Daily Progress article about Nikuyah Walker’s emails to city officials comes under fire at City Council meeting

Editor says paper stands by its story

CityCouncil-nov

Tanesha Hudson speaking at the City Council meeting.

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

At a heated Charlottesville City Council meeting Monday, speakers condemned The Daily Progress during the public comment period for publishing an article about email exchanges between City Council member-elect Nikuyah Walker — who was a candidate at the time of publication — and current members of the Council. 

Many speakers also criticized the Council for its alleged role in the publication of the article, since the article referred to an anonymous source in City Hall who “called attention to [Walker’s] emails, voicing concerns about her ability to work collaboratively with city officials.” Several speakers claimed this source was Mayor Mike Signer and alleged he was attempting to sabotage Walker’s City Council bid in favor of Democratic candidates Amy Laufer and Heather Hill. 

Walker won a seat on Council in Tuesday's election as an independent candidate with 29.13 percent of the vote while Democrat Heather Hill won a second available seat with 28.57 percent of the vote. The meeting took place Monday night before Walker was elected to the Council in Tuesday’s election. 

The Daily Progress article, titled “Walker’s style of communication unabashedly aggressive,” detailed a number of emails sent to city officials by Walker. The emails related to unsatisfactory work performed on Walker's Charlottesville residence by the Albemarle Home Improvement Program and her views on racial inequality in the local community. 

At the beginning of the meeting, both Signer and Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy made statements condemning The Daily Progress for publishing the article. Signer claimed that he was unaware of who was responsible for the leak.

“I can no longer stand by idle while both covert and overt racism shows it ugly head and attacks Nikuyah Walker,” Bellamy said. “I do have an obligation to make you all aware that The Daily Progress and other powers are terrified of Ms. Walker.”

Bellamy said members of the city government and The Daily Progress fear Walker for her commitment to racial justice and that the article was an attempt by both the newspaper and local government officials to discredit Walker based on her race. 

“People are afraid of her strength, afraid of her intellect, afraid of the fact that she is unapologetic in her stance on equity, addressing systemic oppression and racism and afraid because she speaks her mind,” Bellamy said. “The article that was posted in The Daily Progress is a clear example of an entity or entities working to tear down a sister because she is bold, she speaks out and does not play the game that others want her to be.”

Signer criticized The Daily Progress for publishing the article and said that he did not himself — or otherwise direct anyone else — to utilize a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain records of the emails. He also criticized the use of language in the article, saying it invoked racial and gender stereotypes of African-American women.  

“I want to make clear how frustrated and disappointed I was by the paper’s decision to use this language and by the questionable timing of the article the day before the paper’s endorsement of two other [Republican] candidates which I thought was ridiculous,” Signer said. 

Many audience members booed Signer and yelled, “You’re lying,” claiming Signer played a role in the publication of the article. 

Tanesha Hudson, a Charlottesville native, shouted “It's sickening what this city is doing, all of y’all [councilors] need to leave.” Hudson also demanded that Chris Suarez — the author of the article who regularly covers City Council meetings — admit to alleged cooperation with Signer in its publication. 

During the following public comment section of the meeting, speakers continued to denounce The Daily Progress and alleged Signer was the anonymous source referenced in it. 

In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Wes Hester, editor of The Daily Progress, said the paper stands by its reporting. 

“We stand by the story, which was fair and accurate,” Hester said. “It was one of dozens of stories we published leading up to the election in an effort to present voters as much information as possible.”

Hester also said that The Daily Progress filed Freedom of Information Act requests for emails sent to current City Councilors from all of the former council candidates.

“As is standard practice, we received a tip and looked into it,” Hester said. “We filed a FOIA request for all candidates’ emails to council members, evaluated the results and reported on what was newsworthy.”

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