Q&A with the 2nd District Richmond City Council candidates: Jordan and Spinks

2020 Election

Tavarris Spinks and Katherine Jordan (from left to right)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — With the current councilmember representing Richmond’s 2nd District running for mayor, voters in the community will choose between two candidates seeking to fill the seat.

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 candidates in the race for the North Central District 2 seat are Katherine Jordan and Tavarris Spinks.

Jordan is a former Fan District Association president and was a member of the VAratifyERA leadership team. Spinks is a former bankruptcy specialist who currently serves as a project manager in the healthcare technology sector

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 the people in your district vote for you?

Jordan: The 2nd District should vote for me because I’m the candidate with experience as a Richmond Public Schools parent and advocate, as a project manager for urban master plans and green projects, and as a proven community leader already working successfully with City departments and our elected representatives.

I currently serve on Richmond’s Green City Commission and spearheaded the NetZero 2050 Resolution adopted by City Council this summer (the most aggressive environmental effort by the city to date,) and helped introduce sustainability goals into city contracts and master plans. I’ve also served as Fan District Association (FDA) President, Grants Co-Chair, and Parks & Trees Chair as well as Fox Elementary School PTA’s Field & Grounds Chair. In these roles I helped neighbors and families with topics like trees, trash, lighting, flooding, sidewalks, zoning and other issues. I also successfully obtained increased and new grants for our public schools (Fox, Binford and TJ) and continue to advocate for school funding.

In addition to voting for an RPS advocate and proven community leader, the 2nd District needs a representative experienced in city planning and policies as we implement Richmond300 and other projects. I have a Masters in Urban + Environmental Planning from UVA and worked as a project manager on urban master plans and LEED projects on large scale assignments (240 acres and over $700million in cost). Most importantly though, I’ve proven I can get things done in Richmond. More than ever, we need someone who can produce results as we fight with urgency across districts to address our city’s challenges, from the large-scale institutional to everyday self-inflicted ones. I am that candidate, and serving the 2nd will be my full-time commitment.

Spinks: I’m a proud fifth-generation Black Richmonder. I grew up in a working-class household in the East End, was a recipient of RPS’ free lunch program, and spent my early childhood living in subsidized housing. I became the first member of my family to graduate from college, and I’ve lived in The Fan for more than a decade.

As a bankruptcy and consumer protection specialist for twelve years, I helped countless Richmond families and business owners find legal solutions for financial problems. I also worked as a staffer in the General Assembly for the late House Minority Leader Delegate Frank P. Hall. I played a crucial role in negotiating budget amendments to help lessen the tax burden for middle-class families. I’m currently a healthcare IT project manager and recently oversaw the $30M implementation of Medicaid expansion across fifteen states.

I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and volunteered on over two dozen political campaigns. I’ve spent years working to empower Black and brown voters. In 2017, I was a plaintiff in a United States Supreme Court case that successfully blocked gerrymandering that weakened the power of Black voters in his District. I’ve also lobbied the Virginia General Assembly and City Council to make our community more equitable. I’ve fought for issues such as the regulation and prohibition of payday lenders, property tax relief for seniors, LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, and repealing “Right to Work.”

Too many Richmonders are suffering due to systemic inequity, underfunded schools, and a government that does not effectively address the urgent needs of all citizens. I have the experience, the professional acumen, and the moral compass to lead this District. That’s why I’m running for City Council – to build a better Richmond that works for everyone.

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

Jordan: Recovering from COVID and the fight for social justice in a way that addresses the underlying inequities that were highlighted by the pandemic and unrest. I would address recovery with transparency and urgency. Foremost, we need to continue following science as we re-open and adapt. In tandem to this, we have to get people back to work as soon as possible safely and invest in growing our city in a way that lifts all residents. Throughout, we have to address head-on the issues of housing stability, food insecurity, job and transit access through policies, community partnerships and budget priorities.

One strategy is to take advantage of the low-interest borrowing environment to foster job growth and economic development. Areas to invest include: new school construction and deferred maintenance needs; implementation of Richmond 300 and the James River Master Plan, both of which include new public infrastructure (parks, roads, utilities); and third the planned museum and memorial park in Shockoe Bottom recognizing and addressing Richmond’s role in the slave trade. All of these opportunities would attract new development and tourists, appeal to current residents and businesses, address housing needs, and grow our tax revenue. These are also all opportunities to meet our NetZero2050 goals and combat the effects of climate change by building with the latest green technologies and strategies. There’s no reason we can’t target being the greenest city in the South East, which benefits our current residents as well as generations beyond.

