Diversity Richmond and several partner organizations held a forum on Tuesday night for candidates campaigning to become Richmond’s next mayor.
Below are our five takeaways.
1. Baliles blames Jones – While answering a question about one-to-one replacement of units in public housing redevelopment projects, Baliles broached the subject of the plan to overhaul Creighton Court in the city’s East End. The effort, which Mayor Dwight C. Jones has championed, suffered a setback last week, when the city was not named a finalist for a $30 million grant. “I think we need a mayor who is not under investigation by the FBI if we’re going to go after federal money grants for these projects,” Baliles said. In January, the Jones administration invited a Virginia State Police probe to quell reports that members of his administration worked on city time to oversee construction of the mayor’s new church and handle other church-related business. In April, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported the FBI was involved as well. “That may not be the reason this happened, but it doesn’t look good if that is taking place in your city,” Baliles said.
2. Bobby Junes’ face-palm moment – At times throughout the campaign, Junes has seemed a bit lost at forums. On Tuesday night, he hit a new low. Asked whether he supported the creation of an LGBTQ liaison position for City hall, he replied, “I’m going to need you to define what LGBTQ is, please, excuse me,” he said. The moderator obliged. “Is that it?” he responded. The crowd was stunned, and, by the looks on their faces, so were Junes’ fellow candidates. He then offered a winding answer about his work with the city’s homeless population and how it’s imperative to provide services to all, or else “these individuals will become criminal-ridden, drug-ridden or adopt ways of lifestyle that aren’t completely acceptable to the bulk of the population,” he said. Head-scratching doesn’t begin to cover it.
3. Morrissey goes after Berry – During Joe Morrissey’s regularly scheduled grandstand moment of the evening, he set his sights on former Venture Richmond executive Jack Berry. The former criticized the latter’s role in promoting Jones’ failed plan for a Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium. Morrissey cited a Times-Dispatch report that unearthed emails detailing the extent of Berry’s lobbying, including his offer to feed quotes to African-American clergy. “Then you compounded [your support] by saying – and it was revealed by the RTD – ‘Let me just ghostwrite quotes from black people, attribute them to the black people and we’ll fool them. We’ll pull the wool over their eyes,’ ” Morrissey said, referring to the emails. “You might not like it, Jack, but the truth hurts.” Berry just shook his head. The attack comes as Berry’s campaign is seeking to cast the election as a two-candidate race, with Berry as the electorate’s most viable anti-Morrissey option.
4. Stoney on women’s issues – The former secretary of the commonwealth weighed in on what he see as the two biggest issues facing half of the electorate. “Number one, equal pay for equal work,” he said. “Women who do the same job as a man deserve the same pay as a man.” The comprehensive performance audit he has promised to perform in the first 100 days of his administration would ensure equity, he said. The second biggest problem? “The fact that we tax feminine products every single day,” Stoney said. “I know men don’t get the same tax on any of their products.” The response drew applause, particularly the latter half. Nationwide, five states have done away with the tampon tax. A bill to do the same in Virginia died in a General Assembly House committee last year.
5. Forum fatigue – For several weeks, candidates and staffers alike have complained to me about the volume of forums – about 15 and counting. Yes, participation is technically optional (Michelle Mosby did not attend Tuesday), but sitting out is never good form, especially if the rest of your opponents are game. For the top contenders, most of the events are fairly inefficient ways of reaching people. In the final month of the campaign, every hour spent sitting on a stage is an hour not spent knocking on doors or holding a meet-and-greet. Extensive volunteer operations have allowed some candidates to continue outreach during the appearances. However, nothing beats direct interaction with voters, they’ll all tell you. But alas, no rest for the weary: Three forums are scheduled on successive days next week.