Norfolk City Council Race

“This race was important because we need change. Win, lose, or draw we worked our hearts out and I’m proud of the work we’ve done.” – Barbara Howard, NFT

In the Norfolk City Council Election this past Tuesday, union activists from the Norfolk Federation of Teachers made an extraordinary effort to change the make up of the city council to be sure it was more responsive to the needs of working families in Norfolk.

Marian Flickinger, President of NFT, explains,

“For us in Norfolk, the percentage of money in the budget that goes to schools is the lowest in the region. It was just time for a change. We’ve talked to the council members but they don’t seem to hear us. It was an opportune time to push candidates that care about public schools and working families, that are willing to take positive action and who will listen to their constituents.”

Over 2 weeks and 86 shifts of volunteers, NFT made a remarkable 9000+ voter contacts in Wards 1, 3, 4, and 5including 3100 mail pieces, 4300 phone calls and 1500 doors.

“I love working races like this because our activists really understand how what happens in the council room impacts what happens in the class room. It’s just invigorating to see the enthusiasm from AFT members working for candidates who when push comes to shove, will fight for them.”
– Darrell Capwell

“Tommy Smiegiel just called me and he won by 119 votes. We helped defeat an 18 year incumbent.” (Marian Flickinger, President NFT 4261, Election Night Email 8:17pm)

“The citizens in Ward 5 came out and supported Tommy because he’s someone who supports public education and this win is because people came out and spoke and said we’re ready for different leadership.”
– Cindy Huffman, NFT

In Ward 5, NFT’s volunteers and staff made 2,839 contacts with AFT and AFL-CIO members and their families. This figure includes 464 door knocks, 1,490 phone calls, and 885 mail pieces (in the form of NFT endorsement letters, newsletter, post cards and a final GOTV mailing to all AFL-CIO members).

Former NFT member and Virginia’s Teacher of the Year, 31 year old Tommy Smigiel beat out an 18 year incumbent with a simple method we in Virginia know quite well- literally beating the pavement. Since September, Tommy has been out knocking on doors in Ward 5 with a simple message:

“I am running so that our working families have an advocate on the City Council. I’ve spent my whole life fighting for the underdog, the citizen without a voice. I am not afraid to ask questions. As an educator and community activist, I have learned to listen to the people I serve.”

NFT’s Joni Shifflet (past zone coordinator for many of our Labor programs) is no stranger to a member to member campaign, “When you go door to door, people are more apt to answer and you get more of a personal touch talking to a fellow union member face to face. That’s what we’ve done in the past and that’s what we did this time.”

Loretta Scott (NFT) notes, “We’ve motivated people about the changes we can make and the choices that can be made as a community if we do it together.” Adding, “I think what we helped do is empower people through education on the issues that these city council members should answer to us.”

Marian summed it up:

“It’s bigger than jobs, or raises, or anything like that, it’s about preservation of our public schools. If we don’t fight for stronger public schools, we’re going to lose the foundation of our middle class and the opportunity for anyone, regardless of their background, to have a chance to make it.”

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