RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Justin Griffin, a small business attorney running for Richmond mayor, credits his opposition to the Navy Hill proposal for influencing his decision to get involved in city politics.
Griffin created a website showcasing his concerns with the downtown redevelopment plan, which was eventually voted down by the City Council, and has campaigned on improving Richmond Public Schools, roads in the city and developing a new standard to ensure Richmond residents “get quality, timely services from the city.”
Campaign finance reports show that Griffin’s campaign has not enjoyed similar fundraising success as the incumbent, Mayor Levar Stoney, and Councilwoman Kim Gray and Alexsis Rodgers.
According to VPAP, Griffin has spent most of his campaign money on online ads and printing services from a Richmond-based graphic design company called Gillis Media Services.
8News asked each Richmond mayoral candidate the same set of questions ahead of the election, including whether they would consider asking for the reintroduction of coronavirus restrictions if cases spike in the city, about their vision to help improve Richmond Public Schools, how they think the city’s police department handled protests this summer and why residents should vote for them.
Griffin’s answers, each with a 300-word limit, can be found below.
Why should voters choose you over your opponents?
If you are not happy with the current direction the city is going or with the failure of our city government to pave the roads and provide basic services, I am the only one that will bring real change. Every four years mayoral candidates promise change and that they will fix our broken city government, but nothing happens and nothing changes. That is because we keep electing politicians who are focused more on their own political career than on serving the people. My opponents are well entrenched in the political establishment and have already failed to fix our schools, our roads, and our basic city services. In this election we must decide if we are ok accepting more of the same or do we choose someone different?
My career is not politics. I am like you, someone who is fed up with having a city government where we pay higher taxes to get less in return. As a political outsider with a law and accounting background I am ready to go in and turn the Richmond City Government upside down. I have no political favors to return, just problems to be solved. I will work day in and day out to make our city government match the amazing quality of our people because the people of Richmond deserve better. I will use my skills and knowledge to bring better schools, better roads, and better city services to Richmond. Your tax dollars will be utilized effectively and efficiently to improve our schools and neighborhoods instead of wasted on mismanagement and misplaced priorities.
What do you consider to be Richmond’s top priority and how do you propose the city should address it?
The top priority has to be to reestablish confidence in the safety of living and doing business in Richmond. Without peace in our city we cannot have economic prosperity. Without economic prosperity we will not have tax revenue to invest in our schools and neighborhoods. To accomplish this we must make sure all laws are strictly and consistently enforced, we must do away with the idea of defunding the police, and we must act swiftly so our officers can get back patrolling our neighborhoods instead of having to watch Monument Ave. We should then use a portion of the reported budget surplus to clean all of the graffiti off of public property, homes, and businesses.
After that is accomplished the priorities immediately shift to fixing the schools, paving every poor and fair rated street in the city, and providing better city services such as delivering replacement trash cans in a timely manner. I would attack these priorities with laser focus instead of getting distracted by get-rich-quick schemes like the Washington football training camp and arenas. We will get back to basics and build a better Richmond government because that is what we pay for and what we deserve.
How would you evaluate Richmond’s response to the coronavirus pandemic? With a possible second wave on the horizon, if elected, would you consider asking Gov. Northam to impose restrictions if cases increase in the city?
I am the only candidate who has published a Corona Virus Action plan and it has been on my website since the day I launched my campaign in April. It lays out in detail what my focus would have been and goes step by step on how we should have been approaching not only handling the virus but also preparing for reopening. Had we followed this urgent, action-oriented approach, we would be in a better place today and could be back open for business. Instead Richmond’s response was slow and lacked clear communication. There was even one instance where businesses thought they would be able to reopen but Mayor Stoney changed the plan less than 12 hours before, costing local businesses thousands of dollars. From day one I took action and worked with my church to implement a delivery program for our elderly and immunocompromised members. That is what we should have done and still need to do as a city. As we continue to relax restrictions, I would work with our community partners to make sure those that need to remain distanced can do so safely without having to go to crowded stores for food and supplies.
If there is a second wave, I would not impose restrictions just for increasing case count. I have explained in a video on social media that the more important metrics are hospitalizations and deaths. The worry from the beginning was always that the hospitals may become overwhelmed. That should still be the metric for deciding any closures. I would provide clear metrics to the people and our businesses so they know exactly what I am looking at and can know if we are progressing or regressing to a point where we would need to impose restrictions.
How would you further reform policing in the city? What’s your assessment on how the Richmond Police Department handled protests in the city during the summer?
The blame for the poor handling of the protest is with the lack of leadership from Mayor Stoney. He sent officers out to handle riot situations when they were under-trained, under-manned, and under equipped. There never was a clearly defined plan but instead it changed daily based on the political mood. Because of the mayor’s focus on politics instead of the safety and welfare of Richmonders things continued for months. Richmonders have paid for it by seeing an increase in lawlessness across the city. June saw a 400% increase in shootings and 22 people were killed in August and September.
Going forward, instead of defunding the police I would work with the police on ways we can improve policing to make sure all of our neighborhoods are safe. We can expand our community policing tactics and ancillary social service initiatives. One example is bringing back the Second Responders program. Second Responders are social workers assigned to police precincts that arrive at crime scenes to help victims especially those involved in domestic violence. Our goal should be to make sure all of our people are safe and by working together with the police instead of demonizing them, we can achieve that goal.
The city’s school system has seen some of the lowest graduation rates in the country. If elected, what will be your approach to help improve Richmond Public Schools?
Over the last four years the Richmond Public Schools graduation rate dropped from 80% to 71%. That is a crisis that cannot wait four more years to be addressed. If we want to help our people and keep moving forward as a society, then something must be done about our education system.
First, we have to fix the buildings. We have some kids who are in class sweating while kids down the hall in the same building are wearing coats in class. Mayor Stoney was asked by the voters to put forth a fully-funded school modernization plan without raising taxes but all we got from him was a 2 page non-binding memo and the numbers weren’t even correct. I will take the maintenance and modernization of our school buildings seriously and treat it as the top priority that it should be.
Second, we must refocus the curriculum to have a student-centered approach. Instead of having such a strong emphasis on SOLs, we will focus on strong reading skills, greater teacher autonomy, and high expectations for our kids.
Finally, we must then couple that with a holistic education that provides life skills, job skills, trades training, and connections to opportunities through mentorships and internships. You can read more about my comprehensive plan for better schools on my campaign website. I will accept nothing less than having a first-rate education for our kids that provides them with a lifetime of hope and opportunity.