Q&A with the 3rd District Richmond City Council candidates: Hilliard, Lambert and Summerfield

2020 Election

Elaine Summerfield, Ann-Frances Lambert and Willie Hilliard Jr. (from left to right)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Voters in Richmond’s 3rd District will appoint a new city council member for the first time since 2004 after City Council Vice President Chris Hilbert announced plans not to seek reelection this year.

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.

Those vying for the Northside District 3 seat include Willie Hilliard Jr., Ann-Frances Lambert and Elaine Summerfield.

Hilliard is a native of the district and has served on several community organizations. Lambert is a local business owner who was born and grew up in the district’s Battery Park and Ginter Park neighborhoods. Summerfield made the city her home 18 years ago and co-created HandsOn Greater Richmond, a platform that connects community members to volunteer opportunities.

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? 

Hilliard: I’m already doing the work! I have been advocating for the betterment of Northside for the past 15 years. In this time I have established working relationships with many city and state officials that allow me to do some impactful work within our city. People trust me to have their best interests at heart and they know that I would never put big business interests over theirs.

Lambert: When I returned home, I realized that although Richmond had changed, many troubling things were still the same. The sidewalk on the street where my father’s office is located was still in need of repairs, just as it had been three years ago when the block was renamed after him. The sidewalks were overgrown with weeds and litter lined the curbs; trash cans at the bus stops were overflowing. I knew when I began to speak to the residents of North Jackson Ward, that they needed representation. I realized that the community was crying for help and our representation was not doing a good job in bridging our communities together.  I knew then that I could not just sit on the sidelines whimpering and complaining because making progress requires ideas and action. I believe that my work experiences as a City Council Liaison, as a Senior Policy Analyst for the City, and my diverse experiences while living in California and abroad have all equipped me with the tools needed to be ready for the job on Day 1. 

So, why am I running? I am running to make The 3rd District a better place, and to continue the legacy my father instilled in me (and my brothers) which is to carry out community service and offer civic responsibility. In doing so, I will make Richmond a place where all kids, regardless of zip code or skin color can have a chance at a better life, and a decent life filled with opportunity. I not only have skin in this fight, I have heart and soul.

Summerfield: I’m an eighteen-year resident of the City of Richmond, mom to a fifth grader at Holton Elementary, I’m someone who has dedicated my life to working in the nonprofit sector creating partnerships and building opportunities for people across our communities, and now I am running to represent the 3rd District on the Richmond City Council.

I’m running for City Council because we are at a pivotal moment. COVID-19 has magnified the racial inequities experienced in Richmond. People are literally in the streets demanding change – and it’s going to take thoughtful, collaborative leadership to translate this momentum into long-lasting policy solutions, and this is the kind of leadership I will bring. These challenges cannot be addressed in a traditional top-down approach. We need a people-centered approach. Our communities need to have a direct say and voice in what is happening within their neighborhoods and within Richmond as a whole. It’s time that this approach makes its way into City Hall.

I have experience identifying community issues and leading change to address them. For example, when it was challenging to find volunteer opportunities in the City, I co-created HandsOn Greater Richmond (HandsOnRVA.org), which now enables thousands of people to engage with the community and give back through service. Professionally, I worked at the Community Foundation for over twelve years, partnering with community change makers on issues including education, housing affordability, and healthcare.

The experiences I have gained while working in the Richmond community, combined with my knowledge of public policy (Master’s in Public Administration), position me to identify and implement policy solutions while serving on City Council. I’ll engage community members, stakeholders, and elected officials to co-create effective policy that addresses the 3rd District’s, and Richmond’s, biggest challenges.

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

Hilliard: First and foremost is housing affordability. On the City Council I will advocate for systemic reforms to our zoning code and transportation system which have downstream effects on housing affordability. I support more mixed use and inclusionary upzoning, especially along commercial and transit corridors, to increase the overall supply of housing while increasing the city’s tax base.

