RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A community activist and organizer is aiming to unseat one of the longest serving members of the Richmond City Council in the race for the city’s 6th District 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.
November’s election puts Ellen Robertson, the Democratic incumbent who has served since 2003, against Allan-Charles Chipman, a progressive candidate running on a campaign focused on equity. Robertson has also pushed for racial equity in her run and says that citizens are her top priority while serving as councilwoman.
- Interested in how the money race is going? Find out more here.
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?
Chipman: People in the 6th District are supporting our campaign because they feel seen, included, and prioritized in our vision for the 6th. They trust me to unwaveringly support their priorities over profit motives that have damaged their communities. I helped pass Senate Bill 708 with Senator Jennifer McClellan to expand tenants’ rights in Public Housing who faced the threat of demolition. I’ve advised Senator Tim Kaine and his office on holding RRHA accountable when they break the law and collaborated to ensure residents with Lupus had their appropriate medication in the midst of Covid-19. I’ve audited multi-million-dollar projects for a construction company and have the skillset to ensure our city money is being spent as efficiently as possible. I’ve worked close to a decade in risk management at a Fortune 500 company. It is this skillset that equipped me to discover the risk that both the mayor and the incumbent failed to see in how the Navy Hill project would have cost $100 million dollars in state funding to schools. I currently work every day revealing and remedying the legacy of racism and dehumanization’s effects on laws, disparities, and our communities. I am prepared to help Richmond disrupt the confederate outcomes in our policy. I have advised City Council members, Mayors, Governors, State representatives, and members of Congress to help to remedy inequity in policy and practice. As an organizer, I also created a coalition of museums in the city called “Intersecting History” to help expand the city’s public memory on race and justice that includes the VMFA, VMHC, American Civil War Museum, The Valentine, ICA, Maymont, Black History Museum, Elegba Folklore Society and more. I look forward to taking my skillset, innovation, results, and collaborative spirit to city council to turn the priorities of the people into policy.
What do you see as the top priority in your district? How would you address it?
Chipman: Beyond systemic racism, the most important issue is our housing crisis. As I stated during the Navy Hill process, the city of Richmond is not in an arena crisis. It is in a low-income housing crisis. We can’t stop Covid-19 if we can’t house our residents. As the 2nd highest city in the nation for evictions, with thousands more facing evictions, we need to address this issue now. I’m currently helping a senior in court who was evicted from their family home due to falling behind on real estate taxes. Cost burdened households have increased by about 10% from 2000-2016. Per an RTD report, housing prices have increased 52% over the last couple of years outpacing wage increases. The 6th district has seen the highest increases in assessments with some areas seeing a 15% increase. Some homes assessed at 217,000 in 2019 are now being assessed at 279,000 due solely to surrounding development. I support expanding the homestead exemption program to reflect the credit program in California and developing a city-funded community stabilization fund as seen in Pittsburgh, GA. I support bringing HUD’s Housing Plus Pilot Program to Richmond to use some of our vacant housing stock to deal with the homelessness crisis. We must stop and deeply reform the types of incentives such as the incumbent’s tax abatement programs that have funded the gentrification of our neighborhoods and redirect those funds to housing stability as those abatements expire. We must use the standards of a city-wide AMI in lieu of the HUD region-wide AMI so that we use a standard that is actually affordable to the people of Richmond.
To address systemic racism, I propose implementing the Equity Assessment Index to proactively root out and prevent policies that have a disparate impact on historically marginalized communities.
What solutions do you have to offer to help improve Richmond Public Schools? Would you consider supporting a tax hike?
Chipman: I don’t support a tax hike on residents during an economic crisis. Our long-term neighbors are already struggling to keep up with rising assessments. Many can’t afford a tax increase in the midst of an economic crisis.
I propose turning our schools into community hubs of learning for our RPS children as well as the surrounding residents. I would like to partner with Community College Workforce Alliance to implement their Fast Forward program into our area High Schools. This has a two-fold purpose. It allows RPS children to graduate with more rigorous trade skills or even college credits. It also gives greater access to continuing education to parents and residents to be able to gain new skills to qualify for a more competitive workforce. We must increase language justice in our schools for ESL children and families. It is also essential in this time of virtual learning to make sure the needs of our children with special needs and IEPS are met.
