The Brookland Park Area Association hosted on Tuesday night a forum for 10 of the city’s declared mayoral candidates, as well as Richmond School Board and City Council candidates in the 3rd and 6th districts.
More than 300 people attended the event, held in the auditorium of Community High School. On the stage for the mayoral portion of the forum were West End Councilman Jon Baliles, former Venture Richmond executive Jack Berry, Richmond Public Schools teacher Chad Ingold, former delegate and Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Morrissey, Richmond City Council President Michelle Mosby, former VCU student Nate Peterson, former Councilman Chuck Richardson, community activist Alan Schintzius, former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney, former Councilman Bruce Tyler and architect Lawrence Williams.
Here are our 5 takeaways:
1. There comes a challenger – Ellen Robertson might have a fight on her hands this time. The longtime 6th district councilwoman hasn’t faced a significant challenge during her 12 years on council. Now comes Donald Moss, a young Democratic operative for past state and local campaigns who ended his introductory statement by stealing Joe Morrissey’s patented line – “I’m going to fight for you.” Moss has raised about $13,000 since announcing his candidacy earlier this spring. Robertson edged him slightly, but the fact that she fundraised at all signals she is not dismissing his chances. On Tuesday night, heads in the audience nodded along with Moss’ points about the need for the city to promote its enterprise zones along Brookland Park Boulevard to boost economic development, as well as how the city's lower pay for police officers has led to an exodus to the counties.
2. Sans iPad – Richmond City Council President Michelle Mosby sometimes relies upon a script or bullet points on her iPad when speaking publicly. At the first mayoral forum, she clung to the device during her opening and closing statements, giving the impression of a candidate who is uncomfortable speaking without aid. On Tuesday night, Mosby appeared sans iPad and seemed looser and more confident. “This is Richmond, this is our city, and we can make our city be exactly what we want it to be: one city with one message from district one to district nine,” she said midway through the program, in response to a question about regionalism. She began her final answer of the night by saying, “At the end of the day, I’m not a politician. I’m someone who would just like to serve.” Both may have been canned lines, but neither sounded that way, in part, because of her decision to ditch her tablet.
3. Stoney sticking to the script, except for a slip – After news of his staggering fundraising haul, one expected former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney to coast through the evening, playing the part of the fresh-faced frontrunner with a new vision for the city. And for the most part he did, delivering rehearsed stories from the campaign trail and lines from his stump speech: “Do we choose more of the same or choose a new direction for the city? I say it's time for something new." If you have never heard them before, you may have walked out of the auditorium impressed by his performance. There was, though, what some will call a Freudian slip. While answering a question about transparency, Stoney promised he would be a “hands-on, visible and transparent governor.” He immediately realized his gaffe and corrected it, as the crowd -- and his opponents -- erupted in laughter.
4. Score one for not taking no for an answer – Former City Councilman Chuck Richardson was one of six declared candidates whom organizers did not invite to participate in the event. His name was not on the program, but he did not care. When it came time for mayoral candidates to take the stage, Richardson ambled up the stairs, ignoring organizer Willie Hilliard. Once given a seat, Richardson talked about his military record, promised he would give the press corps a permanent home in City Hall to increase transparency, and delivered one of the funniest moments of the night when he reminded the audience that former Venture Richmond executive and current mayoral candidate Jack Berry worked for Richardson while he served on City Council. Richardson called Berry “one of my most competent assistants.” The compliment prompted raucous laughter from what, until then, had been a subdued crowd.
5. Best in Moderation - The task seemed daunting. Somehow, the forum's moderators were going to question a combined 12 School Board and City Council candidates from two districts in the first hour, then transition to 10 (make it 11 with Richardson) mayoral candidates in the second half of the program, and wrap up promptly at 8:45 p.m. They accomplished the feat, thanks to strict adherence to a one-minute speaking limit and a moderator who was not shy about enforcing it.