Setting the tone for his second four-year term, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said he intends to focus on social justice and equity after taking the oath of office on Monday.
“We must continue to fill the potholes, pave the streets, pick up the trash and issue permits on time, but my priority will always be serving as a champion for Richmonders burdened by generational poverty, who have been subject to the stifling nature of systemic racism,” he said.
“Every decision that comes out of City Hall should improve the quality of life for all the residents of our city.”
Monday also marked the beginning of a new Richmond City Council term amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a reckoning over policing, racial injustice and the city’s past as the capital of the Confederacy.
The city took down its Confederate monuments over the summer and responded to the pandemic by offering tax relief, housing assistance and other aid, but continued economic support, public education, police reform, housing affordability and maintaining financial stability remain top priorities for the city, Stoney said.
Later in the day, after the swearing-in of the council members — including new members Katherine Jordan (2nd District) and Ann-Frances Lambert (3rd District) — the City Council unanimously re-elected 7th District Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille as council president for another two-year term.
Newbille said there are myriad challenges the city must face, and she promised to help the council, the mayor’s administration and the public to meet them.
“It will require all of us leaning in, working more collaboratively to address these challenges and to facilitate the kind of recovery and rebound our city needs; and to create an even better future for all Richmonders,” she said.
Longtime 6th District Councilwoman Ellen Robertson succeeds former 3rd District Councilman Chris Hilbert as vice president. Councilman Michael Jones, of the 9th District, remains on the council, but recently announced he will run this year against Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, for the Democratic nomination in the 69th House District.
Seven of the nine members are women, the most ever for the Richmond City Council.
After taking his oath, Stoney said he would like to see more compromise and collaboration with residents and community leaders, including those who did not support him in last year’s campaign.
Stoney won 38% of the popular vote in November, but carried six of the city’s nine voting districts to win. He was lambasted across the political spectrum throughout the campaign.
Activists involved in nightly demonstrations over the summer blamed him for not curbing the police department’s use of force against them.
Others accused him of permitting riotous behavior and flouting the law when his administration arranged a $1.8 million no-bid contract for the removal of most of the city’s Confederate monuments.
The mayor acknowledged that work is needed to improve relationships and build public trust to achieve his goals for the city.
“I’m willing to compromise to get something done for the greater good of this community. But also that means everyone has to at least consider compromise,” he said.
With an equity-focused agenda in mind, Stoney said there could be some restructuring of city government. He did not provide any specifics, but cited the recent creation of a new transit and mobility office in the Department of Public Works as an example.
He also said he hopes to improve his relationship with the City Council, which last year rejected a $1.5 billion downtown redevelopment plan he asked it to approve.
“I think you’re going to see me lean into more of the relationship building this time around,” Stoney said. “So I’m in the business of making more friends, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do over the next few months because I think there’s some big projects and opportunities ahead for the city, and we’re going to need them involved in the process as well.”
A new Richmond Coliseum is unlikely to anchor any new downtown redevelopment plans, as neighboring Henrico County considers similar plans for a $2.3 billion mixed-use development that includes a 17,000-seat arena. Stoney and other city officials have said the region can support only one large venue like the shuttered Coliseum.
While an alternative downtown redevelopment plan has yet to take shape, the Stoney administration is awaiting development proposals for a casino resort.
The city is planning to pick a partner and site for the project during the summer, but the public is expected to make a final decision in a November referendum.
This article has been updated to reflect that Chris Hilbert is the outgoing Council vice president.
Staff writer Mark Robinson contributed to this report.