RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Levar Stoney is facing off with four challengers in this year’s election as he seeks a second term as Richmond’s mayor.
During Stoney’s fourth year in office, Richmond experienced citywide protests against police brutality and racism, sudden changes to the leadership of the city’s police department and an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Other candidates in the race, most notably Councilwoman Kim Gray and Justin Griffin, have been critical of Stoney’s effort to redevelop downtown Richmond with the Navy Hill project, a proposal that was eventually killed by the City Council.
Gray also called for a special prosecutor to investigate the mayor’s handling of the removal of the city’s Confederate statues after the $1.8 million contract was awarded to a firm headed by one of Stoney’s political donors. Augusta County’s top prosecutor was eventually appointed to look into the contract.
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.
Stoney’s answers, each with a 300-word limit, can be found below.
Why should voters choose you over your opponents?
I am committed to making Richmond a city that works for everyone. For me, facing Richmond’s challenges as mayor is personal. A product of Virginia public schools, I was raised by my grandmother and father, a janitor. I grew up on free and reduced lunch before becoming the first in his family to graduate high school and college. As mayor, I have fought to give all Richmonders a better shot at success, whether by investing the most money in RPS in over a generation, expanding afterschool programs to every elementary and middle school, advocating for police reform and gun safety legislation, or fixing our city’s ailing infrastructure by paving 500 miles of road lanes and filling 70,000 potholes.
During my second term, we will continue this work by offering universal Pre-K for every child in the city, giving every child the opportunity to succeed. We will transform and redevelop public housing while ensuring every family in a unit today will have a unit tomorrow. We will address inequities in the city further highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic and racial unrest by building generational wealth in Black communities. Using programs like progressive tax abatements and expanding tax deferral programs, we will ensure continued city growth without displacing families that have been there for generations. These next four years will decide Richmond’s future and we need steady, experienced leadership to lead us through these unprecedented times. I will be ready on day one to get the job done.
What do you consider to be Richmond’s top priority and how do you propose the city should address it?
My number one priority right now is protecting public health and safety during the pandemic. Our city has seen consistently low COVID-19 positivity rates over the last three months, but we must not let our guard down – we are not out of the woods yet. I will continue to listen to the scientists and use a data-driven approach to box in the virus. We must also tend to the economic impact of the virus. Richmond families have lost loved ones, their jobs, and their homes, while our city has lost business and revenue. We need to continue our box-it-in strategy, focusing on testing and tracing infections.
We have offered free testing, hotel rooms for those who cannot quarantine safely, and over $14.5 million to hold off evictions and for rental assistance. For our small businesses, we offered 0% interest loans and grants, amnesty on taxes, and helped restaurants expand outdoor seating and to go capabilities. We must also do everything we can to make sure life can continue to go on while also keeping residents safe from this virus. We will get through this and come out stronger on the other side, but we must do it together. The pandemic has also highlighted deeper issues in housing and education, especially for those in poverty. We must ensure that people have safe, stable housing and that all of our students have equal access to the tools needed to learn.
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?
As mayor, I have consistently led by following the data and listening to scientists, and I would not hesitate to ask Governor Northam to impose restrictions should public health require it. My top priority during the pandemic has been keeping the people of Richmond safe while supporting the local economy. Richmond was one of the first cities to focus on testing, tracing infections, and isolating those with the virus – even providing hotel rooms for those who couldn’t easily quarantine. We provided safety gear, like masks and sanitizer, to low-income communities and authorized $14.5 million in funding for eviction diversion, mortgage relief, and rental assistance.
Additionally, my administration secured a $250,000 grant from the Open Society Foundation to provide rent and mortgage assistance to immigrant families, requested Governor Northam allow restaurants to serve cocktails to-go, created RVAStrong.org to be a resource hub for residents to request and offer assistance, requested federal support on behalf of restaurant owners to get the Paycheck Protection Plan fixed to allow more flexibility, and worked with the Robins Family Foundation to create the Family Crisis Fund, which gives families in need $500 reloadable gift cards to help with essential items. We are also partnering with the Robins Family Foundation to pilot a universal guaranteed income program here in the City of Richmond. I also asked the local health district to change the reporting structure for COVID-19 data — breaking down cases by race to understand the effects of the pandemic on communities of color. My administration will continue to listen to the scientists and experts, centering their recommendations at the heart of our COVID-19 response. Your health and safety will continue to be my top priority throughout this pandemic. Nothing can be off the table when public health is at stake.
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?
As a Black man and the son of a former felon, I know first-hand what it is like to experience systemic racism in policing. I have been asked to put my hands on the hood, and I have been stopped because I “fit the description.” But, pundits have tried to portray the next steps after this summer of unrest and reckoning as a false choice. They argue that you must either be “with the protesters” or “with the police.” I am with Richmond, and it is for that reason that I will continue to fight for thoughtful public policy that will help reduce violence in our city, protect public safety, and cast off the chains of systemic racism.
I know that Richmond has a nationally-accredited police department; however, we need to have a community-accredited, as well. Those departments that are trusted and respected are those who are accountable and transparent. Thanks to my task force to reimagine public safety, we will focus on routing calls for service to more appropriate agencies and bringing more community members into our public safety apparatus. We will also continue our work on the “Marcus Alert” and creating an independent civilian review board with subpoena power. We must also hold accountable bad apples in the department, and I fully support the work by Commonwealth’s Attorney McEachin to prosecute those bad actors to the fullest extent of the law. We must fund the change we want to see in our police department, and I have full confidence in Chief Smith to implement these reforms.
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?
Richmond Public Schools has been my number one priority throughout my tenure. I have fully funded the Dreams 4 RPS strategic plan the last two years, all while building three new schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods. We no longer rubber stamp diplomas, instead giving graduates a diploma that meaningfully equips them for the 21st century economy. And we expanded after-school program offerings to every elementary and middle school student. I will continue to fight for fully funded schools and directing monies into desperately needed school infrastructure improvements. But this is also about the leadership at RPS. The continued collaboration of the School Board and Superintendent Jason Kamras has been critical to the successes of the last four years and will be pivotal to the future of RPS. In the past 30 years, we have had 17 superintendents in the City of Richmond. We need to keep Jason Kamras in place at RPS so he has the opportunity to complete the Dreams 4 RPS Strategic Plan.
Beyond building on the current work at RPS, we need to guarantee universal pre-K for every Richmond student. We have told our children for decades that public education is the great equalizer, but, currently, 59% of Richmond children are unprepared to learn on their first day of Kindergarten. Next term, I will create a free public option for universal pre-K for every 3 and 4 year old so that every Richmond child has an opportunity to succeed. I will approach this proposal as I have every one of my administration’s priorities: collaboratively. I am prepared to work with council to identify the funding necessary to accomplish this by 2025.