Even though Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, beginning in the 1930s-era New Deal with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and continuing until the present, black Americans have been an exceptionally loyal voting bloc for the Democrat Party. In many elections in both Virginia and the US, it is not unusual for Democrat candidates to garner some 90% of their vote.
According to the US Census Bureau, Roanoke City’s population is about 29.4% black, the largest concentration of African-Americans in the western two-thirds of the Old Dominion. This fact helps partially explain why the City has remained blue politically while most of the rest of Western Virginia has become redder with each election cycle.
Here in the Star City, retired City Clerk Stephanie Moon Reynolds once ran to be one of the Democrat nominees for City Council but came up short in the primary. Undeterred, she then ran as an independent and, drawing on the deep reservoir of respect and goodwill she seems to enjoy in the community, won a seat on Council as an independent. She has two years remaining on her current term so she is not running for re-election this cycle, but in an exclusive interview with The Roanoke Star, she had some eyebrow-raising comments to make.
In contrast to our increasingly-polarized society, Moon Reynolds describes herself as “a moderate person, I can go either way, (…) I’m not so liberal and I’m not so conservative, I kind of fall in the middle, and I believe some of my Republican friends are the same, although they are Republican, but they are not ‘staunch Republicans’ as far as I am concerned.
“And when I look at what we’re doing in the City and I’m serving [on Council] with the majority being Democrat, I disagree with how [they’re] treating the citizens or [emphasizing] party lines here.”
Speaking of how she views the current Democrat members of Council, she exclaims “You’re doing things that in their minds benefit Democrats. You’re constantly talking to Democrats, and you’re not looking at-large and I look at the citizens at-large. We are not a ward system [where one council member represents just one quadrant of the city]. (…) We are all elected at-large, so why are you using your (D) to promote the strength of Democrats?
“A good example is, when we had the two-year seat up.” [To fill the term of disgraced former member Robert Jeffrey Jr. (D), who lost his seat due to being sentenced to jail for two and a half years for embezzlement. The Roanoke Star covered that story and the controversial search process here, here and here.] “You could have interviewed the Republicans who applied, but you chose not to, and didn’t even allow them to speak!”
Calling the spectacle where Mayor Sherman Lea Sr. (D) shouted down citizen Maynard Keller from speaking about the selection process “a very ugly scene,” Moon Reynolds continued as if speaking to Lea directly: “And you are the mayor? I don’t care if you are Democrat, that goes to the side. You are the Mayor of the citizens of the City of Roanoke. (…) I hope that even when the Republicans get on Council, we still don’t play the ‘party game.’
Keller (R) is now himself a candidate for City Council, as reported here.
Moon Reynolds continued: “I’ve been a part of the City for over 42 years. These last years are the worst I’ve ever seen on Council. Back when there were Republicans and Democrats in the 80’s and early 90’s, you never heard of this [discord]. (…) They represented all.”
In what may be a shock to people who have long believed the story “Democrats are the party of diversity but Republicans are the party of racism,” Moon Reynolds gave her decades-long perspective on the respected and legendary Rev. Noel C. Taylor, who served as mayor from 1975-1992 and helped guide the Valley peacefully through the turbulent desegregation era.
“Mayor Taylor was a Republican, because he ran with the Republicans. My understanding was, the Democrats were not ready for a black candidate to run for City Council, so he was the first [black] to run in ’75. And so when running and winning, he just never came back over [to the Democrats]. (…) But he didn’t put [political party affiliation] out there when it came to issues for the city. He looked at it as a whole. I looked at Bob Garland, I think he was on Council almost 24 years. Elizabeth Bowles was on there almost 22 years. Again, Republicans, but they did right by all.”
In contrast to the congeniality and non-partisanship of years gone by, Moon Reynolds decried today’s toxic, divisive state of affairs among Star City leadership. Thus dissatisfied with the current council make-up, Moon Reynolds has endorsed seven candidates who are vying for four seats. The four GOP candidates are Dalton Baugess, Nick Hagan, Maynard Keller, and Peg McGuire. These four are running as a team under the Vote4Roanoke banner. Furthermore, Moon Reynolds also endorses the three independents: former four-term mayor David Bowers, Rev. Jamaal Jackson, and Rev. Tyler Preston.
Explaining why she is encouraging her fellow Roanokers not to vote for Democrats, Moon Reynolds explains: “We have four [current members of City Council] who think they’re running the city and they want to stand on party lines and not look at the betterment of the whole. And that’s what I have issues with. (…) So the majority of the Council is Democrat, and they want to – just like with Robert Jeffrey Jr., they knew, but they kind of pushed it aside [the replacement process] – because they wanted to win.
“And here we are now with Joe Cobb. They’re pushing things aside because they want to win, and not looking at what’s right for the community!”
Referring to Council Member Joe Cobb (D), Moon Reynolds was alluding to the brewing controversy where Cobb used a City payment card to cover a $658 dinner for 17 at a fancy restaurant. The dinner took place on March 31 but news about the event only broke this week. Cobb later claimed it was an honest mistake and paid for the dinner with his own funds, but questions about the timeline and how the meal was somehow related to the Gun Violence Intervention Program Grant persist.
This story is developing. Check The Roanoke Star for updates.