Who will be Smithfield’s next mayor?

Published 5:23 pm Monday, December 26, 2022

None of Smithfield’s Town Council members have gone on record as to who they’ll back as the town’s next mayor, but some say they don’t want the job.

Mayor Carter Williams, who’s held the position since 2012, received the fewest votes out of five candidates seeking four available council seats in the Nov. 8 election, and as such, will be leaving office on Dec. 31.

At the Jan. 3 Town Council meeting, the remaining five sitting members and two newcomers who won seats in November will be tasked with naming Williams’ successor. In Smithfield, the mayor is not elected directly by voters, but by a majority vote of sitting council members.

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Former Smithfield Police Chief Steve Bowman, who was the highest vote-getter in November among the council candidates, said he is “not actively seeking the office” and would “respect and support the council’s decision.”

Council member Wayne Hall, who was reelected to a new four-year term in November and secured the highest vote total among the three incumbent candidates, told The Smithfield Times on Dec. 26 that he’s “thought about” becoming a candidate for mayor, but hadn’t discussed the idea with his fellow council members.

Council member Renee Rountree, who was elected in 2020, said she intends to run for the District 1 seat on Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors in November 2023, and would step down from Town Council if elected at the county level. As such, “I will not be running for a leadership position this year,” Rountree said.

Councilman Randy Pack has his own reasons for not wanting to take Williams’ place as mayor.

Pack had pledged earlier in 2022 that he would recuse himself from any upcoming vote on former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph W. Luter III’s “Grange at 10Main” development, named for its proposed location at Main Street and Route 10 at the edge of the town’s historic district. The 56.8-acre development would include a mix of residential and commercial buildings, including a restaurant, which Pack has expressed interest in running. Pack and his brother, Brian, co-own and operate the Smithfield Station restaurant, hotel and marina, a similar establishment in Surry County named  the Surry Seafood Co., and are in the process of developing a third named 37 North at Fort Monroe in the city of Hampton.

“If I were mayor, it would appear there is some conflict of interest,” Pack said.

Council member Valerie Butler and member-elect Jeff Brooks have also said they aren’t interested in the job.

Council member Mike Smith, who currently serves as vice mayor, did not respond to the Times’ inquiry by deadline as to whether he was interested in the mayor position or whom he would support.

Smithfield’s current method of selecting its mayor dates to 1978. That year, much like 2022, voters were asked to choose from five candidates for four available seats. The late James Chapman made history that year by becoming the first African American elected to Smithfield’s Town Council.

According to past reporting by the Times, Chapman’s vote total surpassed the number of votes the late Mayor Carl Beale Jr. had received, which would have qualified Chapman to succeed Beale as mayor under the council’s previous method of automatically naming the highest vote-getter as mayor. But sitting council members changed their procedure that same year to require a majority vote among themselves, which remains in effect to this day. Chapman did eventually become Smithfield’s first Black mayor in 1990, and the Town Council chamber is now named for him.

Editor’s note: This corrects the name of Councilman Randy Pack’s brother.