Gray, a former Richmond School Board member, is among four candidates hoping to unseat incumbent Levar Stoney.
Describing education as her “passion” during the campaign, Gray said she wants the city to repair more school buildings and ensure that all RPS students have a functioning computer and broadband access during virtual learning.
Campaign finance reports show the councilwoman has raised a little less than $400,000 since April, trailing only Mayor Stoney and Alexsis Rodgers.
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.
Gray’s answers, each with a 300-word limit, can be found below.
Why should voters choose you over your opponents?
I know how to build consensus to get things done. I have twelve years of legislative experience on our School Board and City Council. I have over a decade of administrative experience with the Virginia Departments of Supplier Diversity, Social Services, and Transportation under Governors Warner and Kaine. None of my opponents know how to work fairly or collaboratively with elected bodies to achieve positive results. I do.
I know Richmond and its neighborhoods. I grew up here and graduated from our public schools. Five of my children have graduated from Richmond Public Schools, and two more are attending classes remotely. All of my opponents came from somewhere else, and none know what it takes to help children and their parents through our public schools.
I will bring honesty about our financial situation as this pandemic continues to hurt working families. I led the School Board budget committee through the Great Recession, and I will not make multi million dollar promises that I cannot keep.
I will not award sole source procurement contracts or questionable tax breaks for development projects to political contributors.
I will not take a personal vacation at taxpayer expense.
I will LISTEN and respect the work of citizen commissions.
I will proudly represent the City and I will not embarrass our citizens with my personal behavior.
What do you consider to be Richmond’s top priority and how do you propose the city should address it?
Restoring trust, transparency and accountability to City Government is Richmond’s top priority. The Mayor has encouraged protesters and then gassed them. He has run through three Police Chiefs in two months, even as gun violence has soared and whole city blocks, homes, and businesses have been attacked. The homicide rate is up 60% this summer.
The Mayor has pushed through questionable tax breaks for political donors, and he has rewarded political donors with sole source contracts. When a Citizen Commission found against his Navy Hill project, he secretly tried to sell it to the General Assembly and still maintains he “wouldn’t do anything differently.” He wasted millions dollars and thousands of hours of staff time while people are waiting two months for a plumbing permit.
I will improve the trust, transparency, and accountability of Richmond City government in the following ways:
I will meet in person with City Council for open discussion on district and City wide issues. I will not govern by tweet or press release.
I will reinstitute the community outreach that the Richmond Police Department had been nationally recognized for. When citizen groups like the Richmond Transparency and Accountability Program write to me, I will answer those letters and meet with those groups.
I will start major development projects and City procurements with public and industry outreach to ensure public understanding and fair competition. I will not negotiate secret deals, period. At the outset of every major project, I will establish clear and public standards and metrics for what is expected from the private and non-profit sectors.
I will institute a five year budget process so that the true cost of election year proposals and shiny objects will be known. Protecting our most vulnerable citizens and fixing our inequitable schools will be our highest priorities.
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 would rate the Henrico/Richmond health district pandemic response as a good B+. I would rate the City role in the pandemic response as a C+. I would base any changes in restrictions on the professional guidance of Dr. Avula and the Henrico/Richmond health district.
When the City has followed the advice of the Dr. Avula, they have done well. The City has done a poor job communicating to local businesses and creating user friendly assistance programs.
The last minute decision by the Mayor to change restaurant occupancy regulations this summer was devastating to our struggling restaurant industry and caused many restaurants to close permanently.
Unlike many Virginia localities, the Mayor has chosen not to create a citizen oversight commission to track and provide transparency to the available COVID relief programs.
Our citizens have no idea how much federal or state aid they can qualify for. What’s worse, we have no idea where the federal CARES Act money is being spent because the mayor hasn’t made any of that information available.
Many of the COVID relief programs for businesses and charities have a requirement that City taxes be paid in full as a grant precondition. Who is being helped by that?
I do give credit to the Administration for its eviction prevention efforts. It took the New York Times to tell us that Richmond had the second worst eviction problem in the US, and hopefully we will increase our assistance and improve the quality of these programs.
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?
Restoring trust between our police and our many communities will require significant efforts by all of us. For many years, Richmond was regarded as one of the leading practitioners of community policing in the U.S. We have lost our way as a result of the Mayor’s lack of leadership, indecisiveness and inaction.
Our neighboring counties will no longer universally honor our mutual aid agreements and we are losing experienced and good police officers. We need to return to our roots in community policing, and we need civil discussion at a neighborhood level to make that work.
The General Assembly has provided a good framework for addressing many of the necessary reforms in policing and criminal justice. Our job will be to implement our civilian review board and our new policing practices and policies fairly and openly. That will take sustained work over many years to achieve, but I will drive those efforts.
Rather than asking how the Police Department handled the summer protests, we should be asking how the Mayor handled them. Why didn’t he answer a single piece of correspondence from the Richmond Transparency and Accountability Program (RTAP) over the last three years? Was he involved in setting guidance with the Police Chief on the use of tear gas at Lee Circle before the curfew had expired? If not, why not? He didn’t enforce the curfew he himself imposed.
Also, he abandoned his pledge to use a transparent and public “national search” for hiring a Police Chief, and instead hired his third Police Chief in a matter of weeks with zero community outreach or input. Restoring trust will require significant efforts by all of us.
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?
Education is my passion.
We have known for many years that fixing Richmond Public Schools is our most important and difficult task. Unfortunately, we recently went from bad to the worst graduation rate in Virginia—nearly one in four RPS students do not graduate and it is unacceptable to be going in the wrong direction.
I know firsthand how hard graduation is. Five of my children have graduated from Richmond Public Schools and two more are RPS students today. First and foremost, we must find a way to consistently engage all RPS parents and caregivers in the education of their children. That is less a question of money and more a question of leadership and example.
Our unequal school facilities are another challenge. I served two terms on the Richmond School Board and developed an achievable plan to fix Richmond Public School facilities. It will require fiscal discipline, but we can fix them. And in return, we will expect accountability from Schools—starting with improvements in our graduation rates.
Yet another unequal burden on Richmond Public Schools is the number and concentration of special need students. I have proposed working with the State and our neighboring jurisdictions to incentivize the regionalization of certain services for special need students.
I don’t profess to have all the answers to this immensely difficult set of issues. But I know if we as a City commit ourselves to this goal we can make significant progress on the quality of Richmond Schools.