Theresa Coates Ellis on Her Run for Mayor of Manassas City, the Impact of COVID-19, and More

During this time, I hope all you readers are staying safe, staying quarantined, and doing your part as we flatten the curve. Coronavirus has us at a standstill, but it can’t stop us at Bearing Drift. I was able to do a phone interview with Manassas City Council member and businesswoman Theresa Coates Ellis as she campaigns for mayor of Manassas at this turbulent time.

Mike Allers: Councilwoman, thanks for joining me! […] During this time, you are running for mayor of the city of Manassas. In light of the Coronavirus, how has that impacted you on the trail so far, your messaging going forward, and what you plan to do for Manassas?

Theresa Coates Ellis: Well, my messaging from the beginning was to run on my experience and specifically my leadership. I’m ready to lead. I’m ready to go. When our Mayor, [when] he was the mayor for a few terms – that position – we now have to look at the position of the Mayor and how it has changed since Mayor Harold Parrish originally took that role. It has changed a lot.

I am ready to lead, I am a person of action, I am known to get things done. I’m not a talker; I actually get results. I have strong strategic partnerships, not only as a business owner in the city, but also as a past volunteer leader. As area Governor of Rotary, which I still am, and President of the Intraservice Club Council, which is a council of volunteers – a non-profit organizations.

So, I have those strategic partnerships to step into that role immediately, and do the role, but also to redefine the role – more as a communicator, more of a connector, like offering innovative tools – get messaging out. Videos, podcasts, blogging, being able to have programs available to connect the community to what is going on in the city. And I’m still doing that, even with the coronavirus out there, and that’s the most important thing that our citizens and community members need.

And of course, during this time, communication across the spectrum is necessary more than ever especially for those that don’t regularly watch the news or might not know what is going on in the community.

And we do not have daily newspapers anymore, but our seniors … are coming around. My dad is 77 and has Facebook now. They give in after a while. (laughs)

Sure, and now you’re seeing, actually, former Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel who wrote a book on how mayors are actually leading the charge in the 21st century, and how there is this resurgence in local government because that’s where the most change can happen. So, in Manassas City, and taking your experience as a member of the community, serving on City Council, and as a Master Gardener, what are some changes that not even the Coronavirus can stop, that you want to bring to Manassas?

Some of the changes I want to bring, actually, I’ve had a lot of initiatives that I have done as a volunteer leader, and as a council member, because I am an elected City Council member also, is expanding some of these initiatives, not as a government program, but as a program that is embraced by the community and owned by the community.

What I like to tell people is, you have to “own your city.” How can you own and invest in your own city? So, programs that I’ve had in the past called “Shadow for a Day.”

“Shadow for a Day” is a great network that is in its third year that connects professionals, tradesmen, and servicemen. People of service such as our policemen, fire, and rescue, to students and young professionals. So, if our schools are having challenges, once they graduate from high school and do not go to college, which some of them fall through the cracks, how do we bring them in a network to connect, for continuing education, for internships, apprenticeships? It’s very, very important. So I want to build that. Own your city. Businesses are on board with it already, and we just need to get more involved, and I would like to run the charge on that.

Another thing is continuing City Talks. That’s something I have been doing regularly, like Meet-Up groups. Have the Mayor meet up with people more – more community based meet-ups. I really got good attendance with that. People want to know what’s happening. So, that’s been effective. Like Coffee Chats. I’m actually going to do it virtually now on March 28th. I’m going to do a Virtual Meet-Up called “Buzz and Bees in the City” because we are moving ahead in our sustainability which is in our comprehension plan, by preparing for the future. And one of the initiatives that I am patroning is “Bee City USA” so we are going to have a demonstration, bee hives, and also talk about responsible landscaping, native plants, you know, just people. They can do this in the community. This is not the government going in and planning for that. [These are] communities doing their part for sustainability.

And that’s what the Mayor has to cultivate and take the charge on for sure.

Absolutely. It’s not just a figurehead. It’s also important you have good relationships with the staff – the city manager, fellow council members, Commissioner of Revenue, Treasurer – all the important people that keep our city running. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree all the time. The Mayor is in between – they’re the ones that bring the messaging back and forth. That’s how I would like to see it, to bring them together. I am the parent of seven children. My husband and I have six daughters and one son. And they’re all adults and they are from Air Force to artist. (chuckles) Huge diversified group, but because of that and being a business owner, where I have always led, I have a health care background as well, thirty years in management, so dealing with doctors, medical assistants, patients – you know how to work with people. You have to get things done. You have to know how to bring people together.

Especially during this time. Party does not matter right now.

That’s right, Party doesn’t matter. The biggest problem we have right now, it’s so different, I just talked to somebody about this. I remember 9/11. So 9/11 was a frightening time. But you could still go out and eat in a restaurant. You could still get together at the end of your cul-de-sac, and have a candlelight service.

Now it’s like we are all scared to death in isolation. And so what is the most important tool you have right now? It’s communication, it’s digital, visual. That’s my background. Communication and business management. So that’s so important and you’re starting to see that who is emerging, being put, not just the messaging of resources, but the messaging to keep people having hope. That is so critical right now.

What would you propose, and especially with rent so high as it is now … there are people that have been laid off, people that cannot pay rent – what would you propose that Manassas do? Especially if this continues. We don’t know how long it can go.

Yeah, I think there are some banks that are [handling] mortgages, I know the commercial lenders are looking at giving leeway to that, hopefully, like a deferment. That’s great for businesses, but really it’s up to the owner of the building. They can get a deferment on their mortgage, but still charge them rent. So, this is where people really have to really work together. I know there are some building owners in the city that are seeing how they can help tenets stay in their buildings, trying to work out a deferred rent for them.

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