Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney — considered a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2021 by some — said he will not join a rising number of Democrats who are refusing donations from Dominion Energy.
“Campaign contributions never defined my record or my character as a person, so I request that people take a look at my record and take a look at my character, too,” Stoney said late last week when asked whether he would accept money from Dominion in future campaigns.
Asked for a yes or no answer to the question, Stoney said: “I’ve answered the question.”
“I have no plans not to accept any contributions. Here’s the only entity that I do not accept contributions from: I don’t accept contributions from payday lenders.”
The comments come as Stoney’s administration is negotiating with a private entity headed by Dominion CEO Thomas F. Farrell II over a sweeping downtown development plan the mayor endorsed in November.
The stance puts Stoney at odds with Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, also a Democrat, who said last week he would not accept donations from state-regulated monopolies like Dominion as he runs for governor.
“I’ve seen the public’s trust in government at a real low point,” Herring told Blue Virginia, a liberal blog, when asked about Dominion. “And last year I talked to a lot of Virginians on the campaign trail ... about this lack of public trust. So I’ve decided after the election last year that I would not accept contributions from state-regulated monopolies, and that’s going to be my policy going forward. … That’s something that I think I could do to help restore the public’s trust.”
Dominion’s pursuit of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has drawn fire and staunch opposition from environmental groups and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
The utility giant has previously donated $134,500 to Herring, who announced earlier this month that he would seek the governorship.
Herring’s decision to not accept donations from Dominion could make the issue a key dividing point for Democratic voters in the 2021 gubernatorial race, said Bob Holsworth, a longtime observer of local and state politics.
“Dominion has quickly become this litmus test for your commitment to progressivism among Virginia Democrats,” Holsworth said.
Also thought to be among the hopefuls is Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who said he would not accept Dominion’s donations when he ran for lieutenant governor in 2017.
Stoney, on the other hand, accepted $10,000 from Dominion soon after he took office in 2017.
The mayor has spent much of his second year in office reviewing and negotiating a downtown redevelopment plan pitched by a private entity called NH District Corp. that Farrell heads. The group’s $1.4 billion proposal centers on a new Richmond Coliseum.
Farrell’s group said it wanted to build a new arena well in advance of Stoney calling for private proposals last year to replace the Coliseum and redevelop 21 acres of publicly owned downtown real estate. In February, NH District submitted the only plans in response to Stoney’s solicitation. The mayor endorsed the proposal in early November, but has not yet unveiled it.
Farrell’s involvement with the effort has drawn scrutiny from some. A coalition of activists and organizations formed to oppose the redevelopment held a news conference on the steps of City Hall earlier this month. They criticized Stoney for pursuing the plans in tandem with the Dominion CEO.
Herring’s announcement mirrors a pledge made last year by some Democrats running for the House of Delegates, 13 of whom won their contests. Josh Stanfield, director of Activate Virginia, the group that started the anti-Dominion pledge, said he believed Stoney’s close work with Farrell would hurt his chances in any statewide contest.
Stoney has touted the potential benefits of the Coliseum redevelopment; namely, 680 apartments for people making less than the region’s median income, $300 million in business for minority-owned contractors and thousands of new jobs he says the project will bring.
It’s those potential outcomes Stoney is hoping voters will credit him for if the council ultimately greenlights the plans, Holsworth said.
“He’s staking his political career on this project,” Holsworth said. “If it’s successful, he’s going to have quite a platform to run on. If it isn’t, he’s going to face probably unrelenting criticism from the progressives and the Democratic Party.”
“[Stoney] doesn’t want to be seen as having thrown his lot in with Dominion. He wants to be seen as having done some great things for Richmond. He believes he can make that case rather than be lumped in as someone who just was purchased by Dominion.”
Whether Stoney will ultimately seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2021 is still an open question. He said he would “likely” run for a second term as Richmond mayor when his first term is up in two years.
“I’m not making any — I plan on being the best mayor I can be these first four years I have,” Stoney said. “Right now, I think we’ve had a successful run these first two years, and I think you’ll likely see my name on the ballot in 2020.”