How Jasmine Gore made history on election night in Hopewell’s Ward 4

Jasmine Gore went to VCU to study Biology. Two years after graduating, she’s become one of Hopewell’s youngest politicians in history, and likely the first black female to serve as councilor for Ward 4.

Election night provided many surprises across the country. From ballot initiatives legalizing medical marijuana, states voting in favor of gay marriage, and the election of the country’s first openly gay senator. However, the Richmond area was not absent its own election night firsts.

Jasmine Gore made history in Hopewell, VA by matching the record for youngest candidate (26) ever elected to Hopewell’s City Council, and by likely becoming the first black councilor in history to represent Hopewell’s Ward 4.

But Gore didn’t always want to be a politician,”when I was in high school I loved biology,” Gore said. She graduated from Hopewell High School shortly after her father, Elijah Gore, retired after serving 27 years in the Army. She then attended VCU to earn a degree in the subject she adored in high school. Unfortunately, the further along in her college program she went, the more her love of biology withered. She wanted to change majors, but “my parents wouldn’t let me do it” so far into the program, she said.

Instead, her mother encouraged her to supplement the more arduous coursework with more enjoyable electives. Gore took courses like Constitutional Law and Political Theory to serve “as my fun class” each semester. She later realized that by taking so many political science classes as electives, her fun classes could yield a whole degree. She graduated in 2010 with dual degrees in Biology and Political Science.

Those academic interests intersected in a unique way before graduation. “I got interested in the Innocence Project,” Gore said, speaking about the nationwide litigation organization that exonerates wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing. The organization was a “good use of science,” she said. “We didn’t have this technology that we have now” to clear the names of the wrongfully imprisoned. The combination of science with public policy appealed to Gore. “I made up my mind that I wanted to go to law school.”

Around the same time, Gore began internships at the Chesterfield Community Corrections and the Virginia General Assembly. “[I have] the probation side…and then I have the legislative side,” she said of her experience. In 2009, Gore’s internship with the General Assembly led her to work with Virginia Delegate Jennifer McClellan (71st District).

Del. McClellan said that Gore took “…every opportunity to invest and advocate for communities throughout Virginia,” during her internship. “She is diligent, hard-working, and extremely reliable, often exceeding expectations in all aspects of her work. In particular, I found her work ethic admirable.”

Gore said that as a result of working with Del. McClellan’s office she “fell in love with legislation.”

“That’s what sparked my interest to run for City Council.”

The Underdog

Gore didn’t make an impromptu decision to run for Ward 4 City Councilor. She first solicited advice from Hopewell Mayor Christina Luman-Bailey.1 “I want to run for City Council…,” Gore said. What do I need to do?

Luman-Bailey encouraged the young politico to take part in community boards. Gore was soon appointed to Hopewell’s Architecture Review Board, the Economic Development Authority, and also served as Education Liaison for Keep Hopewell Beautiful commission. “I wanted to be in different fields,” she said, to acquaint herself with the many facets of local government.

Gore applied, and was accepted, to Charlotte School of Law, but she still eyed a City Council seat. “I thought really long and hard about it,” Gore said, ultimately deciding to delay her admission to make time for a political run. In June 2012, she submitted the required application and number of signatures to the city of Hopewell. Just before her 26th birthday, Gore was an official Ward 4 candidate.

“I was astonished,” said Gore’s father, Elijah, after his daughter told the family of her plans. His surprise largely came from the fact that his daughter had never displayed political interest while growing up, and now she was a bona fide politician. However, neither Gore’s mother nor father tried to dissuade her because, according to her father, “…she could be a role model for other young people…”

While having an abundance of family support, Gore lacked the most vital support needed for a successful political run: money. Competing against two other candidates–Wanda Pisarek and Steven Nugent, both attempting to take over the seat vacated by Gerald Stokes–Gore would need all the capital should could get.

To help fund her campaign, Gore worked overtime at her full-time job sequencing DNA at a lab. “I really didn’t have the funds like the other two candidates did,” she said. Even with extra money from overtime work, Gore said “my yard signs were completely outnumbered” by those of her opponents. Her opponents also had more than a financial edge.

