t's after dark on an unseasonably warm evening in Richmond's 8th District, and Reva Trammell is wrapped in an enthusiastic bear hug with a nightgown-clad woman who, moments earlier, was yelling angrily and chasing the recently resurrected city councilwoman-elect across her front lawn.
"She thought I was stealing her campaign sign," explains Trammell, beaming, dodging traffic to return to her Jeep Cherokee with one of the 1,800 signs she and three campaign workers managed to plant throughout the district in the run-up to the election. "Apparently someone stole her dad's sign and I gave them another one," she says. "They had to tie it to a tree to keep it from being taken again."
Trammell hopes to have the other 1,799 signs off the streets in the next few days, before the afterglow of her surprise victory fades. After being chased from office by scandal losing a hard-fought race in 2002 to the now-outgoing Councilwoman and self-described Assistant Vice-Mayor Jackie Jackson Trammell seemed unlikely to re-emerge from disgraced obscurity.
"It was like somebody just stabbed something in my heart," says Trammell, recalling that tearful night four years ago, surrounded by stunned supporters at the Satellite Restaurant on Jeff Davis Highway. "It was like, oh my God, what's going to happen to the people."
She ran again in 2004 and lost.
But for many of the people of the 8th District, Reva never ceased being a presence in times of crisis.
Joyce Elkins lives at Oak Tree Apartments, a seedy, low-rent housing project fronting Jeff Davis that some fed-up residents say provides a convenient and well-known base camp for prostitutes and drug dealers and a dangerous place to raise children.
When Elkins' husband was beaten unmercifully and left near death, Elkins didn't know where to turn. She was given Trammell's number.
"She brought me food, she brought me clothes," Elkins says. "She's more than my councilwoman, she's my shoulder, she's my strength, and she's my joy."
Trammell's deeds sometimes run counter to political good sense. She suspended her campaigning for a full 24 hours the week before the election to chase after a new refrigerator for a bedridden woman who relies on an oxygen tank. Neither she nor the handful of children or grandchildren in her care seemed likely or legally of age to provide votes.
By contrast, Jackson's reputation as a woman of the people seems in tatters, though she paints her defeat simply: Trammell did a better job of getting her supporters out on Election Day. Jackson doesn't see her loss as a broader comment by the district about her leadership.
"She was just better at getting her supporters out," Jackson said, defending against residents' claims that she has been inaccessible or aloof. "It's a part-time position and they can call my office any time. I was available if they called the office, and we would respond to whatever their concerns were."
At Hair Exposé on Jeff Davis, barber David Bailey lounges in his barber chair watching a bootlegged copy of the first-run film "Flyboys" with French subtitles. He rolls his eyes at the mention of Jackson.
"I knew Jackie wasn't going to win it because she didn't do anything," Bailey says. He admits that he didn't vote, but says his own civic inaction pales in comparison to that of Jackson's.
"Before [Reva] left, she laid the foundation, but Jackie didn't follow up on it," he says, remorse and disappointment edging into his words.
Most black voters in the 8th won't say it outright, but many dance around a certain unspoken shared sentiment: Jackson is black, and she was supposed to step up to the plate to be the black Reva.
Carrie Cox is a one-woman dynamo behind the transformation of the bullet-riddled and notorious Walmsley Terrace apartment complex into the now quiet Woodland Crossing. She recalls personally inviting Jackson to an event at the apartment complex and being told that she needed to file a formal online request for the councilwoman to attend.
When Jackson did show up, Cox says, it was in a rental car; to her it was apparent that the councilwoman decided her Mercedes was safest if left in her driveway. "I was insulted," Cox says. "I told her don't come back."
By contrast, Cox says Trammell "was right down here dodging bullets with me."
But dodging bullets isn't a councilperson's job, according to City Council President G. Manoli Loupassi, who has been vocally critical of Trammell's win.
"It's not that I don't like Reva; I just think we'd be better off without her in public office," says Loupassi, who didn't run for re-election in order to concentrate on a bid for the state legislature. "Just because you're a good person doesn't necessarily mean you should be in public office.
"There are plenty of nice people that are not necessarily qualified or should be in public office," he says, calling Trammell's trail of scandal hurtful to council's already battered reputation.
Trammell's off-hours relationships with police officers during her previous stint on council remain well known. Her indiscretions, which came to light in 2000, eventually led to later-dropped charges that she violated the city's charter. Six months later, she lost her seat to Jackson.
So does Loupassi have advice for the councilwoman-elect as she prepares to return to the spotlight? "If she asks for it, I'll give it to her," he says, "but she's never taken it before and I'm not sure she's going to take it now."
Loupassi's frustrations don't register with the people of the 8th. Final election results bear out one voter's sentiment that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
In 2002 Jackson won with 1,615 votes to Trammell's nearly 1,300. This year, Trammell turned the tables, drawing 1,979 supporters to the polls on a cold, rainy day. Jackson took two fewer votes than her 2002 total.
Loupassi's advice should he deign to provide it might be better received this time out.
"I'm going to be a different person," Trammell says earnestly, her furrowed brow deepened in the twilight shadows of Jeff Davis Highway.
After a lifetime in the trenches, during which even police acknowledge that she was a positive force in cleaning up prostitution along the Jeff Davis corridor, Trammell, 52, promises she'll never stand accused of losing touch with constituents.
But she admits during her last stint on council she was unbending and even irascible in her dealings with other council members such as Loupassi.
She says she accepts that she failed to heed advice from people who were just trying to help: "I'm going to listen this time." S