Lambert: The most significant challenges confronting my district are addressing the number of looming evictions that will occur, and providing affordable housing options in a landlocked city.  The 3rd District is facing over 500 evictions alone.  I support putting more funding into the Housing Trust Fund. To satisfy the need we will need approximately 10-50 million annually to really address our affordable housing needs. I will explore the regulatory powers that the City Council has to address zoning changes for areas to develop. We need to re-imagine how we are going to offer 1 to 1 replacement for affordable housing. I’m open to explore Affordable Home Ownership options that will lessen our high poverty rate and close the gap and propel those from a lower income into the middle class. 

We must also look at the mandated funded requirements from the state and our city’s charter. These are discretionary measures we need to explore and I plan to involve community input on which direction is best for the district. 

Summerfield: Housing is the greatest concern for 3rd District residents, especially rising property taxes, an ever-increasing lack of affordable housing options, and our public housing community Gilpin Court. 

We currently have programs in place to help our long-term residents but these programs are not widely utilized. We should partner with VCU’s Gerontology Program and establish neighborhood teams to distribute information regarding the Real Estate Tax Relief Program and other programs that benefit our senior and fixed-income residents. We also have the ability to approach our affordable housing crisis through rezoning using the Richmond 300 Master Plan by ordinance to more efficiently allow greater density in priority growth nodes, such as near transit corridors and areas near Downtown. 

Gilpin Court is the largest, oldest public housing community in Richmond. Affordable housing and empowering our public housing communities are both issues that I hold very close. For just over two years (ending December 2019), I served as Executive Director for Richmond Opportunities, Inc. supporting community transformation by creating pathways to self-sufficiency for Richmond’s public housing residents, ensuring individuals and families thrive in safe, healthy housing. Through this role, I partnered with RRHA, City Council members, City administration, and nonprofit providers to ensure ongoing commitment for people facing challenges due to the redevelopment process. 

To transform our public housing communities and move to a people-centered model of redevelopment, we need to have critical reforms such as: revitalize the Richmond Tenant

Organization to take on the role of holding RRHA accountable, enforce a Resident Bill of Rights for Redevelopment, demand one-for-one replacement of affordable housing units, and create a vehicle for regular dialogue between Council and RRHA Board of Commissioners to ensure accountability and build alignment between the City’s housing goals and the objectives of RRHA.

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

Hilliard: Every child in RPS deserves a quality education but they’re not getting it. Covid has revealed the glaring disparities in our system that have to be addressed. First and foremost we must fully fund our schools. We should not have to go to the State Capitol every year to ask for more funding for our schools. I propose implementation of a split rate real estate tax that if done correctly would raise more revenue in a more equitable way while actually being less harmful to the economy than the status quo.

Lambert: The age-old local composite index (LCI) funding formula has been in place since the late 80’s and inequitably characterizes Richmond’s ability to pay for its students. This formula is difficult to change, but should be revisited.  

We must also make sure that we are accessing all state and federal resources available for education. We cannot leave resources on the table. One example is the Year Round Schools/Extended Day Program that provides $300,000 per school for extended services. Richmond could use this program more fully. We have to re-imagine our education system to make it the best system possible.  Dreams4RPS is a plan that tries to address a multitude of concerns and should include tremendous public input.  These priorities must be tackled to improve the system.  We must work hard to find resources to make needed changes to infrastructure and support our high quality teachers. I have relationships with local businesses, state and federal programs that will enable me to bridge the necessary partnerships together to make these goals and plan a reality. 

Summerfield: Education is a huge priority for me and not just because I’m an RPS parent. Education is where we can provide opportunity for everyone to discover their dreams and talents and begin to chart a course for their life. It’s necessary for the Mayor, City Council, School Board, and RPS administration to work in partnership to pass a budget that will fund our goals. We need to pass RPS’ strategic plan to get the results and educational outcomes for our students that we all seek.

School board has the power to set policy and budget priorities and I respect that authority. I’ll work in collaboration with our School Board to ensure we are funding the highest priorities through funding decisions. We need to be working in partnership to ensure the priorities that result in the best outcomes for the most students get funded. We need to listen to School Board to determine what the priorities are.

