Q&A with the 1st District Richmond City Council candidates: Addison, Dickinson and Gray

2020 Election

Michael Gray, Andreas D. Addison and Mike Dickinson (from left to right)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Voters in Richmond’s 1st District are deciding between three candidates in this year’s election: Andreas D. Addison, Mike Dickinson and Michael Gray.

The City Council, made up of nine members who are elected to part-time, four-year terms, creates and amends local laws, sets policies for the city, appoints members to boards and commissions in the city and approves the annual budget.

The West End District 1 seat has been held by Addison since 2017. The councilman is also an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia who served as Richmond’s civic innovator, a role he created, for eight years.

Dickinson is a Richmond native and small business owner who graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. He identifies as a Republican and said “The People vs. Larry Flynt” drove him to “want to fight and change the government.”

Gray is a Richmond native who grew up in the first district and attended the University of Richmond. After working in public relations in Washington, D.C., Gray co-founded a company with his best friend in 2009 called Gray Ryan Communications.

8News asked the candidates six questions — each with a 300-word limit — about pressing issues in the district, including their solutions to critical problems in Richmond schools, Mayor Stoney’s plan to remove the city’s Confederate statues, whether the mayor and current city council have done enough to help residents and businesses struggling amid the pandemic.


Why should your district vote for you? 

Addison: Over the last four years, I have focused on delivering on the needs of the First District residents. They wanted to improve public schools, so I invested $22 million more in our classrooms to support our students’ and teachers’ success. They wanted better streets, so I fought to more than double our paving budget. They wanted an accountable City Hall, and I worked to expand access to more than sixty service request types on RVA311. In 2019, the First District submitted more than 4,900 service requests through the new RVA311. Throughout my first term on the City Council, I have fought to Lead the First Forward by delivering on my promises. I held more than 120 First District engagements, in which we addressed even more projects and priorities together. Now, as we face uncertainty in our upcoming budget, we need experienced leadership that can navigate through these tough decisions. 

Dickinson: The last 4 months in Richmond have felt like being on a airplane with no pilot- we fly round and round wondering all the time if we are about to crash. Our Mayor and our City Council have abandoned us and provide no clear leadership. 

Listening to either of my opponents speak, you’d wonder if we even had riots this summer, as both refuse to acknowledge it. They would rather pander to those who sympathize with the angry, woke rioting mob Instead of tell the truth. We need a fighter who will keep the people safe. I am a vocal leader who has been speaking up about the threat of Antifa and their criminal acts in Richmond from day one. 

We must VOCALLY support the police and will put those who commit crime in jail where they belong! We must look to reduce and eliminate taxes! I propose we immediately freeze the property tax and repeal the restaurant tax (which Addison voted for). 

Our current Councilman Andreas Addison is weak as he says “defunding the police is a good idea”.  He will not keep us safe- he talks a good game but then repeatedly votes with Mayor Levar Stoney; twice to raise taxes, twice to restrict gun rights, and once to pass the wildly unpopular Navy Hill.

Addison claims he wants to fix the schools, yet he funds bike lanes and bus routes while the schools sit decrepit. Addison said in 2016 that we should not “fund the next million dollar idea, but fix the schools.” Of course, once elected he did the exact opposite! We must support the police, reduce taxes, and fix the schools. 

Gray: My entire life has been dedicated to giving back to the City of Richmond community. From an early age, I was taught about the importance of giving back to my community.  In 2004, while attending the University of Richmond, I worked with the Board of the Micah Initiative to bring a chapter of the organization to the University of Richmond. This mentorship and tutoring program paired UR students with students at Fairfield Court Elementary School and Whitcomb Court Elementary School. 

In 2009, I founded Gray Ryan Communications with my best friend, Andrew Ryan. For the past 11, years, we have grown our company into a nationally recognized boutique firm. 

Since moving back, I’ stayed very active in the Richmond community. I previously served on several boards, including President of the Massey Alliance for the Massey Cancer Center, Government Affairs Chair for the Richmond Business Council, Commissioner for the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission, and External Affairs Committee for the Better Housing Coalition. I currently serve as a Member of the Board of Directors for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Member of the Board for the Public Relations Society of America Richmond Chapter’s Foundation, and Advisory Board member for the Urban Land Institute Virginia District.  

