RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond voters in the city’s Central 5th District will choose between an incumbent who was appointed in a special election last year and two other candidates vying to take her spot.
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 field for the 5th District seat is made up of Stephanie Lynch, who was sworn in last December, and Jer’Mykeal McCoy and Mamie Taylor.
Lynch has campaigned on making quality education for students a top priority and expanding access to affordable housing. McCoy has pushed health care and education reform during his campaign. Taylor is a former RPS teacher and school board representative for the district.
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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?
Lynch: I have a track record of how I translate my answers to questions like these into results on Council. I’ve worked every single day of these last 10 months to both focus on the nitty gritty and block by block concerns of 5th district residents, while also being a vocal and effective advocate for systemic changes in our district and across the city. I’ve passed more legislation on Council than 7 other members in my first year, led the fight on police reform along with Councilman Jones, and championed the only amendment to the Mayor’s budget. We also made history last year when I was elected as the first woman to represent the 5th, and the first social worker, a perspective and set of experiences that informs my human service approach to the position with an emphasis on achieving tangible progress for residents that have traditionally felt disconnected or marginalized by their city government. Last year, eight people ran for this seat. This year, each of the candidates who isn’t running again this year have endorsed me for re-election. I think that speaks to the work I’ve put in – and will continue to put in – along with so many incredible people in the 5th District to build community and consensus, and achieve meaningful change.
McCoy: I am the son of a mother who is a small business owner and a father who is a navy veteran. Like many of our young people in our city, I lived in a community that was under invested and over policed. As a child, four generations of my family lived in public housing. Then as it is now, poverty is too expensive. I have used my academic, business and policy experience to serve the city I call home. I am running because I have fresh ideas to bring solutions to the issues facing our neighborhoods, small businesses and public schools. That’s why residents of the 5th District should vote for me.
What do you see as the top priority in your district? How would you address it?
Lynch: The most pressing issue that I see 5th District residents grappling with every day is our ongoing housing crisis. COVID-19 has clarified just how important it is for every person to have access to quality affordable housing, and I’ve worked every day since being elected to Council to ensure that no one in the 5th District has to face this pandemic on the streets. In the Spring I sponsored the only Council amendment to the Mayor’s budget to provide an additional $300,000 in funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and I am co-sponsoring a resolution to commit $10 million in funding every year towards affordable housing. I am also currently working with our city’s state delegation to introduce legislation to provide tax credits to protect long term residents in our community that are suffering from increased property taxes and assessments as a direct result of gentrification.
McCoy: The most important issue of the day, not just for the residents of the 5th district but the entire country, is the coronavirus pandemic. It bleeds over into every aspect of our lives and how we function as a city. We need to ensure residents are taking the precautions necessary to protect their families while being supported by their employers and this city. I will work with state and federal agencies to ensure my constituents get the resources they need to weather this storm. We will push for increased community health information sharing and testing as well as PPE for our vulnerable businesses and residents. We will work with the School Board to ensure that our schools are reopened safely in a way that protects the success of our students and the livelihoods of our teachers and parents. I will take a holistic approach to this pandemic and every challenge that arises during my tenure on city council.
What solutions do you have to offer to help improve Richmond Public Schools? Would you consider supporting a tax hike?
Lynch: Perhaps my most important job on Council is to ensure that we allocate the resources necessary to fully support Richmond Public Schools, and there remain massive unaddressed needs – such as rebuilding George Wythe High School – that will require additional funding. But, given the current dire economic circumstances of many of our residents during COVID-19, and the reality of already increasing tax assessments, now is not the time to burden our residents with additional regressive taxes. I will continue to work with our General Assembly delegation and advocates like REA to fight for additional resources from the state budget through revenue sources such as the Local Composite Index, facilitate investment and community centered development that increases our tax base, re-examine our existing budget to prioritize investing in our youth rather than incarcerating them, and embrace more targeted approaches such as further leveraging the cigarette tax and looking at alternatives such as a land value tax.
