I remember the first time Louis Jones was Virginia Beach’s mayor, back in the early 1980s, when he and someone, can’t remember who he was with, drove all the way out to Battlefield Boulevard, in Chesapeake, to visit the Virginia Beach Sun’s newsroom, production and design facilities and a new editor, who was not just the Sun's editor, but also edited its sister publications in Chesapeake and Portsmouth, which was unprecedented for the parent company.
Not exactly sure what prompted the mayoral visit, other than he may have already been in the neighborhood visiting Chesapeake’s mayor at the time, the late Sidney Oman.
Or he may have been in Chesapeake on other business or he may have made a special trip to the to Virginia Beach’s sister city to meet the local man putting out the Sun and The Chesapeake Post and The Portsmouth Times, respectively, which at the time were Chesapeake’s and Portsmouth’s weekly, hometown, community newspapers back in a time when the two predominant print media outlets in Virginia Beach were The Virginian-Pilot and the Virginia Beach Sun. He even let us photograph him, sitting, smiling and reading the Sun's latest issue, which we published the next week. The Post and the Times are gone, but not forgotten.
Back then, Jones’ main concerns were ensuring that the growing resort and leisure city and an adequate water supply for its homes and businesses, and safeguarding the Green Line, which was an imaginary boundary separating the city’s more heavily populated and developed northern half, from its more pastoral and heavily farmed southern half. This was even before Town Center was built and writers were still covering concept as the Central Business District.
But that was decades ago, much has changed – including the advent of the Digital Age in the 1990s – but one thing that hasn’t changed is Jones’ service to the city. He will step down again this fall for the city’s next mayor, who will be its third one elected directly by popular vote. Except for one Caucasian woman, the city’s mayors have all been male and Caucasian. It doesn’t have to stay that way, but voters have to turn out on election day in large numbers to affect real change.
And even though the Sun has evolved, progressed and moved from a print to a digital local media platform, sometimes it seems the city is challenged in trying to strike the right balance in working within itself, and with the local mainstream media, with the business community and with the civic community. There's just so many conflicting interests battling over ideas, politics, money, power and the city and region's future.
Will Sessoms’ recent departure as mayor raises more eyebrows as to the direction in which the city’s heading.
To some observers, his continued presence on City Council would have been an issue and a distraction for incumbent council candidates set to run for re-election on Nov. 6, because he is controversial. To others, he had to step down because he is a reminder and represented all the failed efforts of those people trying to extend The Tide to Town Center. He also became a sacrificial lamb, hoping to satisfy and turnaround those seeking to topple City Manager Dave Hansen and one of his deputies, Ron Williams. He was the city’s chief cheerleader for a proposed Oceanfront arena, which is now in litigation. And the fate of a new Oceanfront fishing pier, with accompanying residential and commercial development, and the old Dome site are still up in the air.
And of course, he was tried and convicted in the Norfolk newspaper, before being tried and convicted in a court of law, for a conflict-of-interest violation while serving as mayor.
Sometimes a breath of fresh air is not just only good, but necessary. Sometimes things have to change to progress, even though, sometimes changing is hard.
Sun stock image.