PORTSMOUTH, VA., DEC. 15 -- Mayor James W. Holley III was removed from office today in a recall election prompted by hate mail he allegedly sent to other community leaders.
Holley, Portsmouth's first black mayor, apparently became the first Virginia mayor to lose his seat through recall.
With all precincts reporting, the unofficial vote count was 13,438 in favor of removing Holley and 9,861 against.
The controversy had split this city of 111,000 since July when a commonwealth's attorney's investigation found Holley's fingerprints on mailings to at least a dozen black community leaders and a white newspaper editor who opposed the closing of a predominantly black high school.
Those leaders had unsuccessfully appealed to Holley to intervene in the School Board decision to close the school. In Virginia cities, school boards are appointed by city councils, which also approve school budgets.
Holley, 60, a dentist and longtime civil rights leader, said he was framed and suggested that a missing Portsmouth police fingerprint identification card was used to copy his fingerprints onto the mail, which included scrawled racial epithets. Experts said that is nearly impossible and in any case would be easily detected.
When the results were known tonight, Holley said, "You win some elections and you lose some." He told about 75 of his supporters that he holds no animosity toward anyone. He urged his supporters "to come together as a family to work for Portsmouth."
"We can improve the quality of life for everyone by working with whomever assumes leadership," he said.
The City Council, which includes four whites and two blacks, unanimously called for Holley's resignation when the results of the probe were made known. Holley refused and denied any involvement in the mailings.
Commonwealth's Attorney Johnny Morrison said he could not charge Holley under Virginia law because his fingerprints were not found on the mailings that threatened bodily harm. A federal grand jury has heard testimony in the incident.
Holley had the support of the city's black churches and black community groups, many of whom said they believed the recall was racially motivated.