McCoy: As the Immediate Past President for the Urban League Greater Richmond Young Professionals, I have had the honor to meet the talented students in RPS. Under my leadership, I oversaw the donation of $10,000 in scholarships to Richmond Public School students. I’m the first in my family to graduate from college, so being able to invest in the next generation is a “full circle” experience. I want to continue this work as a councilperson. I know what it’s like to grow up in poverty while navigating the journey to get an education. That is why I will champion the expansion of summer job opportunities for our youth in partnership with City Hall and the local business community. Summer job programs reduce youth unemployment and provide a positive outlet for youth to gain professional experience. While I support finding as many creative solutions to fund our Public Schools, I do not support raising Richmond’s real estate tax during this pandemic.
How do you think Mayor Stoney handled the process to remove the city’s Confederate statues?
Lynch: When I ran for this seat, I heard calls from residents across the 5th District to take down monuments that had been physical manifestations of institutional racism and oppression in our city for over a century. On Council, I was proud to heed that call and vote to remove them once and for all. I believe Mayor Stoney took the necessary steps to ensure that the monuments were taken down swiftly and safely, and that decisive action has afforded us the opportunity to begin the process to move towards a more accurate reflection of our city’s history in our public spaces. My focus going forward is on moving beyond symbols, and addressing the deep seated structural inequities that those statues represented.
McCoy: As with most of our city hall processes, the removal of the monument could’ve been handled better. Yet, we still have ways to go in modernizing our schools and city infrastructure. We need to invest in resources to improve public health and education outcomes. That is why I’m running.
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?
Lynch: I came onto Council just months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and I’ve been hitting the ground running on making sure that our businesses have the resources they need to either remain open safely, or close and still provide for their families and staff. I supported the Mayor’s efforts to delay re-opening in Richmond due to our high case counts and high proportion of vulnerable populations, but I do think we needed to do a better job communicating that decision and giving businesses time to prepare accordingly. Since that time, in my role on the economic revitalization committee I have helped steer millions in CARES Act grants to local and small business in the city, and worked with business owners across the 5th to loosen restrictions on outdoor seating to allow for more capacity at restaurants. I’m proud to have the endorsements of both the current and former presidents of the Carytown Merchants Association, and I’ll continue to work with them and other merchants groups as well as individual businesses to ensure they have the resources and supports they need.
McCoy: The Richmond Recovers Grant Program has been a lifeline to dozens of restaurants and non-profit organizations. We need to continue to work with our federal, state and local partners to equitably distribute grants. We need to streamline the eligibility criteria to make it smoother for applicants to get funding.
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?
Lynch: I ran for Council last year because, despite everything that makes Richmond an incredible city, we have a number of systemic and institutional barriers that have created deep inequities in our city. I heard from residents in the 5th District that affordable housing, school rezoning, Minority Business Enterprise requirements, criminal justice reforms, job training and development, and programming to connect and build social capital in our communities are all areas where the Council could have collaborated more to achieve progress. In these last ten months, I think that Council as a whole has risen to the occasion and taken on many of these critical priorities. But we still have a ways to go. My chief concern moving forward is ensuring that we as a Council are proactive and collaborative on addressing this multitude of issues, because for too long I think there’s been a willingness to simply operate as foil to the administration and shirk our own legislative and budgetary responsibilities. I have incredibly high hopes for the future because over this last year, I’ve seen the people of Richmond and the 5th District rise to the occasion and come together to tackle some of the most difficult circumstances we’ve faced as a city. I think we are going to come out of this stronger as a community, and I will work every day on Council to ensure that our residents have the supports, resources, and responsive leadership necessary to make that a reality.”
McCoy: While campaigning across the district I have talked to voters who feel disconnected from their representative and city services. People want quality services for the tax dollars they pay. They want local leadership in a time when we are not getting it at the federal level. I find hope in the vision that our best days are ahead of us. I’m excited for the small business that will emerge from this pandemic. I find inspiration in the next generation of scholars in RPS who will pursue careers in the sciences to improve public health outcomes. I’m motivated by creating a civilian review board with subpoena power to hold law enforcement more accountable for misconduct. We can do all of this if we work together and I have the vision to unify our district.
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