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2020 Richmond mayoral election: A Q&A with Levar Stoney

2020 Richmond mayoral election: A Q&A with Levar Stoney

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Levar Stoney

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?

I am committed to a community-driven conversation about how to best use the space now available on Monument Avenue. Any process should involve vigorous community engagement with residents and historically underrepresented voices to help us tell the true story of Richmond. I have heard everything from fountains, to the erection of more statues, to inclusive green space — all great ideas — but I believe robust community engagement must be the priority.

However, we also must recognize that our forgotten history in Shockoe Bottom and our previously memorialized history on Monument Avenue inextricably are linked. We know that just as those pushing the Lost Cause intentionally created a “whitewashed” historical account to justify monuments to Confederate traitors, so, too, did they attempt to destroy any trace of our city’s history as the second largest slave market in the United States.

That is why our work in establishing the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Campus is so important. We must prioritize lifting up Black voices and Black history to tell the full story of Richmond and Shockoe Bottom. Only then can we begin to right the wrongs of our past and heal the centuries-old wounds in our city.

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?

Twenty-thousand people live between Belvidere and Shockoe Bottom, meaning less than 10% of the city population lives in the downtown core. The rejection of the Navy Hill development proposal has not changed the fact that we have a downtown on the brink. We need investment now, and we have the potential to make it happen.

Selling off city-owned parking lots will bring economic stimulus to the area and much needed revenue to city coffers. New housing and jobs downtown will mean workforce opportunities for those living in Gilpin Court, who now can walk to work. As we spur development efforts, we will center good jobs for Richmonders and project labor agreements, prioritize affordable housing at all levels of affordability, and bring green space North of Broad Street.

We already have started plotting the course for this work with the Richmond 300 plan, which will encourage greater density, environmental sustainability and multimodal transit. I will continue fighting for a revitalized downtown because we cannot afford to think conservatively when people’s economic and housing security is in the balance.

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?

As mayor, I have had an open-door policy for everyone on City Council. I offer monthly one-on-one meetings with all City Council members and show up for joint initiatives with Council, such as the Education Compact. I will work with anyone to get the best for Richmond; there is too much at stake to do anything less.

However, there are those who only know how to say “no” to progress, and so, while I will look for consensus, we cannot let progress toward a better future be stymied in the name of unanimity. Good governance requires people willing to roll up their sleeves to solve our problems, even if that solution does not always quiet the loudest voices in the room. My administration always has been focused on reaching consensus, which is why we have been able to achieve so much in my first term.

Working with City Council, we built three new schools in Black and brown communities; paved more than 550 lane miles and filled 85,000 potholes; expanded afterschool programs to every elementary and middle school; invested $30 million new dollars in Richmond Public Schools — the greatest in over a generation; created the first-of-its-kind Eviction Diversion Program; and tripled the Affordable Housing Fund.

We still have so much left to do, from providing universal Pre-K to all Richmonders, to transforming public housing, to reimagining public safety. I am ready to get to work with the next City Council and continue delivering for Richmonders.

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?

For too long, Richmond and other majority Black localities have been subject to the whims of state legislatures as to whether they can change local laws. The Dillon Rule is a racist monument to the Lost Cause still enshrined in our state constitution; it handicaps Richmond from passing commonsense legislation overwhelmingly supported by our residents because, according to the theory, local governments don’t know best.

Most Richmonders are aware of the racist red tape wrapped around the monument removal process by the state, previously preventing Richmond from removing Confederate monuments.

However, Richmond’s progress also is stymied by state rules on a wide array of topics: from inclusionary zoning, to local tax policy, to civilian review boards. I recognize the need for state authority on certain regulatory and taxing issues, but we must lobby for greater local autonomy so that Richmond can continue governing without having to go hat-in-hand to the state legislature. That starts with greater local authority on criminal justice reform, zoning and taxing authority, and I have the relationships in the General Assembly to make those efforts a reality.

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