For funding streams, I know the meals tax was controversial but it has resulted in high quality schools that our students need. I would love for every student to have that type of learning environment. We should also work with our partners like Richmond Education Association (REA) to lobby the General Assembly to address the Local Composite Index (LCI) formula used to fund schools. Our RPS community has a high percentage of students living in poverty and schools are equipped to do a lot, but we could do even more with additional financial support. We should also revisit the Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements with the Commonwealth of Virginia. Since state properties are exempt from property taxes that would generate revenue for Richmond, we need to reexamine the PILOT agreements to ensure the state is providing appropriate support for its tax-exempt status.

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

Hilliard: The racist monuments that have controlled our landscape for so long had to go. The removal process though left a lot to question. I don’t believe that this was done transparently. I refuse to believe that only one company was willing to take on a 2 million dollar project to tear down these statues, when the citizens of this city would have torn them down for free.

Lambert:  I think Mayor Stoney made a bold move to remove the statues. As a person of color who was born and raised here in the 3rd district, it is time that they come down. If there were no other vendors available to do the job then as the Mayor he made the best decision for the City. 

I am a descendant and the great great great granddaughter of a confederate soldier, so knowing my history I was in support of the Mayor making a historical decision during my lifetime and dealing with a pandemic.  

Summerfield: I agree with Mayor Stoney’s decision to remove the Confederate monuments throughout Richmond. This is an issue that is particularly important to voters in the 2nd and 3rd Districts because we are home to the AP Hill Monument at the intersection of Hermitage and Laburnum. If elected to Richmond City Council, I will introduce a resolution to remove the monument. It presents a constant traffic hazard resulting in frequent accidents, and it also stands in front of my son’s elementary school that is named for Linwood Holton, a leader who worked to address the effects of massive resistance and create equality in public education. It is past time for this monument to white supremacy to be removed.

I believe this process should be transparent and allow for as much community engagement as possible. In the 3rd District we already have an incredible example of community involvement in a similar process with the residents of Confederate Avenue undertaking an effort to rename their street. This effort was led by neighbors for neighbors. I can see the residents of AP Hill Monument Parkway undertaking a similar process, and I would provide them with support necessary to accomplish their goals. These changes will be most successful if led by residents most directly impacted by the change. Beyond the 3rd District, I also need to continue to engage community members regarding spaces on Monument Avenue. For months, Marcus-David Peters Circle has provided a vibrant space for community building. With the statues removed, I would re-engage the Monument Avenue Commission and other community members to further develop plans for the best use of remaining spaces. These conversations and the subsequent community spaces that come as a result provide a necessary avenue for racial reconciliation and healing.

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? 

Hilliard: I believe that the city has done an adequate job in assisting businesses during the pandemic. They’ve constantly funded the Cares Act and created programs such as Richmond Recovers Grant Program to help along with allowing restaurants more freedom to do outside dining. They also created RVA Strong to assist families as well as increasing funding for the Eviction Diversion Program.  It’s still not enough though.

Not only would I increase funding for these programs but I’d push for a program that will strengthen the Tenant and Landlord arrangement to stem the tide of evictions that are sure to come when all of these moratoriums are halted.

More importantly funding for RPS has to be increased to allow renovation of the Air filtration and plumbing in these school buildings. With Covid being our new reality, it’s imperative that all schools have working air conditioning and hot water. Students can’t safely reenter the buildings without it.

Lambert: Funding towards the Rental Assistance program has helped but the pandemic has really hit the African-American community especially in our poorest areas the hardest. People need a hand up not a hand out. The only way we can progress forward is with education and funding for mental health services. We need a facility for those that have mental health issues, a place where they can get help. RBHA is not effective and needs a lot of reorganization. The pandemic has elevated everyone’s mental capacity, now more than ever we all need therapy.  

