Former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney hosted his first public fundraiser for his Richmond mayoral bid on Tuesday night. Tickets to the reception at District 5 were $35 each. More than 60 people attended. Among the guests nibbling shrimp on skewers and swigging craft beer were Suzette Denslow, chief of staff to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Lamont Bagby, a Henrico delegate, and Shonda Harris-Muhammed, the East End representative on the Richmond School Board.
Del. Marcia Price, a Democrat who represents Newport News in the state legislature, offered a brief introduction of the candidate. “We know Levar is the only choice,” she said to the crowd’s approving applause. She finished, “Richmond needs Levar Stoney.”
Stoney kidded around briefly with the crowd before launching into an address covering his background, political experience and vision for the city. The remarks, lasting about 10 minutes, were not heavy on specifics, but touched on public education, crime reduction and restoring the public’s confidence in local government.
If Richmond wants to be mentioned in the same breath as the Nashville, Atlanta and Charlotte, he tells the crowd, it has to elect a leader who can harness the city’s momentum, not squander it.
“The question that we have to ask ourselves is: Can we accept more of the same? The answer is no. We cannot accept more of the same. I think we have to make a choice: Do we pick more of the same or do we pick something new? Do we select change? That’s what we’re offering in this campaign.”
Stoney’s announcement of his candidacy last month surprised no one; political observers had considered the 35-year-old a serious contender for the job for months despite having never held elected office. His campaign quickly differentiated itself with its hiring of staffers with national and state campaign experience, and its orchestrated online blitz using social media and email solicitations.
The Stoney campaign has five staffers. Three – Hannah Burke, Matt Corridoni and Kevin Zeithaml – are fresh off of jobs with former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s short-lived campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. A fourth, Mike Doerr, handled fundraising for McAuliffe’s 2013 gubernatorial bid, and will do the same for the governor’s protégé.
Assisting the pros is a growing stable of interns and volunteers. Last weekend, 14 people joined Stoney for a “day of action,” canvassing neighborhoods in four districts across the city. The group knocked on 450 doors, the campaign’s spokesperson said, and a similar effort is planned for the first weekend in June.
“It’s only going to ramp up,” Stoney said in a sit-down prior to the fundraiser. “And I’ve made a commitment to my supporters, to people I meet every day, that I’m going to govern like I campaign.”
Stoney declined to directly address the news that the FBI is investigating $120,000 in contributions to Gov. McAuliffe's 2013 campaign, for which Stoney served as deputy campaign manager. The governor on Wednesday told WTOP radio that the Justice Department has assured his attorneys that no wrongdoing has been found in connection with the contribution, which came from a Chinese businessman who is a lawful permanent resident of the U.S.
"I'm going to let the comments from the governor's attorney and from himself speak for themselves," Stoney said. "I'm just focused on running for mayor of Richmond. I'm sure that ... the governor and his team have always acted ethically and so, I don't worry about that."