As Eric Stamps walked around the block of Paxton Street he grew up on, he pointed to different houses that once held family members or neighbors.
Now, they added to number of empty, dilapidated houses in city limits, decorated with “no trespassing” signs.
The sidewalks were uneven and overgrown in places along the walk around Paxton and Stokes streets.
The wealth of that portion of Danville hasn’t improved over the years, he said. If anything it’s worsened with the closure of businesses in the city as well as across the border in North Carolina towns like Eden or Yanceyville.
“This and other parts of town are true reflections of the socioeconomic status of Danville,” he said.
When politicians highlight the growth of downtown Danville, Stamps said he feels like they’re ignoring the experience and needs of a large portion of city residents.
Therefore, the 29-year-old Danville native has decided to run for a seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates to represent the 14th district come November, starting to collect his 125 petitions needed to be on the ballot.
“They feel like nothing has changed in decades, and that no one’s done anything to help their issues,” said Stamps. “The same buildings that were crumbling down 20 years ago are still crumbling down.”
Currently represented by Republican Delegate Danny Marshall, the 14th House of Delegate District encompasses the city of Danville, the southwestern and southeastern portion of Pittsylvania County and the southeastern corner of Henry County.
Marshall has held his seat since 2001, when he beat Democratic candidate J.E. Glaise by an almost 21-point margin.
Since then, Marshall has gone uncontested in five of nine election cycles. The last time his seat was challenged was in the 2013 state election, where he defeated opponents Democrat Gary Miller and Independent Mary Scott Martin by earning 58.7 percent of the vote.
The trend of incumbent state representatives running without a challenger is seen across state, including Southside.
For them to run uncontested, Stamps said that means they’re not being held accountable.
“But,” he noted. “I’m running not just to hold people accountable. I’m running specifically to improve the lives of working people and poor people in the area.”
The freelance designer’s activity in the political realm started while he attended art school in California. While there, he started volunteering for Democratic campaigns.
Since then, he’s worked on six campaigns and was hired in 2017 by the Democratic Party of Virginia to help elect now Gov. Ralph Northam and his team to office — his first paid position in politics.
In his volunteering, he canvassed swaths of Danville, including the block where he grew up, and said more state representatives need to be on the ground, knocking on doors, as opposed to posing for photo ops.
“That’s where you find out what the community actually needs,” said Stamps.
Stamps said some of his main issues are health care, decriminalizing nonviolent behavior, increasing the availability of affordable housing and raising the minimum wage.
To Stamps, the minimum wage, currently set at $7.25 per hour, is more like a “poverty wage” because people who work minimum-wage jobs are still below the poverty level.
“Even though we have a low unemployment rate, a lot of times people have to work two or three jobs,” he said.
He said he’d also like to see more regulation on payday lenders and get rid of Virginia’s “right to work” laws.
All issues, he said, would directly affect people in the 14th district, and he’s tired of seeing people at the state-level who have never been to Danville make decisions that impact its residents.
“We shouldn’t have to go beg people in order to get things done in our own community,” said Stamps.
Many of Stamp’s stances come from his own life experiences after watching his friends who were teachers forced to get a second job or not finding a job in his field after graduating from college and landing in a low-wage job.
“People think that low-wage work isn’t hard work. It is hard work, they’re just not being paid well,” the father of two said.
Both vice-chairs of the Danville and Pittsylvania County Democratic Committees said their groups are supporting Stamps’ campaign.
“Eric has been getting Democrats elected for years. He knows the issues that have been affecting people here from his conversations at their doors and in community meetings,” said Danville Democratic Committee Vice Chairman Josh Norris.
Pittsylvania County Democratic Committee Vice Chairwoman Francis Tucker said his message that “Everybody deserves a seat at the table” rings true to a lot of people, including herself.
“I think there are a lot of people who have that their needs or issues weren’t being addressed or even cared about,” she said.
Stamps said this loss of faith in their representatives has led to a decrease in voter turnout that he hopes to reverse come November and draw out more voters in his favor.
“No one is speaking to the voters, and that’s what’s different about my campaign,” he said. “I’m speaking to the people.”
He said his grassroots campaign won’t be accepting any money from corporate donors, trying to take a stand against what he called a “pay to play” system.
Norris said, “We deserve someone who will work for us in Richmond and not only on the behalf of corporations and special interests.”
Tucker said she believes there are plenty of ways that Pittsylvania County residents could be better served, and that it’s important for representatives to be challenged.
Norris said, “This office has rarely been challenged and after 17 years it’s time that the citizens of Danville finally come first. We can’t afford to wait another 17 years for things to get done.”
Not yet 30, Stamps said he’s joining the movement pushing for fresh faces to take office.
“Now is definitely the time for new leadership across all levels of government,” he said. “From City Council all the way up to the presidency.”
- Halle Parker / Danville Register & Bee