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In a first, Roanoke elects a majority Black city council

In a first, Roanoke elects a majority Black city council

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Roanoke made history on Tuesday night when voters elected the first-ever majority Black city council. Incumbent Democrat Trish White-Boyd, Democrat Robert Jeffrey Jr. and independent Stephanie Moon Reynolds won the three open seats in a crowded eight-way race that came down to the record-high number of ballots cast ahead of Election Day.

White-Boyd was the only incumbent on the ballot as incumbents Michelle Davis and Anita Price opted not to run for reelection. Mayor Sherman Lea, a Democrat, also won reelection against former David Bowers, a former mayor and Democrat who ran as an independent. Democrats will retain a council majority.

White-Boyd received 23% of the vote, Jeffrey received 14% of the vote, and Moon Reynolds received 13.8% of the vote. Nearly 1,500 ballots separated Moon Reynolds from Republican Peg McGuire, who finished in fourth with 12.2% of the vote. It remained unclear at press time how many provisional ballots remained.

Democrat Peter Volosin, independent Kiesha Preston, Republican Maynard Keller Jr. and Libertarian Cesar Alberto finished with smaller percentages of the total vote.

More than 27,000 people voted early, or 42% of registered voters, with expanded opportunities for absentee and early voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These were also the last ballots to be reported Tuesday evening, which made the winners unclear earlier in the night.

White-Boyd held onto her lead throughout the evening, but Jeffrey and Moon Reynolds fell behind as conservative-leaning precincts began to report. For a time, McGuire and Keller were the second and third top vote-getters. But the race swung in favor of Jeffrey and Moon Reynolds once the absentee and early votes were reported.

Come January, Roanoke will have a historically diverse council. Lea, White-Boyd, Jeffrey and Moon Reynolds are Black, and newly appointed council member Vivian Sanchez-Jones is council’s first Latina member. Vice Mayor Joe Cobb is the first openly gay man elected to city council.

Tuesday’s results capped off an unusual election cycle, and the city’s first municipal election to be held in November.

The Roanoke City Council last year voted to move the city’s municipal elections from May to November in even-numbered years to increase turnout, a decision criticized by McGuire and Bowers. The move extended council members’ terms by six months.

Seventy-seven members of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee in May chose White-Boyd, Jeffrey and Volosin to be the Democratic nominees during an online vote. This was a departure from the committee’s usual firehouse primary, which they decided to forgo due to a statewide stay-at-home order during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moon Reynolds, 62, a 42-year employee of the city and longtime council clerk, didn’t clinch the Democratic nomination but chose to run as an independent, a move that paid off Tuesday.

Though White-Boyd was an incumbent, this was her first election win. White-Boyd, 57, came in fourth in the 2016 contest but was appointed to the council in 2019 to fill a seat left vacant when John Garland resigned. She owns Blue Ridge Senior Services, a home health care business.

Jeffrey, 51, also found success on Tuesday after running unsuccesfully in 2018. Jeffrey is publisher of ColorsVA magazine.

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K-12 Education Reporter

Claire Mitzel covers K-12 education for The Roanoke Times. Contact her at (540) 981-3334 or claire.mitzel@roanoke.com. Follow her on Twitter: @c_mitzel.

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