Three days before the November 7 election, the Daily Progress ran a story on independent candidate Nikuyah Walker with the headline, “Emails show Walker’s aggressive approach.”
Her supporters have gone ballistic on social media over the story.
The article describes dozens of emails Walker has sent city officials as indicative of her style of communication: “particularly outspoken,” “often confrontational” and in the online headline, “unabashedly aggressive.”
Reporter Chris Suarez says in the story a source in City Hall who wishes to remain anonymous “called attention to her emails, voicing concerns about her ability to work collaboratively with city officials.”
Journalist Jordy Yager, who has written for C-VILLE Weekly, on Twitter called the article a “hit piece” and asks why an anonymous source was used. He notes that the Society of Professional Journalists advises, “Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity.”
Speculation on the anonymous source is centering on Mayor Mike Signer. After the August 12 debacle, a memo written by Signer was leaked to the press from an anonymous email account.
On Facebook, Walker says, “This article is a hit piece initiated by Mike Signer. Chris informed me that the same person who ‘leaked his own memo’ tipped him to my emails.” Walker goes on to say that no one needed to tip Suarez to the “unabashedly aggressive” emails because he had been copied on them in the past.
Suarez says that’s not exactly what he said in an “offhand comment” to Walker. He says he told Walker, “I think it could be the same person who leaked his memo.” He adds that he does not know for sure that Signer was the source of the leaked memo that threw City Manager Maurice Jones and police Chief Al Thomas under the bus for the events of August 12.
“That’s all I can say,” says Suarez.
In an email, Signer provided a statement he plans to make at tonight’s City Council meeting. He says he was approached by an employee of the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program who had concerns about a “vendetta” against AHIP by a council candidate. A number of Walker’s emails expressed frustration with the quality of work done on her home through the program.
Signer says, “I have openly shared with folks my concerns about emails Council received from the Council candidate about AHIP containing profane attacks against our staff and against AHIP.” He denies directing anyone to seek a Freedom of Information Act request for the emails, which are public records, or issuing one.
He points out the use of “coded” words like “aggressive,” which Fortune magazine reports are frequently used to describe women, but almost never men. “I also want to make clear how disappointed and frustrated I was by the paper’s decision to use such language, and by the questionable timing of the article—the day before the paper’s endorsements of two other candidates,” says Signer.
“My reaction is they’re trying to tamper with the election the way the Russians did,” says activist and Walker supporter Walt Heinecke. “I find it unethical both on the part of the Daily Progress and the anonymous source.”
Heinecke notes that the day before the November 4 Progress story, Democratic candidates Amy Laufer and Heather Hill held a press conference in which they said the most important thing they’re expressing is their willingness to collaborate with City Council, city staff and the community.
“It’s beyond the pale to think it’s coincidence,” says Heinecke. Laufer and Hill had not responded to requests for comment at press time.
“I’ve been hearing disgust and disappointment,” says Heinecke. He also says he’s hearing more people say they’re going to single-shot Walker, a voting strategy of using just one of two votes for council to avoid giving more to the Democrats, who hold a sizeable majority in town.
Former mayor Dave Norris, also a Walker supporter, wrote on Facebook that he’d submitted a letter to the editor to the Progress a few days earlier to endorse Walker and it was rejected. He says the response from the newspaper was, “We stop running political letters…three or four days prior to the election so that no one can slip in a last-minute bombshell without time for an opposing view to be submitted.”
“But apparently this rule does not apply to their own news page, or at least not when they’re doing the bidding of their ‘anonymous source’ on City Council,” writes Norris.
Daily Progress editor Wesley Hester did not immediately respond to a call from C-VILLE.
Walker has taken heat for her use of the f-word, particularly at the out-of-control August 21 City Council meeting. She acknowledges she uses curse words, but points out that people died August 12 and questions people being more upset by a curse word.
She has said the biggest issue she faces in the election is being a “very assertive” black female and whether voters are comfortable with that.
Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy says on Facebook he’s been trying to stay out of the election, but he blasts the Progress story and says the “powers that be” are terrified of Walker because of her strength and the fact that she speaks her mind on issues of equity, systemic oppression and racism.
Polls open at 6am Tuesday.
Updated 4:20pm with Mayor Mike Signer’s comments.