We must expand the work of Dr. Ram Bhagat and School Climate & Culture. We need a just restorative process to address the racial disparities in who gets suspended and expelled. We need to finally receive the promised teacher retention rates and to resolve the problems revealed by the whistleblowers at Black At RPS.
I support using the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) Program to finally charge VCU their fair share of payment to help fund our public schools.
How do you think Mayor Stoney handled the process to remove the city’s Confederate statues?
Chipman: After having spoken with Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and my friend Charlottesville City Councilman Dr. Wes Bellamy, I heard of the death threats that not only did they receive but those contracted to remove the monuments received as well. I see the need for the LLC to protect contractors from death threats. However, the fact that it was awarded to a political donor and there are questions on the transparency of the procurement process and whether they got the best price raises cause for concern. This seems to be a trend from the exclusive RFP written for Stoney’s political donors for Navy Hill or the pricing of the 3 new schools being at a price that could have built 5. We must do the right thing the right way. Make no mistake it was well past time to take down these confederate monuments that never should have been erected in the first place as Councilman John Mitchell Jr argued back in 1890. However, as Thurgood Marshall said, “Do not be sedated by success.” Taking down confederate statues doesn’t equate to ending confederate outcomes in our city. The same mayor that cut down Stonewall Jackson’s monument was seen cutting the ribbon at a new registrar’s office that was moved off of the public transportation circuit in what many call an act of voter suppression. If we do not “remain awake during a revolution” as Dr. King said we will renew confederate outcomes such as restrictive zoning, voter suppression, police violence, and displacing black people from their land and source of wealth in favor of profit motives.
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?
Chipman: I have no problem giving credit when it is due. I am glad to see the real estate relief program get extended for seniors to apply until October 31st. I am glad that we are moving towards getting relief for daycare for some of our working residents who are struggling. I am glad to see that we were able to get testing sites to some of our most vulnerable communities. I am glad to see GRTC not charge fares during this difficult time for those who rely on their services. We have had a lot of relief from the Federal CARES acts funds that have gone to GRTC ($26 million), Richmond Public Schools ($13 Million), and much more. I do think for our businesses and restaurants we need to move towards rezoning some streets to allow for safe, socially distanced, street dining as business leaders such as Kelli Lemon have been requesting. We have to make sure the eligibility for relief services for businesses are drafted in a way that our minority businesses can qualify for much needed relief. We should not have displaced Camp Cathy during a pandemic as the CDC guidelines called for participation with tent communities (as Memphis, TN complied with their tent community.) I do believe the Federal Cares money used for temporary shelter that housed people in hotels with bed bugs should have been more wisely spent in (as allowed in the stipulations) to bring vacant housing stock up to code for a plan to transition to housing stability more than just temporary shelter. Also, it is imperative that we are supplying our essential workers, home healthcare workers, and city workers with hazard pay and benefits needed for protection. Rest in peace to the GRTC worker John Thrower who lost their life to coronavirus.
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?
Chipman: As I talk to people in the 6th district many of them feel that they are standing in the shadows of the new developing “RVA.” They are losing their homes due to being priced out by gentrification incentivized by the incumbent’s policies. Even people who have received these incentives have expressed that they feel a level of guilt and instead want to be a part of the solution. My concern, as the RRHA secretly moves to demolish all public housing as proposed in their latest annual plan, is who will get to exist in the future of “RVA” I am concerned of a Richmond that puts profit before people and as Dr. King says “becomes more thing-oriented than person oriented.” Police over the summer have teargassed, falsely arrested, and attacked students, clergy, protestors, members of the press and even sitting council members calling for an end to systemic racism with no consequence to the officers. We have brave council members such as Councilwoman Lynch and Councilman Jones who have at least tried to be accessible and display the moral courage to respond to this moment but have had their policy blocked in committee, diluted, or underfunded. My hope through it all is seeing those community members and protestors who have the moral courage to stir up “good necessary trouble” as John Lewis called us to do. They are presenting solutions like RISC and the Group Violence Intervention program. They are showing us that “we take care of us” like Sheba Williams and NoLefTurns, Inc. They are charting a new restorative way forward like Dr. Ram Bhagat’s Massive Resilience program in RPS. And many of them, like me, are running for office to usher in a new wave of leadership that turns the priorities of the people into policy.