The Mirror had a chance to sit down with Candidate Finale Johnson Norton this week. Johnson is challenging Rob Bloxom for the District 100 Delegate seat. Finale is new on the Eastern Shore political scene, so the Mirror wanted to provide an opportunity for the community to get to know her.
MIRROR: Hi Finale, it’s great to be with you, and thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. So, first question, why have you decided to run, and what aspect of working in local government is most important to you?
FINALE: I was born and raised on the Eastern Shore and am really proud of that experience, my mom is still here, I retired here, I was fortunate to grow up with a loving family. We were not wealthy, but very poor. My dad had a 4th-grade education, he shucked oysters, my mom cleaned houses. By the time I got to the 8th grade, my dad passed away. It was very tragic for my family and life-changing. Me and all my sisters took part-time jobs to help the family. I took a job cleaning clam buckets, which is something you did early in the day because by afternoon those buckets were so stinky nobody wanted to be around them. I also graded tomatoes and picked crabs, and eventually waitressed, so I understand the kind of lived experiences, the kind of jobs that were available to me growing up, and there are still people doing those kinds of jobs. I graduated from Northampton High School and had the chance to go to college. I went to Hampton University and started to work at Bank of America after college. I had the opportunity to do some real good work there and worked up to becoming a regional executive where I had the opportunity to work with 3500 employees. When you do that kind of work you engage with all kinds of people, at every social-economic level. So when I moved back to the Eastern Shore, there are things that I considered to be very important—I know how important it is to get a good high school education, Northampton provided that for me. So while I’m here, I have conversations with teachers and families, and how important it is to have proper funding because public schools are the way out. I also understand how important it is to have good-paying jobs, and how important it is to take care of our seniors who have done many kinds of jobs, whether agriculture or domestic–living on social security is hard for them, so having the social-economic structures in place for them is important. So as I see all the opportunities for those kinds of policies and support systems that can be available for people, that drives me to believe that I can make a difference here. And that’s why I want to run for Delegate.
MIRROR: What life experiences have you had that have led you to feel you are the right person?
FINALE: I think what I just talked about with those kinds of life experiences–it talks a lot about the Eastern Shore and how we live here. There are a lot of things here now that I didn’t have growing up, and that is really good, but I still believe there is an opportunity to do better. Those kinds of policies and legislation that I just spoke of will give families the opportunity to have a better minimum wage, paid sick time…so those things, those issues continue to be important, and those issues don’t just exist on the Eastern Shore. Our district contains parts of Norfolk, and those issues are the same there. It’s important that I lived on the Eastern Shore, but I also lived in Norfolk, and have had the experience of being a Navy wife, so I understand the challenges and opportunities on both sides of our district.
MIRROR: How do you feel about how Rob Bloxom has been doing?
FINALE: I think some of the things we have talked about, such as funding for public schools are so important. Anyone can go and take a look at the record of how someone has voted, so when you look at that, you see where it’s important to raise the minimum wage, to have paid sick leave, to advocate for our seniors so that they have the right kind of services so that they can live better and don’t have to choose from getting prescription medicines and hot dogs. That our seniors can retire in dignity. Those are just a few of the issues that are so important and that I would have a different perspective on, and how they can create value for our constituents versus the way Mr. Bloxom has handled those things.
MIRROR: This is specific more to the Eastern Shore. Housing is a big issue for low- and median-income people, for a lot of reasons, it is hard for many of our workers, county workers, teachers trying to find affordable housing- What policies to think could help the Shore to help us to get more affordable housing—is it building new homes and commercial space or rehabbing older homes, how do you see that issue?
FINALE: I think it is not a one-decision kind of issue, it is all the things you just said. It is certainly rehabbing, certainly build new, affordable housing. There is a meeting coming up later this month that will spend three hours around affordable housing…nothing should be taken off the table as a way of fixing affordable housing. Terry McAuliffe has a pretty robust plan around this issue. It is something that I am very well aware of, on the Eastern Shore, and would not ignore anything that could create better opportunities for affordable housing for our constituents.
MIRROR: Okay, we’re going to switch gears a bit. Most of the businesses here on the shore, and even in Norfolk are small businesses…Norfolk does have malls and big-box stores, and the businesses related to the military, but in general, what we are seeing are small business owners that are struggling. What are your priorities for the small businessman or woman, and what do you bring to the table that can help them?
