Joe Morrissey may be Richmond’s next mayor, but the city’s “real first black mayor”? Not a chance.
The Toronto Star published a story over the weekend titled “Meet the Ex-Convict Leading the Mayor's Race in Richmond, Va.,” a profile focused on the former commonwealth’s attorney and state delegate’s bid to become Richmond’s next mayor. In the story, the Canadian newspaper quotes Morrissey’s campaign manager, Debbie Repp, as saying, “A lot of people say Joe Morrissey will be the real first black mayor of Richmond. He’s the only one the black community trusts to represent them at the negotiating table.”
A brief history lesson: In 1977, Henry Marsh's council colleagues elected him to serve as the city’s mayor, making him the first African-American to hold the position. Then came Roy West, another African-American. After him? Walter T. Kenney Sr., another African-American. Then Leonidas Young, Larry Chavis and Rudy McCollum — all black, all mayors of Richmond. Former Gov. Doug Wilder, the first black governor in the country, was elected Richmond mayor in 2004. Mayor Dwight C. Jones, an African-American pastor and former state delegate, succeeded Wilder.
On Monday, after a ceremony at the Lumpkin’s Jail site in Shockoe Bottom, Jones dismissed the campaign manager’s characterization. “Joe’s probably talking about the very good relationship he has with a lot of African-Americans,” Jones says in an interview. “But obviously he’s not the first African-American mayor … I think I know what the implication is, but you can’t change the spots of a leopard, you know?”
Morrissey sits atop the field of seven candidates vying to become the city’s next mayor in large part because of his strong base of support in the city’s predominantly black districts in South Richmond and the East End. Three of Morrissey’s opponents are African-American.
Former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney says in a statement provided by his campaign that the comments were the equivalent of “spitting in the face” of the African-American political leaders who laid the groundwork for the current generation of elected officials.
“I mean, frankly, it's unbelievable that someone would have the gall to say that,” Stoney says. “I think Mr. Morrissey should disavow those remarks and show the proper respect to some of the giants who've paved the way."
Lawrence Williams, an African-American architect who is running for mayor, laughed out loud when informed of the campaign manager’s comments. “Joe doesn’t get the black vote. Joe manipulates the black vote,” Williams says in an interview. “He does not represent the African-American community in the city of Richmond. Period.”
Michelle Mosby, who is the first African-American woman to serve as Richmond City Council president, condemned the comments. “If [Morrissey] is elected, he won’t be the first black mayor of nothing, because he’s a white man. Period,” she says in an interview.
Mosby also challenged Morrissey's record as a state legislator. “Let’s be clear: [Morrissey] has done nothing as a General Assembly member to help our black people,” she says. “He has passed no bills that have helped us as a black community, so a black mayor he will never be. He is a white man doing what white men do to our black community. Period.”
Reached by phone, Morrissey says Repp “misspoke,” and the newspaper quoted her comments inaccurately.
“She says that she referred to me as the ‘next black mayor,’ not the ‘first black mayor.’ To the extent that she said something differently, I certainly would disapprove of that,” Morrissey says. “I don’t consider myself the first black mayor or the next black mayor. I consider myself the next mayor, if I’m elected, and I’ll represent all the people.”
As for Mosby’s criticism of his track record as a legislator, Morrissey says his opponent “obviously doesn’t know my record at all.” He pointed to several pieces of legislation he introduced during his seven years in the state legislature dealing with predatory lending practices and restorative justice issues, including automatic restoration of civil rights for felons who have completed their sentences.