Democratic debate in Smithfield canceled after Clark withdraws

Published 4:02 pm Friday, May 19, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Former Del. Nadarius Clark says he won’t be attending a scheduled May 31 debate in Smithfield ahead of the June 20 primary election that will determine the Democratic nominee for the newly created 84th House of Delegates District.

As a result, Democratic Party officials have canceled the candidate forum in its entirety.

The event, which Smithfield Times Publisher Steve Stewart was to moderate, had been planned for 6:30 p.m. in The Smithfield Center. Clark, however, says his campaign never formally agreed to the date, time, location or format of the debate.

“Nothing was ever solidified,” Clark told the Times by phone on May 15.

His opponent, Michele Joyce of Smithfield, however, contends she and Clark were each invited – and agreed – in March to participate, and that Clark’s campaign even offered to write the first draft of debate rules.

“Voters need to know that the same guy who just moved into the district less than two months ago cannot deign to attend a public candidates’ forum/debate,” said Joyce Campaign Manager Jason Palalay. “Nadarius has repeatedly demonstrated that he is not interested in doing the work of representing people.”

Clark, who in March resigned from the 79th House District seat and relocated from Portsmouth to Suffolk, called Palalay’s remarks “startling” and criticized Joyce’s campaign for focusing “on things that are not the issues” affecting 84th District voters.

According to Palalay, the May 31 debate was the only such forum for Democratic candidates ahead of the primary. Joe Puglisi, chairman of the Isle of Wight County Democratic Party, confirmed by email that the event would be canceled as a result of Clark’s withdrawal.

Clark says his current focus, rather than debating Joyce, is on “meeting people where they are” and encouraging voter turnout.

Clark contends that he has been making appearances in the 84th District’s communities and that groups and event organizers can request an appearance by contacting his campaign.

The 84th District, created during the 2021 redistricting process based on the 2020 Census, spans the Isle of Wight County-Suffolk border, with Suffolk accounting for roughly 77% of the district’s voters. The district also includes the city of Franklin and a small area of Chesapeake. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will in November face either Mike Dillender or Rod Thompson, who are vying for the Republican nomination.