Editor's note: This article appeared in Richmond magazine's September 2001 issue.
Soon-to-be former Mayor Tim Kaine. (Photo by Jay Paul)
Everyone's entitled to change his mind.
After winning the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in June, Tim Kaine told reporters he wouldn't step down as mayor. After all, he had just fought a difficult primary battle against two seasoned legislators and still managed to conduct his mayoral duties, leading City Council to adopt a crucial two-year budget that cut tax rates and better funded schools.
Yet 30 days after his Democratic primary victory, Kaine decided he couldn't be both city mayor and statewide political candidate, so on Sept. 10, he will resign as mayor to focus on his campaign with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Warner.
"Four terms in local office has just really convinced me that the state can do an awful lot to help cities and counties," says Kaine, who sat down with Richmond magazine recently to reflect upon his seven years on council and his term-and-a-half as the council-appointed white mayor of the majority black city.
Chief among Kaine's accomplishments as mayor has been restoring luster to a council that has been long stained by scandal and has been the butt of jokes among its regional counterparts. Early in Kaine's council tenure, Councilman Chuck Richardson stepped down as a result of his arrest for heroin possession. Ex-mayoral aide Joel Harris' federal convictions on drug and racketeering charges soon followed and Kaine saw his first year as mayor — 1998 — marred by the spectacular fall of former Mayor Leonidas Young, convicted of federal fraud and tax charges. So Kaine resolved to "reform" the job of mayor and with it the perceptions of council.
"When I got to be mayor, one of my goals ... was I did the job virtually full time," says Kaine. "And it's a part-time job, it's paid part time, and that's been the way it's often been treated. But I basically said, look, I'm going to raise the expectation bar for this job so that whoever follows me will be stepping into a position that is respected." With the approval of his partners, he cut back on his duties as a lawyer and director of the law firm of McCandlish Kaine to put full-time effort into the $27,000-a-year mayor's job.
Kaine "deserves a medal for being able to work with that City Council," says University of Virginia political pundit Larry Sabato. "The Richmond City Council was known throughout the state as one of the most fractious and difficult of all the local governments and there are some, shall we say, idiosyncratic members of the council. The fact that [Kaine] could do it at all, and of course govern a black city as a white mayor is also significant."
Kaine also forged unheard-of close ties with the Henrico and Chesterfield boards of supervisors, persuading Chesterfield to allow Greater Richmond Transit Co. bus service within its borders, and gaining much-needed funds for the convention center expansion. "[The] convention center is a great accomplishment. ... [But] the biggest part of that is not the building itself but that 50 percent of it is being funded by the counties," says Kaine. "When we built a convention center in the 1980s, it was 100 percent on the city's nickel."
Kaine also was instrumental in opening the Canal Walk, as well as brokering the reopening of Main Street Station, which, in late 2002, will bring train service back within city limits for the first time in 25 years.
And of course, Kaine's tenure as mayor saw the resignation of powerful longtime City Manager Robert C. Bobb and the controversial hiring of Ethyl Corp. executive Calvin Jamison as Bobb's replacement — a move that some local politicos viewed as an attempt by Kaine to consolidate his power as mayor.
Arguably the ambitious Kaine has been one of the strongest mayors in recent memory; like Thomas Bliley or Henry Marsh, he used the position as a springboard to run for higher office and to set an ambitious agenda for council, which in Kaine's case included constructing four new schools and reducing taxes. During Kaine's tenure, Richmond City Council eliminated all business-license taxes for small businesses, passed tax relief for senior citizens and created a tax abatement program that suspends real estate tax assessment for 10 years on significant home improvements.
There's also public safety. In 1994, when Kaine was first elected, the city earned the woeful distinction of No. 2 homicide city in the nation. By 2000, homicides were down 55 percent and violent crime was down 45 percent, and the rates are still falling. Of course, it could have a lot to do with the abolition of parole or the innovative federal Project Exile gun crackdown, but it still looks good for Kaine's watch.
"Our population started falling in 1970 and fell through 1995, but the Census Bureau numbers that came out in March told us that our population started to turn around and increase again in the last half of the 1990s," Kaine says. "So for the first time in 25 years, the city's actually growing again in population. And it's for a combination of reasons, but I think tax incentives and public safety and school construction are all part of these bread-and-butter improvements that are helping bring the city back," says Kaine.
That doesn't mean that Kaine accomplished everything he sought as mayor, however. Despite residential growth, the city still desperately needs commercial tax revenue. And no matter how hard he tried to reform City Council's image, Kaine still found himself at odds with other council members, particularly Sa'ad El-Amin.
Kaine criticized El-Amin's controversial Jamaican trip, for which El-Amin later reimbursed the city $1,600. And El-Amin was one of the harshest critics of Kaine's sole mayoral "scandal" — the fact that Kaine tried to use $7,000 from his council discretionary fund to pay for transportation for cit residents to the anti-gun Million Mom March last year. Kaine ended up raising the $7,000 privately.
As for Kaine himself, he says his key disappointment was not being able to push forward a change in the city charter to allow a strong, popularly elected mayor.
But Kaine is not looking backward. He's segueing many leadership responsibilities to Vice Mayor Rudy McCollum, who will succeed him as mayor this month and fill the rest of Kaine's term, which expires in July 2002. ("Character, values and integrity — he is the right person for the job.") Kaine dismisses talk of a power vacuum on council after he leaves, saying there are plenty of qualified leaders in the city, and he remains out of the discussions to appoint a replacement for his 2nd District Council seat. Though former Richmond School Board chairman Mark Emblidge, Carver Area Civic Improvement League president Barbara Abernathy and Richmond Industrial Development Authority member Bill Pantele all are seeking council's blessing, Kaine will say only that there are "many good people" seeking the job and "it's best not to tinker too much with what [council is] doing on your way out the door."
Besides, Kaine says, he's too focused on the lieutenant governor's race against Republican rival state Del. Jay Katzen of Rappahannock County. About a third of the top floor of Kaine's 40-member downtown law firm in the Bank of America building has been transformed into campaign war offices (the campaign is leasing space from the law firm) and Kaine plans a 60-day sabbatical from the firm as the election nears.
If he's successful, the break will become permanent. "If I win, I'm going to resign from the firm and I will be lieutenant governor full time. That's not required, the job is a part-time job and paid part time [currently about $52,500 in combined salary] but I want to give it full-time [attention]."
Even though more cynical observers might suggest that the lieutenant governor's job is more about waiting to run for governor than taking on any real state duties, the son-in-law of former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton thinks he'll be able to move Warner's legislative agenda through the Assembly.
However, Sabato reminds us, "Every lieutenant governor says what Kaine's saying — 'I'm going to really make it something.' They make it a full-time position seeking the governorship. ... [Kaine] will only get elected if Warner does. A governor of his own party will certainly welcome him into the councils of government but [Kaine's] not going to be running things. [A governor] looks at a lieutenant governor and sees a guy who inquires after his health each morning."