Spinks: Fully funding Richmond Public Schools and creating pathways to wealth creation for disadvantaged communities are two of the Second District’s biggest challenges. I’m committed to fully funding Richmond Public Schools and ensuring students, teachers, families, and staff have all the resources they need to thrive. Residents are already paying their fair share in taxes to fund our schools and I do not support a tax increase, especially given that we have outside funding models that remain untapped. My platform also includes several initiatives to expand homeownership opportunities and mechanisms to stabilize the rising and increasingly burdensome costs current homeowners face, including stemming our city’s eviction crisis. I am honored to receive the endorsement of the Sierra Club. My environmental justice plan includes bold investment in sustainability with a focus on ensuring our efforts uplift and empower historically disadvantaged communities.

All that said, it concerns me deeply when my neighbors share their experiences interacting with the city government. Residents are incredibly frustrated with the city’s inefficiency and unresponsiveness and I share their frustration. That’s why I will fight for a more transparent and accountable government where our residents’ voices are heard, and their concerns are expeditiously addressed.

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

Jordan: No, I would not consider a tax hike. To improve student outcomes in Richmond, you have to improve parent outcomes. On a good day that’s challenging with too many RPS families struggling to get by. Now due to COVID, we are in a full-blown educational crisis that cuts across income levels. I credit RPS administrators and teachers for fighting with incredible heart to bridge this moment, and they will have to keep pivoting and adapting as the year unfolds. At the City Council level, we must increase community support for our families “inside the classroom” and before and after school. That involves focusing on issues such as access to stable housing, food security, transportation, broadband access, job development and pushing for living wages. Council must create policies to reduce evictions, increase homeownership and community wealth building in order to see our student outcomes improve.

We must also reexamine the city’s budget priorities, root-out waste and inefficiencies (like excessive overtime), and make Richmond easier to “do business” in by overhauling the planning and permitting office. We will likely see additional stimulus spending as we did after President Obama took office, and I have experience securing federal community funds. I will also push for additional personnel to focus on grants for the city as well as connecting our residents and business owners to federal and state funding and recovery opportunities. I’ll also continue pushing for the Governor to tap into the “rainy day” fund for our schools and other essential services.

Spinks: I’m committed to fully funding Richmond Public Schools and ensuring students, teachers, families, and staff have all the resources they need to thrive. Residents are already paying their fair share in taxes to fund our schools and I do not support a tax increase especially given the fact that we have outside funding models that remain untapped.

I believe it is incumbent upon City Council to work with the Richmond Education Association, other advocacy organizations, and the Richmond Delegation to lobby the General Assembly to explore additional State funding mechanisms. Including the diversion of revenue from state sales taxes that are collected in Richmond.

City Council should also work with the Delegation to reevaluate the Local composite index, which is the formula by which State funding is determined. Using these and other funding sources, we can enhance the RPS budget at no additional cost to Richmond taxpayers.

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

Jordan: Speaking as a neighbor living only a few blocks from Lee Statue, I’m glad the statues have been removed, and wish it had happened proactively before becoming center stage for the summer’s unrest. I don’t know if it was done appropriately, and like other residents, will read the report from the Commonwealth Attorney when it is completed.

Specific to this question (I discuss institutional issues elsewhere), while it is important to look back and know if the removal was done ethically and legally, I believe Richmonders are more eager to look ahead. City Council should be initiating a community process now so we can begin collectively moving forward. This is a once in a generation opportunity for Richmond to look at itself in the mirror and have an honest conversation about how history gets told. Reimagining Monument Avenue is an exciting challenge and conversation I hope we can all embrace.

Fortuitously, there is a newly announced initiative tailor-made for Richmond: the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s $250million “Monuments Project” to “support the creation of new monuments and relocation or rethinking of existing ones.” Regardless of the funding source, we need to have a process in place where all Richmonders have a voice in what we want our most famous corridor to look like, and what we want it to say about us. Whether it is a competition, citizen commission, or other process, as an experienced project manager for city master plans, I will make sure that all resident voices are heard.

Spinks: The recent removal of Confederate statues and monuments from public spaces was the direct result of the years of the diligent, sustained work of Richmond’s robust and dedicated advocacy community. I will support the formation of a commission that is representative of that community to direct the effort of renaming streets, public facilities, and city-owned property currently bearing names that glorify white supremacy.