Recognizing the importance of neighbors working together, I worked with my neighbors to start our civic association. We have successfully lobbied for traffic calming measures, increasing tree canopies, and other initiatives important to residents. We also hold an annual National Night Out celebration. 

I was named “Top 40 Under 40” by Style Weekly in 2015 and am a graduate of both Leadership Metro Richmond and LEAD Virginia. I’m running for City Council because I have the experience, skills, and relationships to lead and be a voice for ALL residents of the First District.


What do you see as the top priority in your district? How would you address it? 

Addison: The top priority for my district, and for many across the city, is our economic recovery from the impact of the recession due to COVID-19. Families are struggling as they work from home and support virtual learning environments for their children. Many small businesses are struggling to stay open with our public health guidelines and restrictions. It is paramount that we make sure everyone has access to testing and masks and hand sanitizer. Our recovery and safety depend on all of us working together.

There is a lot of uncertainty in what the future holds, which is unsettling for many of us. We need businesses to reopen to get people back to work, we need schools reopened to provide quality education for our children, but we also need to make sure we do this in an equitable and safe manner. Richmond is poised to not only survive this recession but to rise stronger through it. That future lies in how we build our future city. The vacant land and parking lots around the Diamond, Downtown, and in the Southside present an opportunity to attract new developments through private investment that will generate the funds we need to blossom. I support the rezoning efforts along the Broad Street and Pulse corridor. We need to embrace the vision created in the Richmond 300 and position our permitting and zoning processes to build for the future together while also protecting our historical and cultural areas.  

Dickinson: Public safety and supporting the police! I pledge to vote NO on any proposal to defund the police. My opponent Councilman Addison said defunding the police is a good idea. My other opponent Mike Gray marched with BLM protestors who advocate for defunding the police. 

The 1st District is the safest district in the city. We have little to no crime, the streets are safe to walk on, and our yards are secure. Its an oasis of safety, in a city that has seen shootings soar the last 4 months. I want to keep it that way. 

Only by supporting the police can we keep our neighborhood safe. We must continue to fund the police. I promise to vote no on any effort to defund them. We must be vocal in our support of the police.

One of the biggest lies being told is the narrative of Marcus David-Peters. He was no innocent victim. He was high on drugs driving around Richmond. He could of killed you, your mother, your kids. Peters was so high that he was hit by a car, did snow angels on the side of 95, and charged a police officer saying he was going to kill him- before the officer shot him! He also was tased twice and that made no impact. 

Yet, these ignorant protestors want to “rewrite” the story and make the police out to be the bad guys! Not happening any longer. We must SUPPORT our police. If elected, you will have a strong advocate for the police to stand up for them-unlike Councilman Addison who says defunding the police is a good idea. 

Gray: Infrastructure is a priority for residents. The City needs to bring in an outside consultant to conduct a thorough analysis of the City’s infrastructure and grade components based on deterioration level. The Department of Public Works does not have a complete picture of the state of our gas, water, and stormwater assets. City Council also need to instruct the City Auditor to analyze the Department of Public Works and Department of Public Utilities staff performance and to create an accountability timeline for deliverables. 


What solutions do you have to offer to help improve Richmond Public Schools? Would you consider supporting a tax hike? 

Addison: Decades of under-investment have created huge backlogs of projects that total almost $800 million. Simply put, we will not be able to support all the needs of Richmond Public Schools through our existing methods of building revenues in our budget. The path forward will not be achieved through a tax increase. Now is the time to be creative and inventive as we look to the future for our recovery. For example, I believe that Broad Street’s stretch from the Powhite Parkway west to Willow Lawn needs to be rezoned to support density in mixed-use developments that include required affordability and first-floor commercial office space. This area is filled with parking lots and under-utilized parcels with access to the Pulse, grocery stores like Lidl and Kroger, and are close to jobs. This area is also walking distance to Mary Munford Elementary, Albert Hill Middle, and Thomas Jefferson High schools. A portion of these new revenues from the developments should support these three schools’ needs as well. We should explore this same model when looking at the small area plans in the Richmond 300 Strategic Plan. Each area should also support the improvements needed in nearby schools. Attracting new investment will generate new tax revenues all across our city. We must focus these new funds on improving our public schools. As we build our future city, one that includes affordable housing, creates new local jobs, and creates inclusive new neighborhoods, we must also direct new revenue toward our best economic investment we can make as a city, improving our public schools.

