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Ward C candidate Kenny Lee: ‘There should be people that look like me on City Council’

Kenneth “Kenny” Lee, Ward C candidate, Waynesboro City Council

You can’t call Kenny Lee an outsider. Lee, running for the Ward C seat on Waynesboro City Council, was born and raised on Shiloh Avenue in the Port Republic Historic District.

He spent 28 years in the United States Air Force and returned to the River City in early 2021.

Lee, 59, resides in his family home on Port Republic Road, just one street over from his childhood home.

He recently started a new job for the U.S. Navy, travelling to Arlington a couple days a week and teleworking on other days. He said his job allows him time to participate in other endeavors, like serving on City Council.

“I’m flexible,” he said. “It’s what we do. We adapt. It’s my military upbringing.”

Coming home

You might wonder what brought Lee back to Waynesboro after his time in the service and 12 years in San Antonio. In his words, his mom and wife.

His mother was diagnosed with late-stage dementia in 2018. Lee’s wife, also from Waynesboro, came back to care for his mom after her diagnosis. His mom died in November of 2020, and after things settled, his wife wasn’t ready to go back to big city life.

“My wife didn’t want to leave (Waynesboro),” he said. “She’s from here. And she wanted to come home.”

For someone who has visited his family in Waynesboro over the past three decades, he’s impressed at what has become of the “small country town” he grew up in.

“I’ve been able to see it evolve,” he said.

He’s especially enjoyed watching the city morph in the last four or five years. “It’s really nice.”

Lee has memories of Waynesboro as an industrial town. His dad worked at DuPont for more than 40 years. He said he’d like to see industry return to Waynesboro and would also like to see Waynesboro attract more technology and cyber companies to the area.

Retaining and paying employees a fair wage

Lee, a product of Waynesboro Public Schools, has been making the rounds, meeting with key personnel in the city to listen to their ideas and shaking hands with potential voters at events like the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast.

“I had a conversation with the chief of police,” he said. They talked about the job vacancies within the city. “They train these men and women, and then they complete their three-year commitment, and then a lot of them leave, for better pay or whatever the case may be.

“We need to fill those vacancies, but more importantly, we need to find ways so that we can retain those people and move them into leadership positions.”

He also talked specifically about public works employees.

“They do a great service for us,” he said. “We need to make sure our pay is competitive so they can afford to live here,” he said. “I was told that some of our city workers are making $11 an hour now. I don’t see how anyone can live off that.”

Homeless populations, other priorities

Lee was surprised to see the amount of homelessness in Waynesboro – especially children.

“I’m interested in learning more about the homeless populations in Waynesboro,” he said. “Are these veterans? Can we reach out the VA (Veterans Affairs) for assistance? What can we do as city council to help with that?”

Lee said he plans to ask a lot of questions to learn more about the issues and where things stand now.

“I have a lot of questions for fellow council members,” he said.

Lee said other priorities and issues he wants to explore include funding for schools, construction for schools and community block grants and how funds are distributed.

Diversity on council, in city jobs

Lee said he believes there should be more diversity on council and in city jobs like the police department.

“There should be people that look like me on City Council,” said Lee, who is African American.

In a city with a 20 percent minority population, the current council is all Caucasian.

Elzena Anderson, a Black woman, was elected to Ward A in 2016. She resigned her seat on March 1, 2020, before her term expired.

“I believe my successful election to the council will also invigorate people of color to be more involved in city business,” Lee said.

He has learned during his campaign that a lot of people of color have a general disinterest in city politics and the machinations of city government in general.

“I want to change the perception that City Council does not care,” he said.

‘I want to be part of the progress’

Lee points to his military service for his interest in the future of the city.

“We always say, let’s be part of the solution. I need to be, and want to be, involved,” he said. “I want to be a part of the progress that is going on and help to continue that progress.”

He said he brings a wealth of experience and knowledge having worked with people from all over the world in his military life.

Unpredictable, to say the least: Redistricting, November election, turnout

Lee is running for the seat currently held by Bobby Henderson. Henderson was selected as mayor during a July 2020 organization meeting. In June, Henderson announced that he would not seek a new four-year term.

Lee will face Republican nominee Jeremy Sloat for the Ward C seat on Waynesboro City Council.

Early voting is already taking place at the new location for the city voter registrar office in the lower level of the Waynesboro Public Library.

This is the first election in Waynesboro where residents will vote for their ward only. In past elections, candidates were required to live in their designated ward, but the entire city voted for the candidates.

The Virginia General Assembly also moved the city’s elections from May to November.

To add to the unpredictability, redistricting moved some residents to different wards within the city. For example, most Chatham Road residents voted previously in Ward D. Some were moved to Ward B. The city sent out new voter cards to those affected by the changes due to redistricting. The state also sent out information this week with correct ward information to those affected by the changes.

In the 2018 mid-term elections, there were 1,528 ballots cast in Ward C.

In the May 2018 city elections, there were only 388 voters in Ward C. Two thousand votes were cast citywide.

This November, Waynesboro voters will select the representative for Congress’ Sixth District: Republican Ben Cline and Democrat Jennifer Lewis are on the ballot.

It’s a wide range as far as what to expect in Ward C. How many voters will turn out in November? 388 like in a city election? Or 1,500 plus, like in the last midterms?

Lee sees the change as something good for Waynesboro because you can run specifically in your community – not citywide.

“Especially for me, being born and raised in the area. I went to Wayne Hills Elementary School and Rosenwald and Kate Collins. And you know, back then, we didn’t have buses, so we walked to school.”

He walked the streets and sidewalks in Ward C as a child and teen, and considers the neighborhood home, and the people in Ward C, his friends.

He plans to spend time at community events and hopes to have some “Get to Know Kenny” type events in coming weeks before Election Day.

“I’m ready to go,” he said.

For more information on Lee’s candidacy, visit www.kennyforwardc.com

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.