Bobby “BJ” Junes volunteers each Friday at the Red Door Soup Kitchen, a homeless feeding program hosted at Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. (Photo by: Jay Paul)
Editor’s note: This profile begins a series on the eight candidates in the Richmond mayoral race. We will post a new profile each Friday.
Hunched in a booth at the Carytown Panera, Bobby “BJ” Junes pages through his appointment book, looking for an entry that doesn’t exist. The 60-year-old Museum District resident is one of eight candidates vying to become Richmond’s next mayor. A few hours from now, the other seven will gather for a town hall in the East End, and Junes will watch from the sideline.
Our meeting is the first he has heard of the town hall, he says. It seems a tough break for Junes, a retired real estate consultant and relative unknown who didn’t appear at an April forum held at Virginia Union University or a June forum held at Community High School. With just over three months left to reach voters, he has ground to make up if his campaign is to gain any traction with voters.
Junes fashions himself a political outsider who is best suited to address what he sees as the biggest challenge facing the city today: the disconnect between what Richmonders want and what local government does.
This became clear to him over the past year and a half, as he followed a dispute between the Maymont Foundation and residents of Byrd Park neighborhood seeking to stop the estate’s construction of a horticulture building, vehicle storage shed and fueling station they felt encroached on the park. Junes attended meetings and offered to serve as a third-party mediator in an effort to close the gulf between the two sides, he says. In addition to attending community meetings, he set up three sit-downs over a six-month period with a Maymont Foundation representative to convey neighbors’ concerns. The Planning Commission ultimately approved the foundation’s project despite substantial opposition.
Junes heard a refrain while gathering signatures to appear on the November ballot. “Citizens are disenchanted with the current political process,” he says. “The more people I talked to, the more imminent it became that it’s a very good point for me to step up and run for office.”
Junes is a short, bespectacled man who squints fiercely when he smiles. He exudes enthusiasm and is eager to put words into action. Each Friday, he volunteers at the Red Door Soup Kitchen, a homeless feeding program held at Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. “He cares very much for the less fortunate among us,” says Bill Perkins, a Henrico County resident and retired IT professional who volunteers with Junes.
Patricia O’Bannon, who represents the Tuckahoe district on the Henrico Board of Supervisors, has known Junes since he helped out with her first political campaign back in 1995. After O’Bannon was elected, she tapped Junes to serve on the county’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, a position he held for 10 years (he moved into the city proper in 2010). “[Junes] leads with his heart, and I think he probably would agree with me with that,” O’Bannon says. “He listens and he’s very careful in how he does that.”
The Henrico board position makes up the bulk of Junes’ governance experience. He also served for six years on the board of CARITAS, which provides services for the homeless, and worked for about two years as a project director for the Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity. He has never held elected office.
If elected, Junes says his top priority would be determining a fixed funding source for Richmond Public Schools that satisfies the citizenry. Connecting more job-seekers with employers is atop his list, as well, he says. So, too, is instituting something called the “Q-Factor,” a feedback system by which citizens can rate city services and city workers can rate interactions with residents requesting services.
At the time of this writing, Junes had reported $120 in donations to his campaign, according to records made available through the Virginia Public Access Project. Most of his opponents have dwarfed his donations, raising tens of thousands of dollars throughout spring and early summer. Junes’ goal is $220,000, he says. To raise the sum, he is counting on donations from wealthy families in the area, as well as old classmates and associates from Hampden-Sydney College, where he completed his undergraduate degree. He is relying on a flier campaign and a handful of volunteers to help him get his name and message out.
“Perhaps, right now, the money is not in the account,” he says. “But after I speak to my donors, I believe I’ll have enough money to make me succeed in my bid to become mayor. I feel firm about that.”
Others aren’t sold. Bob Holsworth, a veteran political consultant and longtime observer of local politics, says Junes is a “non-factor” in the race. “He comes into the campaign with no visibility. He has raised no money, and he hasn’t had any way to get in front of the media.”
Junes is undeterred. Asked if he believes he can win the election, he responds without hesitation: “Absolutely.” Later that evening, he shows up at Fourth Baptist Church in the East End for the scheduled town hall. He poses for photos with the other candidates, but when the event begins, he is not on the panel with the other seven. Organizers said afterward they did not let him participate because he didn’t RSVP in time. Junes maintains he wasn’t invited, and downplays the missed opportunity.
“I have plenty of time,” he says. “You start off in last place and you take one step at a time.”