Dickinson: Our Richmond schools are exactly what I would expect them to be after 70 years of liberals running them; a mess! 

The schools are falling apart physically, our adminstrations pay is bloated, and there is no accountability.  We pay Superintendent Jason Kamras $250,000 a year; yet each year the dropout rates go up, testing scores go down, and this year- 10,000 kids without laptops! We pay more and more taxes and get less results. 

We must get over this liberal idea of raising taxes. I do not support any new taxes whatsoever. We must in fact freeze the property tax and repeal the restaurant tax. My opponent Councilman Addison is someone who thinks everything can be solved with another tax.  He voted for tax increases in 2018 & 2019. 

Until we fix our schools we must give an immediate opportunity to those who attend them and are trapped! We must provide vouchers for every student and their family. If our school board is not competent enough to administer the budget and hold someone responsible then we have no choice but to give kids an opportunity lifeline. 

My opponent Councilman Addison likes to talk about funding bike lanes and bus routes; yet he cannot fund the basic repairs needed to fix the physical condition of the schools. He voted to raise the restaurant tax in 2018 precisely to fix the schools, yet like everything else in Richmond, that did not pan out. We cannot afford to have any more generations of our kids not pan out. 

Gray: Increasing support for Richmond Public Schools is critical to the City of Richmond’s success. I’m proposing that the City of Richmond allocate at least 25% of its annual revenues towards RPS funding for the next 20 years. This is a floor allocation percentage which can be higher based on revenues but by creating a baseline, we have a jumping off point for more productive conversations about funding. I also believe that City Council members have an individual responsibility to lead by example. They need to inspire Richmond residents to do everything they can to support RPS. That is why if elected, I will donate 100% of my City Council salary towards the establishment and implementation of a new scholarship program for Thomas Jefferson High School students. This scholarship will be designed to help students gain access to the colleges, universities, community colleges, and technical schools of their choice. I will advocate that residents join me in this effort to provide RPS students with as many opportunities as possible.

I do not support raising the city’s real estate tax rate at this time.


How do you think Mayor Stoney handled the process to remove the city’s Confederate statues? 

Addison: The First District represented a portion of the Stonewall Jackson statue and the Fontaine Maury statue. I received an outpouring of support for statue removal from 1st District residents when calls for change were at their peak. Cities in Virginia are limited in their control over many issues, and removing statues was one of those limited powers. In February, the General Assembly passed legislation that provided a new local government’s new ability to remove their statues. Still, the timeline of the civil unrest from the murder of George Floyd could not have been predicted. Public sentiment was overwhelmingly in support of the statue’s removal; however, the state legislation had a lengthy process for which to follow. Whether or not you agree with the process for how or when the statues were removed, they were going to be removed one way or another. I remain committed to my request for a timeline for the process in which the statue removal contract was given and that proper procurement protocols were followed. 

Dickinson: Terribly. I believe the Mayor acted illegally and he should be held accountable in a court of law. I hope Stoney goes to jail.

It is unacceptable that $1.8 million of taxpayer money was spent on a inflated contract that was paid to a campaign contributor of his. We had two years of Monument Avenue Commission hearings. These hearings were quite difficult extensive and involved many people in the Richmond community. There findings were to leave the statues and add context to them. 

However, Mayor Stoney threw out the work of this commission to appease a angry woke mob setting a bad example for the future.

Gray: A special prosecutor, Timothy Martin, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Augusta County has been appointed to investigate the removal process. It would be inappropriate for me to comment until the special prosecutor makes his recommendation.


Which proposals from the city council or mayor do you feel have helped residents and businesses struggling during the pandemic? Has enough been done? If not, what would you propose doing to help? 

Addison: As soon as the pandemic shut down our city and the world, I was hard at work putting together the pieces around our recovery. I organized several Zoom meetings with my Economic Vitality Advisory Committee to explore the CARES Act, federal programs such as PPP and EIDL, as well as local options to assess the gaps and opportunities needed to support our small business community. These meetings supported what became the RVA Strong program and other local support programs for small businesses. City Council passed an extension on payments for business taxes that were owed during the shutdown and have provided amnesty assistance. While these are helpful, more is needed to reopen safely and get our businesses reopened and residents back to work. I commit to leading efforts to make Richmond open for business by streamlining the permitting process and making it easier to invest and open a business. We need to invest in more online services for submitting applications and receiving payments to get City Hall out of the way of how a business opens and operates safely. As the global pandemic continues to impact our city and country, planning for our next steps in reopening our businesses must be taken cautiously. I remain committed to supporting our small business community as we persevere through this crisis. 

