RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Voters in Richmond’s 7th District will decide whether they want to reelect Cynthia Newbille, the current city council president, or choose Joseph Rogers, who is campaigning as a grassroots candidate, in this year’s election.
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.
Newbille has held the East End District seat since 2009 and was elected as the council’s president in January 2019. Rogers is a museum educator and historian whose platform is based on justice and democracy.
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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?
Newbille: With proven leadership and community partnerships, I have demonstrated that I can get the job done for residents of the 7th District.
I have kept my commitment to building a healthier, economically and socially more vibrant East End community by consistently and persistently advocating for and/or securing funding to support (partial list):
- Health & Wellness: COVID 19 – Personal Protective Equipment distribution to senior, RRHA and other East District housing communities; COVID 19 Testing in multiple East District communities; The Market @ 25th Street (Food Access); VCU Health Hub @ 25th Street (Community Health Center); Richmond City Health District Resource Centers in the 7th District’s 3 major public housing communities providing health screenings etc.
- Education: Purchase chrome books for RPS students (Corporate philanthropy); RPS New School Construction: Henry L. Marsh III Elementary School – 1st New school in the East End/7th District in decades; Reynolds – The Kitchens @ 25th Street, inclusive of shuttles to downtown campus offerings and RPS dual enrollment
- Housing: Affordable Housing Trust Fund & Maggie Walker Land Trust/Land Bank to establish quality affordable housing; Eviction Diversion- $14 million in CARES funding for family mortgage and rental assistance; Funding for Homelessness services; Tax Relief for Elderly & Disabled homeowners
Rogers: In my professional work, I uplift the voices of the historically silenced and unheard. In my volunteer work, I work with communities and individuals to uplift their voices in front of bodies like the General Assembly and at City Council. As the representative for the 7th District, it will be my priority to meet people where they are, listen directly to neighbors, and work with the community to address needs, having frequent updates along the way.
What do you see as the top priority in your district? How would you address it?
Newbille: The COVID 19 Pandemic, it’s devastating effects community-wide, and disproportionate impact on our African American and Latino communities.
I will work diligently and collaboratively to mitigate the impact by continuing to provide, increase and/or expand resources for residents, schools and businesses consistent with those delineated in question number 5 below.
Rogers: The district is too diverse with many things that need to be addressed, however, if I were to break it down to one broad category that effects all residents of the 7th, it would be transportation and ease of access. There are whole neighborhoods without sidewalks, areas where cyclists are in constant danger, practically no bus routes in the north and far east parts of the district, and what seems to be a higher concentration of potholes than any other district north of the river. We need to make historic investments in our infrastructure and infrastructure maintenance, create more jobs by hiring in the proper departments, and develop transparent plans that address the needs of the historically marginalized communities *first*. It is nice to have the roundabouts on Jefferson fixed, but when areas of Fulton and Fairfield don’t even have sidewalks for people to safely get to work or school we must realign our priorities.
What solutions do you have to offer to help improve Richmond Public Schools? Would you consider supporting a tax hike?
Newbille: I have, and will continue to advocate for the full funding of RPS at the local, state and federal levels. I supported Council’s full funding of RPS; City Council legislation to earmark 55.4% of the city’s annual real estate taxes for education; and the establishment of an additional 1.5% meals tax to be utilized for school renovation and replacement.
Rogers: I would recommend that the School Board present a budget that addresses the full needs of RPS so that Council can find the money for investing in nurses, counselors, and bus drivers, as well as structural and maintenance support. I would pass ordinances permitting collective bargaining for all school staff. I would support at tax hike on corporations as progressive taxation instead of regressive ones are one of the few sustainable sources of revenue that reduces harm to our most vulnerable residents. Where the ability to enact such progressive taxation models do not currently exist under state law, we must lobby to change that law.
How do you think Mayor Stoney handled the process to remove the city’s Confederate statues?
Newbille: The City Council and Mayor agreed on the goal of statue removal, but we each took a different approach to achieving the goal.
