With Election Day just a few weeks away, you’ve likely seen a political sign or two on a street corner in your town, or maybe in your neighbor’s front yard. Up in Wheeling, one community is responding to the defacing of a candidate’s sign after spray paint blackened out her face and racially disparaging phrases covered her name.
Loma Nevels is running for City Council in Wheeling. She sat on the front porch of her home on Wheeling Island and told me a role in government is a goal she set at a young age.
“I was in the fourth grade. The teacher said, ‘What do you want to be or do when you grow up?’ I said I want to go to Caracas, Venezuela, and I want to run for a political office. I’m in Kingsville, Texas, where I was born and raised, and everyone in the class laughed. It hurt my feelings that they laughed. It hurt my feelings that they laughed. She asked, ‘Why those two things?’ I like the way Caracas, Venezuela sounds; and I want to run for political office because you can help people.”
She made it to Caracas, by the way, travelling the world in her spare time while working for the city of Wheeling. Nevels worked in the city’s finance department, then in the water department as assistant manager. After 31 years with the city, she retired a year ago. She then set to work on the goal of running for office. Nevels says dilapidated housing, law enforcement challenges and the drug epidemic ravaging Wheeling are among the top issues her city faces.
She’s says campaigning has been a peaceful process until last week.
“I was in a meeting Friday - the Women’s Club of Wheeling - and the phone kept dinging and I said it may be my husband so I answered it and the person said, ‘I’m so sorry. Somebody painted your face black and KKK next to it.’”
Loma Nevels says she’s experienced racism her entire life, that it’s as prevalent as ever, but the vandalization was a surprise. She went to see the sign herself.
“I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna pray for the person, and I’m moving on. I’m not going to let this be a distraction to me in running for city council. And I suggest everybody else forget about it.”
But people didn’t forget. Political candidates made statements on social media condemning the act, and a $1,000 reward was offered for information identifying the offender. Comments of all kinds poured out in reaction- some positive, some negative, one that brought her to tears.
“That night, Friday night, when I read all of the comments on FaceBook, when I came to the one that said, ‘She probably did it,’ I never thought nobody would think something like that.”
Deputy Chief Martin Kimball of the Wheeling Police Department says there’s not a lot of graffiti in Wheeling, and that the department gets very few complaints. He says occasionally there’s one or two people who will tag buildings and walls.
“Our latest particular artist is a guy who goes by ‘Said.’ He’s been tagging for the last two or three months on rare occasions.”
One of those rare occasions was last Friday night, in the same vicinity of Loma Nevel’s political sign, with very similar black spray paint. Of course, it’s not conclusive evidence and Kimball says while he suspects the connection, police still don’t know who this tagger called ‘Said’ is.
But Amanda Carney is the artist who took the matter into her own hands. She’s a young entrepreneur and grew up in the area. She isn’t well acquainted with Nevels, but the sign was planted on a piece of property that her father owns.
“I try to respect everyone’s opinion but when your opinion fundamentally disrespects someone else, then I don’t think it’s valid anymore. So I wanted to turn that message into something positive because this is my city, too.”
Carney says she’s a fan of street art and graffiti as a way to give voice to communities, and so she used art to work out the anger that the pedantic and hateful graffiti inspired within herself. She painted a new sign with a floral design that read “Vote Loma Nevels, Ward 2.”
"Hey Loma Nevels, I fixed your sign," Carney wrote on Facebook under this photo she posted:
Nevels approves of the new sign. She says she’s moving on. Though she does wish she could meet the perpetrator.
“If I could, I would invite them in this house and bake them some chocolate chip cookies. And then tell them to get up, get out of my house, and go do good. Hatred is going to be here in my opinion, until Christ comes back. So in the meantime, just get over it," said Nevels.
“You can’t make people love one another. It’s a choice. Some people choose hate. I choose love. Simple as that.”