Summerfield: The City of Richmond’s response to COVID-19 has been strong considering the unprecedented circumstances we are all collectively facing. Our response to COVID-19 is being guided by medical experts and data under the leadership of Dr. Danny Avula. The creation of RVAStrong is a good example of how we can compile resources and information to be accessible for people seeking support. Through deployment of CARES Act funds and leveraging those resources with private funds where possible, Richmonders are able to access critical support ranging from food security to small business loans.

Richmond is fortunate to have several partners in the health care safety net that provide services in communities where people face multiple barriers to care. The Richmond City Health District is doing incredible work by operating health resources centers in the six large public housing communities, as well as at Southwood Apartments (primarily Latinx families) and the Bellemeade Community Center. Their Community Health Workers are working tirelessly, going door-to-door to connect people with resources to address the social determinants of health. On City Council, I will support RCHD’s leadership and efforts in coordinating community partners, ensuring that our public and nonprofit partners are aligning resources to achieve shared goals.

In terms of our businesses, City government should support programs such as RVA Small Business Relief Fund and We Care RVA Rebuild Project that target minority-owned businesses and those affected by the unprecedented events of 2020. Support to assist businesses should include crisis resources, bill support, business coaching, and professional counseling. Partnering with groups like Metropolitan Business League will extend financial and technical assistance resources. The City can also make it easier for businesses by ensuring services such as permits, tax billing and collection, and licenses are running as efficiently as possible.

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? 

Hilliard: I think that’s it a matter of individual opinion as to the performance of each individual Councilperson. Each citizen has their own opinions on the performance of their Council reps. 

I don’t think that Council has always done the will of the people, instead putting their own self interests first and that’s very disturbing to me. What gives me hope is that there are several grassroots candidates (myself included)in this race, that if elected would actually work for the people, for a change. I believe that the city has done an adequate job in assisting businesses during the pandemic. They’ve constantly funded the Cares Act and created programs such as Richmond Recovers Grant Program to help along with allowing restaurants more freedom to do outside dining. They also created RVA Strong to assist families as well as increasing funding for the Eviction Diversion Program.  It’s still not enough though.

Not only would I increase funding for these programs but I’d push for a program that will strengthen the Tenant and Landlord arrangement to stem the tide of evictions that are sure to come when all of these moratoriums are halted.

More importantly funding for RPS has to be increased to allow renovation of the Air filtration and plumbing in these school buildings. With Covid being our new reality, it’s imperative that all schools have working air conditioning and hot water. Students can’t safely reenter the buildings without it.

Lambert: City Council has not been a very good representation for the residents in the 3rd district, I have been told. We need new energy and a change agent as we move forward. 

What concerns me moving forward is the impact of the pandemic will have on our budget for next year. 

What gives me hope is the support that I am receiving in this campaign and the will to keep pushing. My theme is Preserving History for Future Generations and I have accepted the torch to represent my beloved Northside. I am the best choice that has the most experience and relationships that puts me ready for the job on Day 1! #AnnCan

Summerfield: We have seen some improvements in city services, such as road repaving and responsiveness regarding COVID-19, however there are many improvements that are needed to ensure our city services and city government adequately meet the needs of all Richmond residents.

In the March audit conducted by the City Auditor, it was discovered that irresponsible bookkeeping led to $3 million in revenue being stored in inaccessible fund accounts instead of being deployed to address critical needs. As long as these errors continue to take place, Richmond government is not reaching its full potential in regards to both efficiency and effectiveness. To improve confidence in City government, we should revisit the Performance Review that was conducted in 2017 and update its findings. On City Council, I would propose we invest in a lead point person in the Office of Budget and Strategy to see through the ideas of performance management and lead the implementation of performance-based approaches to the budget.

With every election comes the opportunity for new ideas and new leadership to enter the walls of City Hall. When I look around me and see the candidates running for Mayor, School Board, and City Council I see people that care deeply for this city that we all call home. It gives me hope knowing that, if I am elected, I will be working alongside fellow civil servants connecting people and building partnerships to co-create effective solutions to Richmond’s biggest challenges. We have common goals, but those goals cannot be achieved without dialogue and reaching common ground.


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