Rogers: Calls against the statues are as old as the statues themselves. 1890, 1995, 2007, and 2017 are only a few of the years of vocal opposition. Removing them was the end result of a 130-year-old promise (despite the fact that the Lee Monument remains). The process and cost are debatable, but I won’t bother debating them. In this moment, the lingering question is, now that the statues are gone, what are we going to do with the monuments to white supremacy that still exist in our city.
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?
Newbille: The magnitude and scope of the impact of the COVID 19 Pandemic will require that we continue to provide resources in each of the areas delineated above. I will continue to work collaboratively to identify local, state, federal, corporate and philanthropic resources to meet these needs.
- Personal Protective Equipment distribution and COVID 19 Testing city-wide
- Eviction Diversion and mortgage/rental assistance
- Isolation Housing
- Family Financial Assistance
- Homelessness Program Funding
- Business Assistance – Grants, Loans, PPEs; Assistance with outdoor expansion
- Office of Community Wealth Building job assistance & placement
- Non-Disconnection of Utility Service
- Tax Relief for Seniors & Disabled
- Child Care for essential workers & RPS Virtual Education Phase
Rogers: Offering assistance to the businesses that were not able to take advantage of federal or state offerings was helpful. There is still long term work to be done, including working with residents and businesses to create a recovery roadmap that clearly outlines the steps to be taken and making sure that information is accessible and available.
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?
Newbille: City Council has consistently promulgated legislation and/or approved funding to address the myriad of challenges confronting our City (partial list):
- COVID 19 Pandemic Response (See question 5 above)
- Poverty: Office of Community Wealth Building
- Housing: Affordable Housing Task Force; Maggie Walker Land Trust/Land Bank; Senior & Elderly Tax Relief
- Education: 1.5% Meals Tax for RPS school renovation and replacement; 55.4% Real Estate of the City’s annual real estate taxes for education; Child Care Funding to support RPS Virtual Education Phase
- Public Safety: Citizen Review Board; Marcus Peters Alert
On February 10, 2020, I jointly patroned legislation (Resolution # 2020-R013) to provide funding for a 3rd party equity analysis to measure equity in the City and further provide for equity training for city employees, appointed and elected official for the purpose of eliminating inequities through improved City policy in all areas.
Pursuant to the full funding of the legislation, I will work collaboratively with residents, City Council, the administration, RPS, parents and community partners, to develop an equity agenda for the City that promotes social and racial justice.
Rogers: I believe that the sustained nature of the protests that we saw in the city are the result of areas where the city government has opted not to listen to the urgings of its residents. The issues surrounding the case of Marcus-David Peters is a prime example. In 2018 the request from the family was simple: the creation of a co-response system that would put mental health professionals at in charge of calls involving mental health crisis and the implementation of a Civilian Review Board that would provide oversight for the police department. The family did not ask for the officer to be fired. They did not make the same demands that were seen in other parts of the country at the time, even though they had every right to. Regardless, of this fact, the City Council and the Mayor choose to do nothing. They ignored the calls for reformation and so when nationwide protests around police accountability erupted, Richmond still had unfinished business.
What concerns me moving forward, is that the council still lacks a progressive mindset that listens to the issues when they are brought to them the first time. When the offer was put forward to merely examine the budget of the Richmond Police Department, not to defund it, the majority on Council balked at the recommendation. Ultimately it is actions and votes like these that make the public lose faith in their government.
What gives me hope for the future, is that there are a number of voices out there, some old, and some new, that have risen to the occasion to stand in solidarity on issues of social justice and equity. It is my hope that the next council will fight for what we claim to believe; a city for all residents regardless of status.
2020 ELECTION COVERAGE
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- Fighting to challenge an election he lost to President-elect Joe Biden, Trump has launched a barrage of lawsuits across the country. Top Republicans have stood behind him and said they will wait for those cases to be resolved before officially recognizing the winner, a standard that has no modern precedent.
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