A cadre of candidates shut out of a North Side mayoral forum planned for next week are questioning the timing of the event and the reasons for their snubs.
The forum, hosted by the Brookland Park Area Association, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 7 at Community High. It will include 10 mayoral candidates: West End Councilman Jon Baliles, former Venture Richmond executive Jack Berry, Open High teacher Chad Ingold, former delegate and commonwealth’s attorney Joe Morrissey, Richmond City Council president Michelle Mosby, former VCU student Nate Peterson, community activist Alan Schintzius, former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney, former Councilman Bruce Tyler and architect Lawrence Williams.
Left out of the lineup are strip club owner Mike Dickinson, businessman Brad Froman, former City Councilwoman L. Shirley Harvey, former Councilman Chuck Richardson, Museum District resident Bobby Junes, and Amon Rayford. Community strategist Lillie A. Estes was invited, but declined to participate, saying she wanted to focus on getting on the ballot.
Willie Hilliard, president of the neighborhood association, said Friday that organizers invited every candidate they could reach. Candidates had until May 20 to RSVP.
“At this point, we’re not too concerned with the other eight or nine others because we just don’t have the time and place for them, but we did try to reach them,” Hilliard said.
Froman, who participated in former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s candidate forum back in April, said he did not receive an invitation from the North Side organizers. He is worried the snub will hurt his chances.
“Any forum host can invite whomever they want, obviously, but when you decide there’s some candidates you don’t want to attend – and I’m kind of assuming there are some they didn’t want to attend – then you start planting in the public’s mind who is to be taken seriously, and that’s kind of unfortunate," Froman said. "Richmond needs quality options for mayor, and it’s hard enough for a true independent, like me, who's not a part of the Richmond power system to get taken seriously as it is."
Dickinson, who announced his candidacy just before the RSVP date, said the forum should have been held after the field is set. Candidates have until Tuesday, June 14, to file paperwork and 500 signatures with the city registrar.
He added: “I'm not shocked that I'm not invited, because those forums are rigged anyway by those putting them on. Brookland Park is a Levar Stoney stronghold and I've been critical of him big time, so I'm sure the activists there behind him aren't going to let someone like me come in and ask the tough questions or raise the tough issues.”
Dickinson challenged Hilliard on Twitter Friday afternoon, saying that if seating was in short supply, he would bring a lawn chair. After some back-and-forth, Hilliard told Dickinson he was welcome to attend, but, if not, "I could care less."
Harvey, who also joined the race last month, echoed Dickinson’s point about the event preceding the filing deadline. “Even of the 10 [candidates] they’re going to use, there may be several of them who will not qualify [for the ballot],” she said.
Hilliard said the date was set based on when the organizers could secure the building as a venue. Also appearing at the event will be City Council and Richmond School Board candidates in the 3rd and 6th districts.