The top five candidates in Richmond’s mayoral race traded blows in a heated debate Monday night at the Altria Theater. The event, sponsored by ChamberRVA, was attended by several hundred people, and more than 44,000 households tuned into the WWBT-NBC 12 broadcast.
Below are our five takeaways.
1.Michelle Mosby embracing the role of attack dog – It was lights, camera, action from the first question, when moderators asked front-runner Joe Morrissey what his thoughts were on City Council president Michelle Mosby’s pointed radio attack ad targeting him for his involvement with a teenage girl. A political action committee formed solely to oppose Morrissey’s candidacy funded the ads, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch report. Morrissey took the high road, saying Mosby was entitled to speak her mind and he had ultimately married the woman, Myrna. Given the opportunity to respond, Mosby unloaded this line: “Married or no married, this young lady was underaged. To me, for anyone in the African-American community, they would have went to jail had they done that to a young lady.” An audible gasp followed by a round of applause swept through the audience. That wasn’t the last time the pair clashed, either. Later on, Mosby challenged Morrissey’s effectiveness as a legislator in the General Assembly, questioning what measures he had actually passed that helped the African-American community. This came up several times throughout the night.
2. Levar Stoney’s signature moment – Up until Monday night, the former secretary of the commonwealth has played the part of a likable young guy with a rags-to-riches story, a lot of potential and even more money. At Altria, he came for blood, offering a standout performance that registers as easily his most aggressive to date. Early on, he went after Jack Berry for his advocacy work on Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium plan. Later on, he hit Morrissey with the equivalent of a Heisman stiff-arm pose for his ineffectiveness on the House Education Committee, which Morrissey has regularly pointed to as evidence that he can generate greater state funding for Richmond Public Schools. As Morrissey tried to defend his record, Stoney interrupted twice with “What bills did you pass?” In his closing statement, Stoney offered a blanket criticism of all candidates who question his qualifications. “All of my opponents here on the stage have had a hand in city government for upwards of 20 years, yet our problems still persist. Many like to question my experience. Tonight, I question their records.”
3. Joe Morrissey flip-flops on Confederate statues again – All candidates were asked whether they had an interest in removing Confederate statues from Monument Avenue. Morrissey was the only candidate who said he supported removing them. It was at least the third time he has publicly changed his position on the matter in the last month, beginning with a press conference calling for the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue, then telling WTVR-CBS 6 he was wrong for taking that stance, then clarifying to the newspaper that he envisions a monument that includes Davis, as well as black Union and Confederate soldiers.
4. Al Durham’s future – With the city in the midst of its deadliest year in the last decade, candidates fielded a question about the future of Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham. Four went on record that they would keep him on board if elected. Morrissey hedged, saying it was premature, but that Durham has “done a great job.” In response to a later question, Berry offered a stout defense of the police chief and RPD’s community policing approach. City Hall needs to do its part in helping Durham fill vacancies, he said. “We need to keep this in in perspective: We’re at a 45-year-low in violent crime in our city, so our police department deserves a lot of credit for the job they’ve done.”
5. Jon Baliles isn’t going anywhere — After the most recent poll showed him falling behind, the West End councilman was asked whether he would heed calls to drop out and throw his weight behind another candidate. Baliles said he had considered it, but wouldn’t. “I don’t think a Baliles has ever been ahead in the polls,” he said in an apparent nod to his father’s gubernatorial victory in the early ’80s.