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2020 Richmond mayoral election: A Q&A with Kim Gray

2020 Richmond mayoral election: A Q&A with Kim Gray

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Dozens of RTD Opinions readers have shared their views about the future of Monument Avenue. What have you heard from residents that you would be willing to incorporate as mayor?

A fitting tribute to the changes we have seen this summer would be to end the disparity among our Richmond Public School facilities and the regional disparity in our classroom teachers’ pay.

The future of Monument Avenue needs to be approached in the most inclusive and civil way. As we demonstrated with Arthur Ashe Boulevard, that kind of inclusiveness and civility only can be achieved with hard work, and concerted listening to and learning from each other.

I have suggested one idea for Monument Avenue, and City Council unanimously agreed to consider a monument to “The Fourteen” — the Colored troops who valiantly fought in the Civil War and who each received a U.S. Medal of Honor for their bravery. To the extent that Monument Avenue teaches history, I would like ideas like this to be considered by an inclusive, citizen-driven process.

Consider what could have happened if Mayor Levar Stoney had listened to his own Monument Avenue Commission, and we had started down a path of civil discourse and reconciliation in 2018? Richmond could have been a national model.

Readers also were very engaged about the future of Navy Hill and the plan to revitalize our city’s downtown core. What components do you see as essential pieces of a better downtown Richmond?

The Navy Hill process was the latest in a long line of backroom deals — Redskins training center, Stone Brewing, Shockoe ballpark, Sixth Street Marketplace, etc. After opposing the creation of the Navy Hill Advisory Commission and wasting more than $2 million and countless hours of staff and Council time, Stoney said in an interview, “I can’t think of anything I would do differently.”

The first component of any revitalization needs to be a transparent and open planning process for citizens as well as business competitors. Council has taken a step in that direction by opening the Public Safety Building and site to bidders and developers.

The second component needs to be clear, public goals. The Navy Hill developers touted their commitments to the GRTC Transit System and affordable housing, both of which demonstrably were false. The city must use its leverage to achieve clear goals for the public good.

The third component to any revitalization needs to be a commitment to family friendly and affordable housing: A 20-story student housing development (as proposed by Stoney on Broad Street) is not family friendly housing; neither is a new apartment building in Manchester for which the city subsidized $4.5 million.

Revitalization can be achieved by following an open bidding process for city-owned land with robust community involvement. It is not a difficult goal to achieve and there are plenty of companies willing to invest, which is why we must be open and transparent and do away with the backroom-deal template once and for all.

A mayor’s successes are aided by working with nine City Council members who represent districts with diverse needs and interests. How do you create an effective working relationship with Council?

Unlike any other locality in Virginia, the Richmond mayor is the chief executive overseeing a nearly $1 billion public enterprise, and City Council acts in many ways as its board of directors. No organization can survive, much less flourish, if the chief executive provides differing levels of information or varying rationales to individual directors or Council members.

I will follow Henrico County’s budget example by meeting with each Council member before delivering the budget to assess their residents’ and district’s needs. As mayor I will provide information fairly to all council members, whether or not they support the mayor or any particular issue.

As mayor, my administration will use ground-level knowledge of each and every Council member to tackle the issues that affect our residents. Lastly, I will not — as Stoney has — govern merely by tweet and press release. I will roll up my sleeves.

The city’s future also is affected by the General Assembly. Recently, state lawmakers have passed bills promoting more local control. What issues, if any, should Richmond have more control over?

As Virginia’s capital city, we are home to many good jobs, both public and private, and these city-based jobs help create wealth in our surrounding counties. However, state government and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) properties are tax-exempt.

While the city public safety sector protects all of these properties, the state only pays about $3.9 million annually for their PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes). VCU does not pay a PILOT at all. The General Assembly could increase its PILOT to a more reasonable level, or create a standard and mandatory formula for the PILOT. Either method would help the city meet its many needs.

At the same time, localities should engage the General Assembly to allow local control over a number of issues, including the ability to promote and expand affordable housing. It is also, however, important to have some uniform state laws that help us ensure integrity in our local governments.

For example, Stoney chose to ignore state law and the city attorney in order to reward a contributor with a $1.8 million sole-source contract that he authorized. Those actions have led to an investigation. Uniformity in the areas of procurement, personnel and assessments can be advantageous to a well-run local government.

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