Five candidates for mayor faced off in Coburn Hall at Virginia Union University on Thursday evening. The two-hour event was live-streamed and Facebook reported over 28 thousand views late Thursday. Former Governor and Richmond Mayor Doug Wilder co-moderated the event, lending an air of political weightiness to the debate. The evening’s questions focused largely on government efficiency and the current crises facing the city, showcasing a variety of experience and ideology in the candidates.
Wilder asked the candidates if they saw cronyism or corruption in the city government. Candidates Kim Gray, Justin Griffin, and Tracey McLean agreed that there was. “The cronyism I’ve gone to our Mayor Levar Stoney about, and was laughed out of his office, and it wasn’t an issue until the Inspector General came in,” Gray said.
Gray and McLean criticized Stoney for using a political donor to remove Confederate monuments. Candidate Alexsis Rodgers said there were problems with mismanagement and lack of transparency in city hall, but focused in on Richmond’s police department. “We’ve seen issues of police response to peaceful protests, and I wonder if we should be sending our law enforcement officers into scenarios where they’re not necessarily needed,” Rodgers said. “To me, that’s misuse of our city funding.”
Incumbent Stoney agreed that there was corruption in the city, but said that he played a key role in eliminating problems. “When people did exhibit misconduct, it was me who actually separated them from their employment.” Stoney added, “Those Confederate monuments were racist and they were removed because of public safety reasons.”
Co-moderator Juan Conde asked the candidates how they would handle the city’s financial and administrative resources during the ongoing crises. “Early before the pandemic, I proposed a budget that was bold and robust. We had to cut that by $30 million dollars,” Stoney said. “At the end of the quarter, we ended up with a $13 million surplus. We did exactly what people do in their homes. We cut back on our spending because we knew we were heading into tough times. That’s how you mind the budget and mind the dollars of the taxpayers, and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing as we move forward.”
Griffin replied, “If you look at the $13 million budget surplus Mayor Stoney has talked about, I think that shows to me that our city government is loaded with fluff. If we can be facing a coronavirus pandemic that shuts down our businesses and we still have $13 million of fluff and surplus in that, then that’s $13 million that should be directed towards our priorities like our schools and our neighborhoods.”
“Well, we actually have to give the resources to the people,” McLean said. “We’re in the midst of a pandemic and we also will possibly see a second wave. In case we see a second wave, we definitely need to be ready.” McLean said there’s a need for equipment for virtual learning students. “We need to take the money to add resources for that. We have eviction and homelessness problems, so we need to make sure the people get the money. If it’s $13 million of surplus, $13 million needs to go out to the community.”
One noteworthy feature of the event was the comments posted by viewers during the debate; viewers discussed issues, advocated for their candidates, and insulted each other. Cindy Anderson commented, “Alexsis [Rodgers] and Justin [Griffin] are LONG shots. Don’t waste your vote! Vote Kim Gray to keep Stoney out for the next 4 years.” Dominga Barbosa said, “No plans from anyone except Stoney and Rodgers… everyone else is anxious to get a question…#unprepared.”
“It’s easy to criticize what someone else has done,” commenter Yvonne Gilliam asked, “but can you really perform in a different way to really make the decisions to make our city effective?”
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