Dickinson: Mayor Stoney says we have a 13 million dollar tax surplus. That should go DIRECTLY towards cash grants to businesses who operate in the city, and not wasteful projects like bike lanes and bus lines. We should freeze the property tax and repeal the restaurant tax – both of which Councilman Addison voted for. 

The coronavirus shutdown has been largely exxagerated. Around the country other states and cities much larger opened sooner and are back to normal. However, in Richmond our fear mongering Mayor and Governor want to prolong it for political reasons. Mayor Stoney almost looks comical when he walks around outside with his mask on, like the coronavirus is some deadly plague. 

Always remember; the governor and mayor killed the economy not coronavirus. We were sold a false bill of goods. We were told 2 million dead by September, its barely 200,000. First we had to close business to, “flatten the curve.” Then it was to stagger the impact on hospitals. Now it goes on and on and on.

We should be free as Americans to open our business and live our life. If you are scared, stay home. If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask. However, it is not governments job to dictate either to you. It is your job as a adult to assess the risk and make your move. 

The mayor and Governor have also failed by creating a welfare state. Too many people are being paid inflated unemployment checks, local businesses cannot find workers. All must stop. Open up businesses without restriction. 

Gray: The City has not done enough to address the needs of residents and businesses during this pandemic. Right now, too many elected officials are taking a “wait and see” approach with regards to the budget and major initiatives that could help residents now. 

We need to strengthen the Eviction Diversion Program by lobbying the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office to create Eviction Diversion Program trust fund administered and managed by the Virginia Housing Development Authority (now Virginia Housing). Virginia Housing has the resources to create a robust EDP program which will benefit all residents of Virginia. This is the best approach for residents and landlords alike. 

We also need to find a solution to food insecurity. It is important to note that food insecurity was an issue before the pandemic started. This is a major area of concern for me and one that will not just vanish when there is a vaccine for COVID-19. That is why I am proposing the formation of a Richmond Food Consortium which would bring together RPS, the non-profit community, and for-profit community to help feed those residents at risk of food insecurity. We must provide our students with healthy, nutritious meals but we also need to think about the parents of those students as well. 

The City of Richmond has an important responsibility to help fund an initiative such as this along with partner organizations. 


What is your assessment on how the council has served city residents in recent years? What concerns you moving forward? What gives you hope for the future? 

Addison: As an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia, I am inclined to apply a letter grade to my assessment of City Council’s serving of the city residents’ needs. I would give us a B-. We worked diligently on efforts to improve our investment in public schools. I spearheaded the City Council’s support of the General Assembly’s creation of the Central Virginia Transportation Authority this year, which created regional funding to fund more road projects and raised GRTC’s funding by 50%. This has freed up our annual budget to focus on other priorities, such as school infrastructure and affordable housing. While we have made progress, there is more work to be done. Richmond’s recovery from the economic recession will be achieved in how we build our future. We must establish community benefit agreement requirements for affordable housing, local hiring for jobs, and energy efficiency. The new revenues generated by these projects must directly support our biggest needs: improving school buildings, fixing our crumbling infrastructure, and making City Hall run more efficiently. For too long, we have looked to the wallets of our residents to fund our city’s needs. Now more than ever, we must look to the future and build an equitable and inclusive city for everyone. 

Dickinson: Terribly. We must make Richmond a place where legitimate reputable working people want to live and work. Lower taxes. Safe streets. Support of police. Opportunity for education. We must stop pandering to non-workers and start delivering results to those who pay the taxes! 

Gray: Some individuals on City Council have not upheld their responsibility of being the legislative check on this and previous Administrations. Balance of power is very important in every government and the legislative body (City Council) needs to hold City officials, both elected and non-elected, responsible for their actions. I understand that this is a part-time position for Councilmembers but that is not an excuse for rubberstamping ordinances. 

We need to strengthen mutual respect between the Mayor’s Office and City Council. Right now, our City Charter makes it a very confrontational relationship. This stalls progress for major initiatives the City needs to undertake. 

I believe in Richmond and its residents so I am hopeful for the future. Residents are taking a very active role in this year’s election which means that change is possible.  

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