When he’s not campaigning for office, JJ Fenceroy can be found, more than likely, strumming a guitar.
The 50-year-old retired Air Force veteran, who made the rounds at art shows and open mics before COVID-19, is also running for Arlington City Council.
Fenceroy grew up around music, he says, and typically plays and sings what he enjoys listening to, which covers a wide range of tunes — everything from Stevie Wonder to Matchbox 20 and Marvin Gaye.
“A lot of it is more pop or alternative rock, R&B and some country,” says Fenceroy, whose mother, Aleta, was a professional musician. “When we were young, she was taking care of us as a single mother, putting herself through school getting her graduate degree in music, learning to play pipe organ.”
As Fenceroy’s mother made dinner, he’d hear everything from classical music to classic rock. But Fenceroy’s mom had no time for country music, and that’s where they differed.
“When I moved to Texas three decades ago, I went out, learned to two-step,” he says. “I definitely appreciate country music.”
As an 8-year-old, living in Norway with his mom and sister, Fenceroy learned to play the recorder and then the guitar before joining a church choir and a jazz band. He also plays bass guitar, which landed him a role in a musical production of Grease. Since then, he’s crooned at his sister’s wedding, sang the national anthem for a Change of Command ceremony while in the Air Force stationed at Okinawa, Japan, and was part of an ensemble dubbed the Fencing Cocks.
“Usually, that would get us some free beer,” he says. “The name was a tongue-in-cheek name from our last names Fenceroy and a third guy who played with us originally by the name of King and then Hancock.”
Fenceroy says these days he mostly plays acoustic guitar and sings at festivals and open mics around Arlington at places like Mavericks Sports Bar and Grill, Junk Fest and Truth Vinyl Records, which he describes as “a true gem in downtown Arlington as far as the arts are concerned.”
After the pandemic ground things to a halt, he says fellow musician Kim Feil started a virtual open mic night for Truth Vinyl on Facebook that people can tune into on Thursdays from 6-9 p.m.
Feil first met Fenceroy, she says, while at a short-term rental meeting for owners and advocates of Airbnbs.
“I told him about our open mic that I coordinate,” she says. “When he showed up for the first time, I was impressed with his commanding stage presence and powerfully wonderful voice.”
Truth Vinyl owner Carol Anderson agrees with Feil’s assessment of Fenceroy’s vocals.
”He made a point of singing new material each time he came rather than be repetitious,” Anderson says, adding that Fenceroy “generously donated one of his guitars so we could have a house guitar. Nice to have when someone doesn’t have their own with them.”
Fenceroy enjoys the challenge of a new song, and he says music helps him to recharge, release and refocus, which has been particularly helpful during his campaign for Arlington City Council District 1.
“Especially what’s turned out to be a nine-month campaign as opposed to what was supposed ... I was expecting, to be a three-month campaign,” he says. “A nine-month campaign in the middle of COVID has been quite the challenge.”
When Fenceroy announced his campaign in February, the elections were scheduled for May 5, but because of the pandemic, they were postponed until Nov. 3.
“It seemed like such a bad time to be asking people for money because there was so much uncertainty in the economy,” he says. “I pretty much stopped fundraising, as we were shutting things down, pretty much out of respect for everybody who might be struggling out there.”
Although it’s Fenceroy’s first foray into politics, he believes his extensive experience in emergency and crisis management while in the Air Force has left him well-prepared for the job, especially during the pandemic.
He’s all about “listening to all the people in Arlington no matter which neighborhood they live in or how much money they make,” he says, adding that his message is really about inclusiveness in Arlington’s government. He’d also like to bring police, social services, council members and citizens together to discuss things like homelessness, mental health and drug addiction.
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“In terms of law enforcement and how we should be looking at the role of law enforcement and other city services,” he says, “where police have a role, but perhaps a different role than they’ve had in the past.”
We reached out to District 1 incumbent Helen Moise, who’s been endorsed by the Arlington Police Association as well as the Arlington Board of Realtors, for her comments about District 1 and Fenceroy, but she did not respond.
According to Fenceroy, Moise’s unresponsiveness, which has been reiterated on nextdoor.com, is one of the reasons he joined the race for Arlington’s District 1.
“My campaign slogan is 'Because your voice matters, too,'” he says.