Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones advocates for housing, transportation funding during White House visit

Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones advocates for housing, transportation funding during White House visit

January 3, 2023

Phillip Jones officially took over the role of Newport News mayor on Jan. 1. But before then, he got a jump start on advocating for the city’s needs.

Jones traveled to Washington, D.C., on Dec. 16 to meet with senior leadership of the Biden administration at the White House, where he advocated for federal funding for transportation and housing in Newport News.

Jones told the Daily Press in a phone interview that he wants to ensure Newport News is represented at the state and national levels and that he hopes to be a “bridge builder.”

His White House meeting included briefings from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge. Jones said he considers transportation a significant barrier to getting to work, particularly when traveling from the South district to the city’s North district and vice versa. Specifically, he spoke of his desire to bring bus rapid transit to Newport News.

“I believe that if we have a sort of long-term, high capacity mass transit system, that’s going to be a way to increase mobility for everyone, not only in Newport News, but also sort of connecting the Southside with Williamsburg, etc.,” Jones said.

Jones, 33, made history in November when he defeated three City Council members to be elected the city’s youngest Black mayor after incumbent McKinley Price decided not to seek another term.

He was one of 13 newly elected mayors from across the country invited to attend the Dec. 16 meeting. Among the topics discussed were how cities can use funding allocated through the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and how the mayors can work with the White House on other domestic priorities for cities, such as public safety and affordable housing.

“I want everyone to understand that we have a Republican governor and a Democratic president, but the role of the mayor is to ensure that we get state money and federal money because at the end of the day, we’re trying to increase services (and) fund all the good things in Newport News that requires money,” Jones said. “And so I’ll be in Richmond a lot, and I’ll be in D.C. a lot.”

Jones, who ran as an independent as Newport News elections are nonpartisan, said he hopes the city will receive a federal Reconnecting Communities grant to fund public transportation and other amenities.

Jones also hopes to use the city’s success in utilizing the $30 million Choice Neighborhood Initiative grant it received in 2019 as part of his case for further federal investments in Newport News housing. The grant money has helped finance various affordable housing projects in the Southeast community — some of which are almost complete, and others are currently under construction. According to Jones, Fudge said she would like to visit Newport News and witness the city’s progress firsthand.

“We have a lot of great things that are happening, but you have to sort of shape the narrative and make sure that the right people hear about it,” Jones said. “So that’s essentially what I did. People are really excited about what’s happening in Newport News.”

President Joe Biden also dropped by the meeting to congratulate the mayors on their elections and emphasize the importance of a strong partnership with his administration and local governments. Jones described meeting the president as “a surreal experience.”

“I think he mentioned that being mayor is probably the hardest job in politics because you have agency to get things done, but you are also at the ground level,” Jones said. “People will see me in Food Lion, and they will see me at the gym. You are very accessible to the public.”

Biden asked the mayors — because they are on the ground level — to help his administration know what is and isn’t working.

“He told us to use his secretaries and cabinet secretaries to make sure that if we have a request that we actually ask for it and we don’t wait until it’s too late,” Jones said.

Jones said he’ll be back in Washington to talk to HUD again.

“My goal is to ensure that Newport News is at the table,” Jones said.

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