FINALE: I have a robust background in business and one of the things I used to do when I worked at the bank, I taught small businesses, so I have a pretty good sense of what is required of them to thrive. When you look at how they were affected by the pandemic, many of them took a pretty big hit. So any opportunities or programs that are available as it relates to the American Relief Plan is going to be good for small businesses, and one of the bigger opportunities that I have seen for small businesses is understanding what is available to them and how to get to it. We have to have the resources in place for people to get the information that they need so that they can thrive. I also important for small businesses, at the end of the day, it is making sure that they have access to good employees who are going to be able to do the work that they need so that they can continue to stay open. For me, for small businesses, it is making sure that the information is available, that the funding is accessible, and that we work as hard as we can to provide a good workforce to get the work done that they need to be done. Our small businesses are doing what they can to ensure that they recover from the Covid pandemic, but in the future, we need to look at how we will respond to the future health crisis’ like Covid. Lessons Learned from this pandemic is ensuring that we take those lessons and apply to future crisis’.
MIRROR: We touched on this a little earlier, but the school systems on the shore, and in Norfolk are struggling with the pandemic and other things such as financial and cultural issues the plague rural areas. What do you see that we can do to bolster our schools and help our teachers, and more importantly, support our students?
FINALE: This is an issue that is not a one thing fix, but is more a holistic issue. It is important to think about the whole student, and it’s not just what happens to them when they are at school, but what happens before school, and in terms of programs, after school. When I talk to parents, they talk about their work-life, and when they get home, they are worried about their kids because they don’t have anything to do, and we need to think about that. And during school, looking at the whole child, making sure there are resources available, good counselors, and access to social workers if needed so that the student is taken care of holistically. That also includes our educators, our teacher’s pay is one of the lowest in the country, and it is untenable, unacceptable. It is the whole student, before school, during, and after school, and that funding and programs are available to support that, and that we pay our teachers well, and that our teachers have the right support systems in place. They also have struggled during the pandemic.
MIRROR: This is kind of tie-in to the last question, I no longer have kids in school, but I coach, and run youth programs at the local theater, and I talk to students, parents, and teachers, and one of the issues that keep coming up is the mask mandate in school, and some parents are furious against it, some are totally for it. Where do you stand on the mask mandate for our schools?
FINALE: I just say follow the science. We are not the experts, we have folks that are the experts, they know what the science is, and what the results of following the science are. My stand is to follow the science.
MIRROR: On the Eastern Shore, in Norfolk, and our district in general, we are a very collaborative culture, what I mean by that is many of our churches, our faith-based organizations, charities, volunteers like myself, try to work together with the entire community, and even as we love it, it’s a big stress on people, and on organizations. It does fill a gap, but what else can government do to help people and organizations, working with us in a collaborative way, to make us more successful?
FINALE: The first government needs to do is to understand what the challenges are. Those folks on the front lines are the best resources for finding out and understanding what we need to know to solve the problem. Once you listen, you understand where to provide the resources, guidance, and funding and whatever is needed to solve those challenges or issues.
MIRROR: This is a national issue as much as it is anything else, but it comes up on the Eastern Shore, people are on both sides of it, do you support laws that require voters to show official identification before being allowed to vote?
FINALE: If you have identification that shows who you are, whether it is your home address, there is an entire list of what we have right now that shows all of the eligible identification that you can use, and I support that. In Virginia, today, we have a list and it’s pretty liberal to ensure that everybody has the right identification, and using these guidelines, makes it easier for folks to exercise that right.
MIRROR: We’re going to finish up with some goofy questions, this is a weird one, but tell us something that is interesting about you?
FINALE: I think what is interesting about me, my family, is that two sisters married two brothers, so my uncles and my aunts are really my uncles and my aunts.
MIRROR: What is your greatest weakness?
FINALE: Let me think about that for a second. One of the things I struggled with throughout my career, is taking no for answer. I have a really hard time taking no for answer, and just have to try and find a way to get it done, and if there’s a way, I just have to find it. No is the last resort for me.
MIRROR: This is the last question. This is the Cape Charles Mirror, and we’re really focused more than anything on all things Cape Charles. What is your general impression about how Cape Charles is growing, and if you have a favorite place that you like in Cape Charles, what is it?
Our favorite restaurant is the Oyster Farm, I love it, I go there for their burgers, and I just absolutely love it…that burger is to die for. The mac-n-cheese is great too. I also love the Brown Dog, I think it outpaces the Island Creamery in Chincoteague. And that is a big deal. The way the town is growing is fantastic, the tourism there, how people talk about Cape Charles and how they love to visit it is just great. And want to see the same thing happen in Exmore. I think there is a real opportunity for Exmore to bring its own character to the Eastern Shore just like Cape Charles and Onancock have.
MIRROR: I agree. That’s a great idea. I have friends in Exmore and we’ve said the same thing, talked about that a lot. The downtown area has great potential, and tying to Willis Wharf, which is just gorgeous, is a real opportunity. Keep an eye on Cheriton too. Finale, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us, it was really fun getting to know you and to find out more about you, your background, and where you stand on our issues.
FINALE: It was my pleasure, thanks for having me!