Referendum to decide fate of Confederate monument in Portsmouth

Divided council also approves relocating statue, if state law allows

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — In a surprising vote, a divided city council voted in favor of a referendum to decide the fate of the Confederate monument downtown.

The decision will allow voters to decide, possibly in a special election, whether they want the monument to stay in its current spot on Court Street or be moved to Cedar Grove Cemetery.

“I’m smiling tonight,” said Elizabeth Psimas, who supported Bill Moody’s motion for a referendum, that also got the support of Nathan Clark and Lisa Lucas-Burke.

Mayor John Rowe, Mark Whitaker and Paige Cherry voted against letting the people decide.

“If you take a referendum vote you are only hearing from the voters in your city, and that’s what really matters,” said Psimas. “If a majority of voters in Portsmouth want the monument to be moved, it should be moved.”

Minutes before the vote, a different majority of council voted in favor of a proposal to relocate the monument to Cedar Grove Cemetery if state law ever allows localities to legally do so.

Lucas-Burke, who voted in favor of a referendum, also voted to relocate the monument. Rowe, Whitaker and Cherry joined her in the vote.

The debate of the city’s monument, in the heart of downtown, was renewed in August after a counter-protester died at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

Ever since, one side has argued the monument honors slavery.

On Tuesday, all five people to speak to the council said the monument honors the lives of Confederate soldiers.

“I love history,” one man said. “Now, you want to bleach it. When you start bleaching things that offend you, that’s when you mess up.”

Whitaker, who voted to move the monument, says he voted against a referendum because a majority opinion is not always what is morally correct.