright wanted to meet our crew in what’s been known as mid-city. It’s a place full of childhood memories and reminiscent of his success in office.

“Grew up right here. Hung out as a kid here,” he said. “This was a place that when I first got elected I got with our then city manager and economic development director and we made this ground zero.”

Wright measures some of his accomplishments by touting the multi-million dollar development there, the hundreds of new apartments in the downtown area and the tax dollars at work to restore the Cavalier Manor Ball fields.

“That gives me great joy to see that even through all of the politics, through all of the ugliness of politics that we were able to get things done,” Wright said.

Wright gives credit to his colleagues for the results.

“Kenny Wright didn’t do all of this. The council did. We pushed the vision. We pushed the direction of this city,” Wright said.

Despite what he may be proud of, after winning a term and a half as mayor in the end, more than 50 percent of the voters in the last election chose someone else.

Cummings asked, “What do you think was the reason for that?”

Wright responded: “It wasn’t just the end. It was the whole time. It was those same mean-spirited people plotting: How do we get this guy?”

Those are the people Wright says worked to elect a new mayor and tried get him recalled.

“These people sat out here for 18 months, God bless them. 18 months every Saturday trying to get signatures to recall a mayor that was doing good things for the city. That’s gotta be a lot of hate,” he said.

For the first time during our interview, Wright addressed several 10 On Your Side questions.

First about the now infamous $1,500 fine for council members talking to the public.

Portsmouth council votes to keep fines, despite judge’s ruling

“You cannot go out and expose the city to future damages because you don’t like what the conversation is,” he said.

Cummings asked, “Do you think there could have been another way to handle that?”

Wright responded, “No. It was to stop the bleeding. When you’re trying to have an impact you do it probably as brass as you can to try to stop whatever is occurring.”

10 On Your Side asked Wright about the meeting on cuts to the sheriff’s budget, where he refused to let us in and walked away from Cummings when it was over.

Cummings asked, “Why not let the media be in that meeting to see the numbers to see the discussion, to see what was happening behind the closed door?”

Wright responded: “That would have been totally appropriate at the right time Brandi. We were discussing with the sheriff some things that were personnel related.”

We also asked about Wright avoiding the media all together.

“It’s when you want to cherry pick things and take it out of its proper perspective that’s why I shut down on the media. It wasn’t because I don’t believe in openness and all of those types of things, but you’ve got to tell the whole story,” he said.

There were also claims of Wright being soft on crime during his term.

“The audacity of someone to be shocked and want to have all these meetings and all of that after a killing in a city that you know the end result of what’s going to happen when you’re not investing in your young people. You’re asking for that,” he said.

Wright told Cummings he’s most proud of the fact that he helped rebuild part of the city he loves.

“That’s the reason why you put up with all of the drama; the recalls and the sheriff and his little pettiness and all of that. That’s irrelevant when you compare it to the greater good and the things that make most people’s lives better,” Wright says.

He was candid and open with every answer, except one: A source tells 10 On Your Side Wright is a potential candidate for the 79th District House seat, representing Portsmouth and Norfolk.

Cummings asked, “What’s next for you? Are we talking a delegate run, senator, governor? Wright responded: I don’t know. I doubt it. I really value the six years that I spent in public service. To give further back to my community would be to help bring along new breed of leaders.” Cummings replied, “You didn’t give me an answer. Can we expect you to run for any other office in the future? To which Wright responded, “Let’s just say never say never.”

We will let you know if Wright officially files for any office in the future.