RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Several of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s political campaign donors are among the named investors in the Urban ONE casino project, and the organization says some of them committed support for the project before Stoney recommended it to city council.
An online list of local investors for the ONE Casino and Resort project, slated for the city’s southside, names Samuel Young, Devon Henry, Carlos Brown and Ed McCoy.
8News reached out to all these individuals for comment, and only received response from Young, who is president of the Richmond-based Astyra Corporation.
Young said he was unable to “discuss any details about my relationship with Urban ONE.” But, offered to reconnect “in the December time frame.”
“At that time, I should have some flexibility to have a high level discussion,” he said in an email Wednesday.
All four people are documented donors during previous political campaigns for Stoney during the 2016 and 2020 elections, according to Virginia Department of Elections records.
It is unknown when the four committed investment to the casino project, but Urban ONE Spokesperson Mark Hubbard told 8News “There are signed agreements with the investors that date back months,” when asked about the four investors.
The ONE project was not recommended by Stoney and a city evaluation panel until May 20, defeating two other finalist casino proposals; one by Bally’s and another by the Cordish Companies for the LIVE! casino project.
When asked Tuesday about the connection and its optics, Stoney said “You have to talk to Urban ONE about that, this is obviously news to me.”
“Am I surprised? No. I have had supporters and donors on both sides, whether it was with ONE or whether it was LIVE! Or, but, on all those sides, all those who were competing to have the project here in the city. I’m sure there are many of those who consider themselves donors or supporters of mine on all those sides,” Stoney added.
However a spokesperson for the Cordish Companies, Cari Furman, told 8News “The Cordish Companies nor any member of the LLC Applicant contributed” to Stoney.
Furman also said Cordish Companies did not make contributions to candidates or active members of the Richmond City Council in the 2020 election cycle.
A spokesperson associated with Bally’s said the corporation “respectfully declines to comment,” when asked if they made contributions to Stoney or council candidates.
Virginia does not restrict who or how much someone can donate to a candidate or cause, though the connection between the city’s casino race and key players does illustrate the role of transparency between politics and public projects.
Rich Meagher, PhD., 8News Political Analyst and political science professor at Randolph-Macon College, said “The question then becomes, ‘Is there any requirement or should there have been any requirement on the part of the folks who are vetting these proposals to not just think about the best proposal, who had the best management team, who offered the most amenities to the city?’ But also, ‘Who might have a conflict of interest? Who might have donated money to politicians in the city? Who might have a–sort of–thumb on the scale in terms of the decision-making process?'”
Meagher called the “kind of overlap” between Stoney and his donors “unseemly,” “icky” and “it might cause people to doubt the process a little more than they otherwise might.”
Stoney donors-turned casino investors are not the only example of the parallels between the casino competition and Richmond politics.
Urban ONE CEO Alfred Liggins has contributed to existing and potential members of Virginia’s legislative black caucus, according to Hubbard.
Liggins donated to Richmond City Councilman Mike Jones during his bid for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 2020 election cycle, according to state campaign finance records.
When asked by 8News last month about his political contributions, Liggins said “We are a national African American-targeted, and African American-owned media company. From the inception of our company, we have supported African American legislators seeking higher office–that’s in the DNA of our companies…”
“We support black causes.”
If city council votes to accept Stoney and the casino evaluation panel’s recommendation for the Urban ONE proposal, the decision to approve the project will be decided by Richmond voters in a November referendum.
Before Richmond City Council can move to accept the proposal, there will be a public hearing on Monday, June 14.