While the nation watched the national elections, voters in Richmond’s second district quietly disrupted local politics. Voters surprised mayoral election watchers by voting for Alexsis Rodgers instead of current district two councilmember Kim Gray. Voters have also locked the race for Gray’s city council replacement into a narrow two-way contest where leader Tavarris Spinks is ahead of Katherine Jordan by just 26 votes out of 14,086, according to unofficial results at the Virginia Public Access Project.
“To take my mind off this stress I have kept my standing appointment to have some teeth pulled,” Spinks said in a Friday tweet.
District three has another close race — Anne Lambert is leading Elaine Summerfield by 206 votes, or about 2 percent. In district eight, incumbent Reva Trammell has pulled ahead of Amy Wentz by 268 votes, about four percent, according to VPAP data. Richmond electoral board Chairman Jim Nachman said that official results should be certified on Tuesday, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
In other districts, the incumbents appear to have won re-election; Kristen Larson ran unopposed in district four and Michael Jones ran unopposed in district nine. In district one, incumbent Andreas Addison leads by 1,438 votes; in district five incumbent Stephanie Lynch leads by 4,182 votes, in district six incumbent Ellen Robertson leads by 2,605 votes, and in district seven, incumbent Cynthia Newbille leads by 3,101 votes, according to VPAP.
Larson described Richmond as a city performing a political balancing act. While her district is composed of long-time, older residents who may be more conservative, other parts of the city have seen an influx of younger people who may be more progressive. “I think Alexsis Rodgers had a strong showing in the mayor’s race which definitely does say something about folks who are leaning towards that progressive agenda,” Larson said.
According to Larson, the council never coalesced as a political bloc in the previous term, meaning that the direction of the council is not necessarily set in stone and new councilmembers can shape policy.
In the previous term, the council and then-new Mayor Levar Stoney experienced the benefits of a strong economy and good revenue, according to Larson. She said the council was able to finance virtually all of the Mayor’s initiatives, but she doesn’t think that the council can keep doing that in the near future.
“COVID, as well as our budget and the local economy is going to be the most immediate thing that we’re dealing with,” Larson told The Virginia Star. The Mayor normally presents his budget in March. Larson said that’s when the council will face tough decisions.
Richmond relies on revenues from meal taxes and real estate taxes. Although the real estate market is still healthy, Larson expects trouble for commercial rental properties and a loss in revenue for the city, even a net decrease in revenue from 2020 to 2021. She also thinks the council and the Mayor will have to grapple with an affordable housing crisis as protections for at-risk people expire.
“I hope I am wrong, but I feel like every couple of days we see another restaurant close, and that has been our bread and butter in our economy for the last couple of years,” Larson said.
“In terms of strategies, of how do we handle it, I just think we’re going to have to make hard decisions,” Larson said. “We’re going to have to cut programs, we’re going to have to cut budget, and we’re going to have to really prioritize, and I’m ready to do that and I hope my colleagues are and I hope the Mayor is.”
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Correction: At the time of this report, Tavarris Spinks was leading Katherine Jordan by 26 votes. The Star originally reported Jordan held the lead, and regrets the error.
Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photos “Katherine Jordan” and “Tavarris Spinks” by Katherine Jordan and Tavarris Spinks.