HOPEWELL, VA (WWBT) - Civil rights activist and longtime city council member Reverend Curtis Harris is stepping down. Harris says he's retiring and will not finish his seventh term on Hopewell city council.
The announcement comes shortly after a petition was filed to have Harris forced off council for "neglect of duty." Harris says he's retiring because it's time.
"It's been a long run. It wasn't about anybody hassling me. I knew I had to come out at some point," he added.
Harris is 87-years-old, Hopewell's first black mayor, and a civil rights icon who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Harris has been a member of Hopewell city council for 26 years. In recent years he's suffered two strokes -- the most recent in 2010. His wife died last year. A combination that resulted in Harris only attending 4 of 31 city council meetings since 2011.
David Silvestro, who unsuccessfully challenged Harris for his council seat in the 2010 election, filed a petition earlier this month to have Harris removed from council -- citing "neglect of duty."
David Silvestro: "He could go all the way to Washington D.C. but couldn't make it across town to council meetings to represent ward two."
Nicole Bell: "Washington for the State of the Union Address?"
David Silvestro: "Right."
Council now has 30 days to appoint an interim replacement.
In response to the retirement announcement another petition was filed in court Wednesday morning. It asks a judge to allow for a special election in November to fill the seat Harris will vacate.
Harris' resignation will take effect March 1, 2012.
Harris was scheduled to appear in circuit court on Wednesday for a hearing to determine if he would be removed from council. A judge continued the matter saying the case will be dismissed after Harris retires.