NORFOLK TEA PARTY
In 1978, the state of Virginia passed a law requiring all property to be assessed at full market value. This would have resulted in a tax windfall to Norfolk. At the time, I was Vice President of the Norfolk Federation of Civic Leagues. The Federation wrote a letter to City Council requesting that the tax rate be dropped to $1.15, which would have given the city more than they had collected the previous year. They laughed at us.
Me and a fellow named Jack Dollar, now deceased, decided this would not do so we approached a third Civic League president from a section of the city not covered so we would have the balance. He agreed and we started an advisory petition to City Council. We ended up with over 20,000 signatures , which surprised them. The previous record for a state wide petition was 16,000. We got their attention but again they said no.
The Charter of the City of Norfolk has a provision for referendum, initiative and recall. We then started the legal petition gathering, after getting the first petition, we presented it to City Council. Again no.
We then gathered enough signatures of registered voters for the third petition and when we had enough, presented it to a judge , who ordered an election to vote on our initiative. The city appealed and appeal was not successful, so we appealed to a three judge panel to have it heard before the whole Virginia Supreme Court and they concurred.
We lost before the whole Virginia Supreme Court but they got the message and all the cities in Hampton Roads are still afraid to raise the tax rate.
Some interesting sidelights, one Saturday afternoon two Virginia Senators met with us and talked so long one missed his daughter's wedding rehearsal. The other was a gentleman named Peter Babalas, now deceased, who as an MP lieutenant was the one investigating the accident that injured and later resulted in death of General George Patton. Both senators signed our petition.
The mayor made a trip to Richmond in an attempt to remove referendum, initiative and recall from the city charter. We took two bus loads, including the former police chief, now a city councilman. The TV correspondent, a nice young lady, was up at the front and behind her back, gave us an OK sign so we knew the mayor had lost.
The City attorney was required to draw up our first legal petition so Jack Dollar got the job of getting it done. The city attorney refused to do it, so our pro bono attorney did. Just a few days before we were ready to deliver the final petition to the judge, a sheriff's car pulled up in front of my house and also the other leaders of the Tea Party and hand delivered a letter from the City Attorney saying it was indeed his job to prepare the petition. We sent a letter telling him "No thank you".
Our attorney came to us and said he wanted to run for the House of Delegates if it was all right with us. We told him, "Go for it". He credited me with getting enough votes for him in the 10 precincts in the 30's to get him in. He wanted me to be his campaign manager, but I declined. He was elected and served for many terms.
The number three man in the inception of the Norfolk Tea Party was elected to City Council and is still serving. The number four man called me and asked if I was going to run and I told him, "No thank you, it was never my intent to seek elected office." He ran and was beaten. His personality was at fault. He talked too much.
I found out later that City Council had a dossier on each of us and when the mayor saw mine, he said, "I'm impressed" and that was all. He wasn't mayor much longer. He decided not to run for reelection. Little people can make a big difference if they have a military mind to organize and use military tactics on them, as I was accused of doing. We did not use strong armed tactics on them, but they did on us. I guess it came down to a battle of wits, they were half armed.
Meanderings of Henry T. Cook, Lt. Col., USMC Ret.)