Sessoms announces resignation as mayor of Virginia Beach to return to private sector; special election could join crowded November ballot

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms makes an announcement about the Rock the Squads event in 2017 recognizing the contributions of volunteer rescue personnel. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

COURTHOUSE – Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms announced on Wednesday, April 18, that he will leave office at the end of the month.

At City Hall, Sessoms said the decision to resign came after reflection with his wife, Bev Sessoms, around the time of the State of the City address in March.

“Believe me, it’s with mixed emotions,” Sessoms said during an interview on Wednesday. “My goodness, you know I think you know how much I love this city and how much I love this job. At the same time, you have to look at what’s best for myself and for my family, and we concluded this would be the best thing, to get back into the private sector.”

Sessoms, a now-retired banking executive, took office as mayor in 2008, ousting longtime incumbent Mayor Meyera Oberndorf in a field that also included Scott Taylor, now serving in Congress, and John Moss, a member of the City Council who holds an at-large seat.

Sessoms first joined the City Council in 1988 in an at-large seat. Four years later, we was selected by his colleagues on the City Council to served as vice mayor, a position he held for a decade.

He has cited as accomplishments, in conjunction with colleagues and the city staff, issues as varied as improved public safety, development projects in the city and working toward regional transportation solutions.

His tenure was marked, in part, by leading the largely suburban Virginia Beach through the housing crisis and recession. He also dealt with matters such as addressing encroachment of Naval Air Station Oceana and developing a biomedical initiative in the Princess Anne Commons area, as well as setbacks such as the defeat of light rail extension and an effort to build an arena near the Oceanfront.

“I hope people saw that I truly love this city,” Sessoms said. “That’s the first thing. You know, being here because you care for and love your city. And not having an agenda.”

Sessoms said it is the right time for his family to consider opportunities outside government.

“I’m 64 years old now,” Sessoms said. “I think I have a heck of a lot of energy and productivity in me for five or six years, and, if I got back in the private sector, I feel I could put that to good use and do some cool things.”

Sessoms recently has also discussed the way the public and public official interact. In January, he traded words with a citizen during a public meeting, en exchange that garnered media attention, including on social media. That citizen, Tim Worst, has since announced he is running for City Council in the Princess Anne District.

As the leader of public meetings, Sessoms later apologized for interrupting Worst, but he also has sought to try to encourage productive conversation and limit personal attacks.

“That’s changed,” Sessoms said, responding to a question about how public officials and some members of the public converse. “To say that that didn’t have something to do with my decision, I’d be lying. You know, I’ve always tried to show respect to everyone in the public. But at the same time I think sometimes – and it’s just a handful of people – the lack of respect one is given to the mayor and council , you know, is a sad day, in my opinion.”

But public service is still worthwhile, Sessoms said.

“Because you love your city and you want to move your city forward,” he said. “And sometimes you have to tolerate things you don’t want to tolerate, but you don’t give up, and you keep moving forward.”

Combating misinformation even made his State of the City address after discussing a number of projects underway in the city.

“Friends, it’s time we start to fight back against the intentional spread of misinformation about these great projects and about our successes,” he said, according to his prepared remarks. “Please help us get the truth out.”

In recent years, Sessoms faced controversy over his ties to TowneBank, from which he resigned following a critical report by The Virginian-Pilot in late 2014 that scrutinized votes involving customers of the bank.

Sessoms adamantly denied knowingly voting upon issues involving the bank, but a special prosecutor accused him of five misdemeanor charges under a state conflict of interest law late in 2015. Sessoms ultimately pleaded guilty to one count, describing it as a mistake. He sought reelection again in 2016, winning by a strong margin in a field of four candidates.

“This has been the toughest campaign of my life,” he told supporters the night of that election.

Now, with that third term less than halfway complete, Sessoms said he will write his next chapter in the private sector, though he declined to discuss what opportunities lay ahead. The Pilot’s Alissa Skelton reported that Sessoms had two offers to consider, neither in banking.

Recently, Sessoms was involved in budget discussions to maintain the agricultural reserve program, or ARP, a farmland preservation program that was threatened with shuttering in a spending proposal submitting by City Manager Dave Hansen this past month.

Sessoms voiced support for the program, noting that he wished the move had not been included in the budget. The program appears to have been saved, though the compromise will not be cemented until the budget process concludes with a vote in May.

By then, Sessoms will have left, but he said this year’s budget should be less challenging than some in the recent past, especially recessionary spending plans.

His resignation takes effect on April 30, andf the City Council will choose one person from its membership to serve as mayor within 45 days, according to information provided by the city. Vice Mayor Louis Jones, who represents the Bayside District and served previously as mayor in the early 1980s, will take on Sessoms’ duties until the choice is made.

And now a special election, once it is called for by the council and approved by a judge, could join a crowded Tuesday, Nov. 6, ballot which includes the midterm national election and several City Council races. Or an earlier date could be requested, according to the city.

Sessoms will not be on the ballot, but he said during an interview that he will be involved in supporting the best candidate to succeed him in office.

“I assure you I’ll be involved in someone’s campaign, but we’ll wait to see who that is,” Sessoms said. “I’m not dying. I’m still going to be here. I’m going to continue to support people who will move this city forward.”

© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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