The top four candidates for Richmond’s mayor debated on Tuesday night in a forum where incumbent Mayor Levar Stoney again defended his record from attacks on all sides. Council member Kim Gray and candidate Justin Griffin took turns attacking Stoney for corruption and mismanagement while candidate Alexsis Rodgers suggested that many of Stoney’s best ideas for the future are cribbed from her own platform.
Recent polling has Stoney and Gray at around 35 percent each. The rest of the candidates together are far enough behind that, if the poll is accurate, the election is essentially a two-way race.
In her opening statement, Gray said, “I made the decision to run after nearly four years of working with this mayor and his administration, I’m running to end the corruption and cronyism and lack of common sense.”
Gray added, “We are currently this very second in a situation where our own Mayor is under criminal investigation for a $1.8 million contract that he issued to a major political donor.”
Stoney didn’t take the bait, and instead used his opener to say, “For the last four years you’ve given me the greatest honor of my life, Richmond, to serve as mayor of Virginia’s capital city.”
The forum was a combination of long-form questions targeted at individual candidates and lightning-round questions for everyone. Gray used many of her questions to hit Stoney.
When asked about the city’s response to COVID-19 and improvements she would offer, Gray expressed concerns about Richmond Public Schools’ virtual learning. “My [children] log in at 9:15 in the morning and are online until 4:15 in the afternoon.” Then, she pivoted to Stoney’s handling of the crisis. “I think that the less-than-24-hour warning that restaurants were given that we weren’t moving into the next phase was unjustified and it hurt a lot of our restaurants.”
Stoney said his approach has led to low COVID-19 positivity rates in Richmond. “I think our approach has been data driven from day one. This is not a gut decision you can have. You have to be data driven.” Stoney added, “And that’s why we slowed down the process of reopening.”
The next question gave Stoney a chance to defend his removal of Richmond’s Confederate monuments with a $1.8 million contract paid to a firm linked to one of Stoney’s political donors. Stoney said he wasn’t involved in the process of selecting the firm. When the Commonwealth’s Attorney reviews the contract, Stoney said, “What they will find is that what we did was legal, it was appropriate, and it was right.”
Gray again criticized the contract, saying, “There are many red flags with respect to this contract.” She said Stoney’s name is the only name on the paperwork. Gray also questioned if the contractor had a license in Virginia to perform the work. “To this date there have been no permits produced that were pulled to do the work, and it’s very questionable.”
Stoney replied, “I do believe it’s rich coming from one of the only members of city council who stood in the way of us even having the right to remove monuments in the City of Richmond. This is the same opponent, the same candidate, the same city councilwoman who now is funded by those on Monument Avenue who want to see those racist monuments still on their pedestals here in the City of Richmond.”
“Here’s the thing,” Stoney said, “Miss Gray has always been an impediment to change, an impediment for progress in the City of Richmond, and you see that now being championed in her campaign backed by Republicans.”
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