Shawn Hunter, founder and leader of the Peacemakers anti-violence organization, announced via a video posted to Facebook Saturday that he’s running for a seat on the Roanoke City Council.
Three council seats are on the ballot May 1. Hunter’s announcement makes him the seventh candidate in the mix.
Hunter had said in other media he intended to run but had made no formal announcement pending adjudication of misdemeanor charges from his sending a lewd picture of himself to a Roanoke Times reporter.
Hunter, 49, maintained he sent the picture by accident, and Monday he was acquitted of the charges.
He’s running for a council seat because he’s “not being properly served by the local government that’s on city council right now,” he said in the video.
“I feel they are not doing enough to make our community a safe and decent place to live for all of us. I feel they’re not doing anything to create jobs for those who are considered to be disenfranchised,” he said.
That includes ex-offenders like himself, he said. Hunter was convicted in 1987 of aggravated sexual battery of a minor and forcible sodomy, according to the Virginia Sex Offender Registry. He said he served 21 years in prison. His voting rights have been restored.
In the video, Hunter claims he was innocent of the crimes, which he was charged with when he was 17. He said he was led to plead guilty by his attorney on the belief that he would save his mother, who was terminally ill with cancer, from some grief and and that he would only serve four years in prison.
“There was no rape, there was no one who jumped out and did anything violent … it was not against a little child or a baby or a toddler or anything like that,” Hunter said.
Hunter first gained attention in Roanoke through his work on behalf of ex-offenders in his job at Total Action for Progress, most notably his successful lobbying of Roanoke’s government to remove from its job application a question about whether the applicant had a criminal history.
He later worked as a community activist, and received frequent media coverage for his work with the Peacemakers, whose mission is to reduce street violence in the Northwest section of the city.
“I’m not a liability to the community. I’m an asset,” Hunter said in the video.
He touted his creation of the Peacemakers and said he had connected more than 500 ex-offenders with jobs and more than 100 homeless people with housing.
Hunter joins a field that already includes six other candidates. Besides incumbents Ray Ferris and Bill Bestpitch, both independents, Robert Jeffrey Jr., Djuna Osborne and Joe Cobb are running on the Democratic ticket. Independent Grover Price has also announced a bid. Price is also a convicted felon who has had his voting rights restored.
Councilman David Trinkle elected not to seek a fourth term.
Independents must file petitions bearing 125 signatures from registered voters by 7 p.m. March 6 in order to qualify for the ballot.