“The other candidates were older than me.” As a result, “they had a lot of ties” to the community that, because of Gore’s age, she did not. “I think they felt the relationships they had [within the community] would carry them” to victory. “I knew people would say instantly that I was too young.” She added: “In a lot of people’s minds…[young] age equals immaturity.”

To disprove that notion, Gore “took advantage of the public events,” like Hooray for Hopewell, to both put her campaign on the radar of Ward 4 constituents and to prove she was capable of holding office.2 She even used her age advantageously. Youth, she argued, “…is the newest thing…it’s creativity.” She believed her age would make her an asset to both Ward 4 residents and the City Council. But would voters agree?

One day, while taking a daily walk through a local neighborhood, an older woman called Gore over. “She told me that people had concerns about my age, but she told me that she advocated for me. She said that when people showed concern, she asked, ‘if your grandchild or daughter wanted to make a difference or run for something she wanted….would you tell them not to try or give up because of their age?'” It was a moment that both inspired and reinvigorated Gore.

“I will never forget that, because she insisted that I keep fighting, because City Council needs a new perspective, new blood, and [she] joked that ‘we are getting old and we need someone to take over and move the city forward.'” Residents, it seemed, were slowly beginning to see Gore’s youth as an asset. But perhaps Gore’s biggest asset was a decidedly technological one.

Unlike her opponents, Gore had a website, giving her the opportunity to introduce and brand herself to voters by way of the web. While some voters are apprehensive about the door-to-door political marketing and hand-shaking, Gore’s website allowed her “to reach my people and remain personable,” all without bombarding constituents with mailers and signs and unscheduled home visits.

Gore also courted organizations, and eventually won the endorsements of VA NOW (Virginia’s chapter of the National Organization of Women)–which also contributed money to her campaign–and the AFL-CIO. But even with these high-profile entities endorsing her, the Gore campaign was still the grassiest of grassroots, relying on the web and community outreach as its strategy to win.

The Strategy Works

Of the 2,402 registered voters in Hopewell’s Ward 4, 1,687 of them voted on Tuesday, November 6th. Of those, 636 (38%) voted for Jasmine Gore, enough to secure her a City Council seat.

Not only did she win a seat, but a historic one. Gore became just the second 26 year-old to sit on Hopewell’s City Council (Jeff Fitch was also 26 when he began serving on City Council in the mid-1990s3), making her one of the youngest to ever serve. She is also likely the first black representative of Ward 4.4

Gore is excited that “people who are older than me” have put their trust her. “People are becoming more open-minded to change.”

Not only did Gore say she will work to represent her constituents in her upcoming four-year term, but she wants “to get people my age involved” in government. Young people, she said, make up a vital component of society, a component that should lend its voice to government.

When her term begins, Gore will negotiate time and duties between City Council and her work. She also hopes to earn a law degree at the University of Richmond through evening classes, after which she would like to work with the Innocence Project. However, her political aspirations are hardly over.

Gore said she would like to be re-elected to City Council, and then turn her political ambitions to the General Assembly and beyond. “It would be my dream to work my way up to Congress,” she said. She’s hopeful it will happen, but for now, her attention is on Hopewell’s Ward 4.

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  1. In Hopewell, the Mayor is not elected but chosen by City Council. Mayor Luman-Bailey is also the Councilor for Ward 1, a position she has held since 2006. 
  2. “I must say, that my closest friends made the ultimate campaign team, because they backed me from the beginning,” Gore said. Among them were best friend Keisha Pettaway (Treasurer), Chitarra Daniels (Campaign Manager), “Mr. Jim” (Field Director), Randy Simpson (Field Director), Steve Blizzard (co-Campaign Manager), George Uzzel (Organizer), among others. 
  3. According to research done by Hopewell’s Registrar Office, per the request of RVANews. 
  4. Proving this will be difficult. Hopewell does not require City Council candidates to list their race, therefore, there is no documentation of race for previous councilors. However, long-standing officials cannot recall a black councilor for Ward 4 from recent memory. 

photo courtesy of Jasmine Gore

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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