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'You gotta work with everybody"—Culpeper elects 1st Black mayor in 262-year history

Frank Reaves Jr. will become the first African-American mayor of Culpeper in the town’s 262-year-history when he is sworn into office at the start of 2022.

He said he didn’t realize the milestone when he decided to run.

“It feels good, real good,” Reaves said in a recent meeting at Raven’s Nest downtown. “Now I gotta get the board and everybody working together.”

Saying he wants to bring people together is his tagline. The 69-year-old worked in law enforcement for most of his professional career, but he’s more like a diplomat.

“I just wanted to run wanted to see this town survive,” Reaves said, asked about being the first African-American mayor.

He added, “You can’t have special groups when you’re mayor, you gotta work with everybody, everybody’s gotta be special. Can’t show no favoritism.”

A Culpeper native, Reaves started his high school education at the region’s African-American school at George Washington Carver and ended with the first integrated class at Culpeper High. He’s never been particularly political, but he noticed what happened in town the past few elections with local partisan candidates.

“It just got out of hand,” Reaves said. “I want to get the people back together. This town right now is so much hate and we don’t need that.”

When asked how he intends to bring people together, the mayor-elect advocated for more community functions and greater youth amenities. Reaves said he intended to work to recruit family-oriented businesses to town and meet with leaders from other localities to see how it’s been done in the past.

He wants more “stuff for the kids,” and is in favor of building Culpeper’s first public pool. “It’s on the way,” Reaves said.

The idea to build a public pool on town-owned land across the tracks behind the Depot remains under study, Reaves said. Other possible pool sites are on school property at Culpeper County High, he said, and on a town parcel at the new Lake Pelham dam, not far from the large housing development at Lakeview.

Reaves said he intended to meet with the schools to see about using their land for a pool as well as county board chairman Gary Deal to see about a town-county collaboration.

“Hoping within a year or so,” said the mayor-elect. “Everybody’s on board for it right now.”

Asked about the high rate of drug overdoses in Culpeper, Reaves said he would collaborate with the chief of police and sheriff to seek out fresh solutions to the scourge impacting so many families everywhere.

“We gotta get the public involved, let us know what’s going on, speak up when your family member has a problem to get them some help,” he said.

Reaves said he would work with the local Department of Human Services to continue to tackle homelessness and provide more affordable housing in Culpeper. And he’s not giving up on removing the Confederate name from Lake Pelham.

“We are going to have to come up with something,” Reaves said.

Like most people, he was unaware most of his life about the identity of Pelham, an Alabama artillery officer who died in Culpeper during the Civil War. Reaves would not answer when asked if the name offended him.

“Like I said, I’m for the people, not what I want. I go with the people… Once you bring it up, you gotta react,” he said.

Reaves ran an old-fashioned campaign going to door to door on foot. He and his supporters hit about 1,400 houses, he said.

“I lost 20 pounds,” Reaves said. “I always like to have someone walk with me, but a few times I walked by myself. I knew it had to be done. We got so many new people [moving in]—you gotta get out there and let them know who you are, talk to these people.”

Reaves was convinced a few months ago to create a Facebook page to reach more people. He won election not by landslide, but with 53 percent to opponent Jon Russell, a seasoned politician active on social media. The mayor-elect vowed to treat everyone the same once in office, whether they voted for him or not.

“Everybody’s going to be in my corner. I want everybody smiling,” he said.

Volunteers on Reaves’ campaign, Angie Abeijou, his daughter-in-law Michelle Reaves, and cousin, Carolyn Reaves-Richards, joined in on the recent conversation.

“When you go back and look at community pictures who do you see in every single picture? Frank,” said Abeijou.

Instead of posting on social media about issues in the community that need attention, Reaves takes action and takes care of it himself, she said.

Reaves will bend over backward for his town, frequently missing family events for local events, said his daughter-in-law.

“Frank is overall a good man. He puts Culpeper first, no matter what, all the time. It’s about the people. He eats, breathes and sleeps Culpeper,” said Michelle Reaves.

The town has come a long way in electing its first African-American mayor, she added.

“I don’t think that anybody would have seen this coming 20 years ago—even 10 years ago, probably not,” Michelle Reaves said. “It’s just amazing that we are alive today to see it. The first Black mayor, it’s insane.”

His cousin, Reaves-Richards, when asked about Reaves being the first Black mayor, replied, “Frank truly will be the man.”

She described a long history of Reaves taking action when something needs to be corrected, including finding the right person to fix it. From mending potholes to creating crosswalks to mowing grass in the park for a special event, nothing is beyond him, Reaves-Richards said.

“He’s about people, not about himself. I think he deserved the position. Every time he tells me I’m going to run, I said let me get my tennis shoes. We have walked so much,” she said, laughing. “He is a living Energizer bunny, it sums it all. Frank is always about doing things. I don’t care what you ask him. He is a loving person.”

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