PORTSMOUTH – Last week, a now infamous letter went out to residents living in Portsmouth’s 3rd and 5th Wards. In the letter, an author who is identified only as the “concerned citizens of Portsmouth”, urged voters to cast their ballots for candidates Gary Jenkins and Joey Sandlin as a way to oppose “City Council’s radical agenda.”
The letter specifically targeted First Ward Councilman Sean Dunne – who is running unopposed – as well as Fifth Ward Councilman Edwin Martell (who is running against Joey Sandlin). The letter states that council, led by Dunne and Martell, have taken Portsmouth in a “confusing and dangerous direction” by supporting the decriminalization of marijuana, enacting anti-discrimination legislation, and leading the charge to have Portsmouth recognized as an All-American City by the National Civic League.
The letter stated the anti-discrimination legislation, which prohibits discrimination dealing with housing and employment, will “result in … unhealthy and dangerous gender confusion in young children…(and) also place local girls at direct risk of sexual assault.”
Citizens of Portsmouth have spoken up against the letter and these statements. But Portsmouth Welcoming Community – Community of Christ Pastor Bennie Blevins came to City Council Monday to do so publicly.
“It doesn’t matter who wrote the letter,” said Blevins. “But, the letter is full of misinformation. In my day we called it lies…I am many things: an educator, a pastor, and a husband. I grew up here in Portsmouth and I grew up as a scared closeted teenager hearing people use the typical slurs for gay men. I also heard people talk about the gay agenda. In that agenda, us gay men were supposedly hiding in the darkness trying to lure young boys and men into our evil cult. That is ridiculous.”
“It’s 2021, and that mindset now seems focused on transgender people…Aren’t we tired of this? Aren’t we tired of the division and the hate and lies? This letter is the same old tired narrative that has labeled the LGBTQ community as sexual predators for years. I’m sick of it. I don’t care who wrote it. I don’t care who distributed it. But we need to start speaking against this kind of hate and these kind of narratives or its going to produce more hate, more fear, and more violence.”
The letter also attacked the City’s All American City Award given by the National Civic League, saying it was a cover for a “radical progressive agenda” and equating it with critical race theory and Marxism. In reality, the award was supported by numerous Portsmouth entities such as the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Portsmouth, Shawnee State University, the 14th Street Community Center, local business owners and many more.
During Monday night’s city council meeting, councilman Dunne used his ward report to directly address the letter.
“I’ve heard many concerns from members of our community about this letter,” explained Dunne. “Members of our community that have helped to move Portsmouth forward in so many different ways. I invite people to look at the All-America City presentation that Portsmouth gave. It featured (City Manager) Sam Sutherland, Councilwomen Lyvette Mosley and Charlotte Gordon, Councilman Martell, the Chief of Police, a Baptist pastor, members of Friends of Portsmouth and on and on. We have moved things forward in Portsmouth over the last two to three years with a collaborative effort between many groups.”
“The letter talks about relating the award to Marxism. That is part of this economic illiteracy I’ve been seeing when people talk about local politics and economic development lately. They talk about economics – and really don’t know what it is. The idea that the Chamber of Commerce would support a move to Marxism is absolutely moronic.”
Dunne continued by saying citizens should use the letter as fuel to move forward with progress.
“We should stress, as a community, we are not stupid – and this letter was void of all intellect. We are not cowards – and not being able to put your name to something is pure cowardice. I want to stress that. I condemn the cowards that are behind this. I condemn the cowards that have stayed silent about it. And we should use this as a way to congratulate all those that have moved our community forward in a variety different way. Let’s not give attention to those that are here to troll, attack, and be toxic.”
Portsmouth City Council candidates Gary Jenkins and Joey Sandlin have publicly stated they had no involvement with the letter. The Portsmouth Daily Times reached out to both candidates for comment on the letter.
“I was completely unaware,” Jenkins said. “I found out about the letter just like the people of Portsmouth did.”
“I was not involved in that letter in any way nor will I get invoked in divisive politics that only seeks to divide us and that does not help our city to move forward and grow together. I believe in equality for all,” Sandlin said. “I also believe that City Council meetings is no place to politically grandstand things like this letter because it only deepens the divide of the good people of Portsmouth who have elected each councilperson to serve.”
“I believe that the business of the city council is to do the City’s business. This is my focus as the 5th Ward City Council candidate, and it will be my focus as the 5th Ward Council Person should the good people of the 5th ward choose to elect me to serve. New business and population growth, new roads, sewage drains that work, clean drinking water. A safe City with strong support for police, fire and our city workers. I will work to build our businesses and population back. This is my focus and vision for Portsmouth,” Sandlin said. “I am not involved, nor will I get involved in the matters that have nothing to do with the City Council business. Councilmen Martel’s voting record is his record. I’ll leave that for him to answer for. I believe Portsmouth needs a new direction with more focused council that is business friendly, and growth minded. One that will fix our infrastructure and support all our businesses equally and build back all of Portsmouth.”
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