The statues that have been taken down as well as those that remain standing are shrines to white supremacy that have been a source of tremendous anguish for so many residents, myself included. Any decision about how to replace these statutes must emerge from a thoughtful, solemn process that honors the painful legacy that they represent. I look forward to collaborative and creative discussions with the city’s Public Art Commission along, community groups, and historians to reimagine these and other spaces. We are so fortunate to live in a city that abounds with powerful Black history and look forward to seeing that history rightfully celebrated on Monument Avenue and throughout the former Capital of the Confederacy.

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?

Jordan: There have been several local initiatives aimed at helping Richmonders. Those without strings attached, or deferred payments into the future, were the most beneficial such as the first responder meal program, making GRTC fare-free, and the recently announced effort to provide child-care for essential workers through our public schools. I’d also acknowledge the outstanding effort made by Richmond Public Schools to assist our families. Having volunteered with meal distributing through HandsOnRVA at Binford Middle and Cary Elementary Schools, I witnessed firsthand how hard RPS is working to support families right now.

Where we need to do better is connecting our residents and businesses to the federal and state level dollars which seem either caught behind a bottle-neck (such as PPE for home health-care workers), or bypassing our most vulnerable groups all together. It should disturb everyone that nearly 90% of our minority-owned businesses weren’t able to access COVID payroll relief. The city is in a position to be that connector, and must ensure any programs for businesses includes our small and minority-owned local businesses. I would also like to see Richmond have a more “yes” mentality. We witnessed cities across the country creating sidewalk dining and converting streets to open space for recreation, yet Richmond struggled to enable that innovation here.

But even in crisis there is opportunity, and for the Mayor and City Council, the opportunity is to address the decades long inequalities that have held back the 25% of Richmonders who live in poverty. We should continue offering free GRTC rides, further invest in the Office of Community Wealth Building, continue tackling housing insecurity, and directly bring workforce and career development services to residents of our city that need it most.

Spinks: Given the unprecedented nature of this pandemic, leadership at every level has found itself in uncharted territory. City Council has handled the appropriation of federal CARES Act funding and general safety and awareness measures effectively. While I do believe that it was the right decision to temporarily close nonessential businesses at the beginning of the pandemic I was dismayed at the lack of communication and the abruptness of the decision to delay reopening. Small businesses are the fabric of Richmond’s economy and the mixed messaging further exacerbated economic hardships for business owners.

I concur with the decision to switch RPS to remote learning however the pandemic has exposed the issues with our underlying deficits and I would have liked to have seen more support for families and teachers when it comes to technology and other support services. In addition I think the remote learning schedule is burdensome for all parties involved (students, families, and educators) and I hope that as we continue to improve remote learning that we will address these core problems.

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?

Jordan: My largest concern are cancelled meetings and discord. During the pandemic, we desperately needed leadership and yet our council wasn’t even convening – and that included critical meetings like public safety when the city was in a full-blown crisis. We have to have a functioning government regardless of the circumstances.

I’m also concerned by the discord and would work to make meetings less contentious. In addition to being FDA president, I was part of the VAratifyERA bipartisan leadership team (the successful statewide campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment at the General Assembly). In both roles, I worked with people of different political and personal backgrounds and was able to collaborate successfully by focusing on shared goals. During contentious FDA meetings, I reminded attendees that we were neighbors when we walked in, and would be neighbors when we walked out. We must emphasize that despite differences, we hold a common love for our neighborhood and a desire to see it improved. I would bring that attitude and collaborative spirit to City Council.

Despite reasons to be pessimistic about our city, I am optimistic. The discord and chaos we’ve witnessed have cleared a path for progress on longstanding, systemic inequities in our community. It is the task of our next mayor and city council to unite our city and work locally, regionally and state-wide on behalf of Virginia’s capital. Let’s be a city people move to FOR our schools, with public policies and systems that are equitable, and an economy that works for all our residents. Those are goals I would be honored to fight for as the next city councilperson for the 2nd district.

Spinks: I was very pleased with the Council’s decision to infuse RPS with the funds needed to build more schools, however, I was disappointed that we ended up with only three new facilities instead of meeting the goal of building five. The Council has also handled the Richmond 300 and James River Master Plans with a refreshing amount of focus on ensuring all residents had opportunities to collaborate and give input.

I think it’s important to continue to broader our approach to inclusion by expanding access to participation and community involvement in decision making. But most importantly, I think we need to take a more proactive approach to address systemic issues. like inequity, barriers to opportunities, and job creation for historically marginalized communities. As a member of City Council I will approach all decisions by asking, How would this ordinance promote equity, opportunity, and lower barriers to success for working-class and low-income families.


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