GOP ac­cuses regis­trar of racism

Hopewell Repub­li­cans post video of claim on Face­book; regis­trar de­nies it and calls for end to ‘games’

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Bill Atkin­son As­sis­tant Edi­tor

HOPEWELL — The bat­tle be­tween Gen­eral Regis­trar Yolanda Stokes and the chair­man of the city’s Repub­li­can Com­mit­tee has taken a new turn with the post­ing on so­cial me­dia of a video where she is pur­ported to have called GOP de­mon­stra­tors “racist” for walk­ing back and forth in front of her of­fice.

The video, posted on the Hopewell Repub­li­can Com­mit­tee’s Face­book page, also shows po­lice ar­riv­ing on the scene af­ter Stokes ac­cused the de­mon­stra­tors of ha­rass­ing her. The two cops speak with the de­mon­stra­tors, HRC chair­man Bran­don Howard and com­mit­tee trea­surer Va­lerie Strickland, be­fore de­cid­ing that no laws were be­ing bro­ken and leav­ing.

The HRC Face­book page in­di­cates that the video was posted by Strickland on Nov. 3, three days be­fore the elec­tion.

Howard has called for Stokes’ res­ig­na­tion, claim­ing she has re­peat­edly vi­o­lated the state’s open-govern­ment laws and lied to Hopewell of­fi­cials about the ex­is­tence of in­for­ma­tion about the party af­fil­i­a­tion of the city’s

elec­tion of­fi­cers. He filed suit last week in Hopewell ac­cus­ing her of the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act vi­o­la­tion, but the day be­fore the suit was to be heard, Howard said he re­ceived the re­quested in­for­ma­tion from Stokes af­ter first be­ing told it did not ex­ist.

That prompted him and the HRC to is­sue a pub­lic call for Stokes’ res­ig­na­tion, claim­ing she was not just un­truth­ful with him but also with the city ad­min­is­tra­tion and the city’s FOIA of­fi­cer by say­ing the in­for­ma­tion did not ex­ist.

State elec­tion code re­quires that in­for­ma­tion be kept on file by the sec­re­tary of the lo­cal Elec­toral Board or the gen­eral regis­trar.

In the five-minute video, Howard and Strickland, who are white, are car­ry­ing hand­writ­ten signs at­tack­ing Stokes, who is African-Amer­i­can. Howard is heard chant­ing, “Call­ing out a liar. Call­ing out a crook. Don’t know how to fol­low the law.” Strickland then adds, “Hopewell wants a fair elec­tion.”

The cam­era is ini­tially fo­cused on Stokes, who is stand­ing out­side record­ing the de­mon­stra­tors with her cam­era phone. She re­sponds, “There’s al­ways go­ing to be a fair elec­tion.” Howard is then shown telling an uniden­ti­fied passerby why they are protest­ing, Stokes is stand­ing nearby, dis­put­ing all the claims made by the de­mon­stra­tors. She also tells the passerby that she does not care that the de­mon­stra­tors are out there.

Fol­low­ing an­other

back-and-forth, Stokes is heard say­ing, “This is harass­ment.” She then leans over to the passerby and says what sounds like, “It’s called racist.”

“And you see who brings up that word, right?” Strickland im­me­di­ately re­torts.

The passerby leaves with­out any com­ment. There is more back-and­forth, and then two po­lice of­fi­cers show up. Stokes tells the of­fi­cers in the video that she is be­ing ha­rassed by Howard and Strickland. The of­fi­cers ex­change in­for­ma­tion with Howard, and then leave with­out any fur­ther ac­tion,

The Face­book page in­di­cates that as of Thurs­day af­ter­noon, the video has been viewed 243 times and shared seven times.

In a phone in­ter­view Thurs­day, Stokes de­nied call­ing the de­mon­stra­tors racist, adding it was the

lat­est in a se­ries of po­lit­i­cal games be­ing played by the lo­cal GOP.

“They’re putting words in my mouth. I did not call them racist,” Stokes said. “The elec­tions are now over and these games need to stop.”

On the day of the demon­stra­tion, Stokes posted two of her own videos of the scene. In one, she is talk­ing di­rectly to the cam­era, en­cour­ag­ing cit­i­zens who want to vote ab­sen­tee to come on down to her of­fice.

“Please don’t let any­one or any­body in­ter­fere with your right to vote,” Stokes said, an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to the demon­stra­tion. Later, she ex­tends ap­pre­ci­a­tion to “all those peo­ple who sup­port me in be­ing Hopewell’s first black regis­trar.”

A sec­ond video she shot shows Howard and Strickland walk­ing back and forth in front of her

of­fice. Stokes men­tions how one of the signs has her first name mis­spelled — “Yolonda.” She also calls the de­mon­stra­tors “peace­ful.”

The videos were re­port­edly re­moved from Stokes’ Face­book page, but The Progress-In­dex was able to ob­tain copies of them.

Mean­while, the sec­re­tary of the lo­cal Elec­toral Board called on Stokes to pub­licly apol­o­gize to Howard and Strickland for ha­rass­ing them and call­ing the po­lice on them.

In an open let­ter to Stokes posted on so­cial me­dia, Pa­trick Wash­ing­ton ac­cused Stokes of hav­ing a “deepseeded bias against the Repub­li­can Party” and ques­tioned “whether you can be com­pletely im­par­tial when deal­ing with the Repub­li­can Party.

“In their of­fi­cial ca­pac­i­ties, the regis­trar should

never be seen as bash­ing ei­ther po­lit­i­cal party,” Wash­ing­ton, the lone Repub­li­can on the board, wrote.

“They should never be seen as closely aligned with ei­ther po­lit­i­cal party as well. If your ac­tions on Satur­day were just a mo­men­tary lapse of judg­ment, I would strongly rec­om­mend that [you] is­sue a pub­lic apol­ogy to Bran­don Howard, Va­lerie Strickland and the en­tire Repub­li­can Party.”

Howard has ac­cused the Hopewell Demo­cratic Com­mit­tee of be­ing the driv­ing force be­hind Stokes, a claim to which the com­mit­tee has not pub­licly re­sponded. Stokes has de­nied any po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion in ad­min­is­ter­ing her of­fice.

Bill Atkin­son may be reached at 804-722-5167 or batkin­son@pro­gressin­dex.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @BAtkin­sonpi.

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