PORTSMOUTH - State of the City addresses are usually predictable. The mayor of the city touts recent improvements for businesses, schools, and crime prevention while a well-dressed audience applauds at the appropriate pauses. Audience members are back in their offices before the lunch hour is over.
In Portsmouth Wednesday, the address was anyting but predictable. Speaking to an audience of several hundred people, Mayor Kenneth Wright called on residents to drop a half million pounds in one year.
The city is on the upswing, he said, but the state of health in Portsmouth remains a major challenge. According to the Virginia Department of Health, 39 percent of the population in Portsmouth is obese and the city has the state's highest mortality and hospitalization rates for diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
In February, Wright told 13 News he plans to drop 100 pounds in one year. A month later, Bon Secours physician Dr.Alison Christian-Taylor told Wright he heeds to double his goal and drop 200 pounds.
Wright is on a mission and he wants the people of Portsmouth to join him. At the end of his speech, Wright shed his tailored jacket, slapped on a headband and traded his dress shoes for athletic shoes.
Strutting faster than most, Wright left the banquet hall at the Rennaisance Hotel to connect with several dozen supporters who were staged in the hotel parking lot. Residents, business owners, and city officials were clad in Healthy Portsmouth T-shirts to show support for the city-wide initiative to improve health in the city by the Elizabeth River.
Like a drum major leading a marching band, Wright led the way for a brief but brisk walk. Wright said he is the right person to lead the charge in Portsmouth.
"I think that per capita we are the heaviest in the state and we need to change that. We are going to do that and it starts today," said Wright as he walked past the old City Hall building.
As the walk continued along the Portsmouth waterfront, business owner Michael Zarpas walked briskly just to keep up with the 49-year-old mayor. Zarpas walked with an extra spring in his step as he bragged about having lost 45 pounds. The mayor's initiative is a case where he approves of government involvement.
"I was excited [to learn about city-wide goal] and I was like I'm on board for this..let's go," said Zarpas.
Mayor Wright will host another fitness event later this month. It's called "Get Moving Portsmouth" and will feature Zumba, obstacle courses, and low-impact aerobics. It will be held at the nTelos Pavilion on Saturday, April 27, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. For more information, to go the www.healthyportsmouthva.org">Healthy Portsmouth Website./