Fourth Baptist Town Hall
Seven of the eight mayoral candidates participated at a town hall Tuesday night. (Photo by Mark Robinson)
The city's mayoral candidates appeared at a town hall Tuesday night held at Fourth Baptist Church in the East End.
Here are our five takeaways:
1. Bobby Junes left out – All eight candidates who qualified to appear on the November ballot were present Tuesday night, but only seven participated. Bobby Junes, a retired real estate consultant, showed up, but organizers did not allow him to sit on the panel because he did not RSVP in time, they said. Afterward, Junes said he did not receive an invitation. It’s water under the bridge, he added. “I have plenty of time. You start off in last place and you take one step at a time.”
2. Softballs serve no one – The first half of the forum saw the moderator lob softballs at candidates. (Name your top three accomplishments; give an example of your leadership in a time of crisis.) Once policy questions came, the moderator did not ask follow-ups. It put no pressure on candidates to delve into specifics that will allow voters to discern between their widely shared positions. It’s a safe bet that all will say city services are inadequate, or City Hall needs a culture change or they intend to support city schools. Ideally, questions posed at these events will reveal who has put thought into how they will actually solve those problems.
3. The gloves are coming off – Last Friday, the Supreme Court of Virginia invalidated Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring the voting rights of 206,000 people convicted of felonies. The court’s decision was a blow for Levar Stoney, the former secretary of the commonwealth, who worked closely with the governor on the issue and had touted the order as a signature accomplishment. In the wake of the decision, Joe Morrissey criticized Stoney and McAuliffe in a Richmond Times-Dispatch story for politicizing the issue.
Stoney’s camp was not going to let this slide. And so, as the town hall began, his spokesperson launched a Lexis Nexis war on Morrissey, blasting out emails and tweets rehashing his storied personal turmoil and legal troubles.Meanwhile, Stoney himself seemed happy to play nice – until Morrissey threw the first punch. It came in the form of an accusation, “Levar, I love you, my friend, but you supported, along with the governor, putting $33 million into a brewery and not schools.” At the next opportunity, Stoney offered a retort: “Now, you were a member of the General Assembly for many, many years, but I didn’t see any acts by you to ensure that Richmond got its fair share for public schools,” he said. “…So it’s great for you to come into a church now and find religion, but I didn’t see those actions years ago.” Both jabs drew applause. This won't be the last time these two clash.
4. Feisty Baliles – The West End councilman has beaten the Jones-administration-is-terrible drum loudly and often, but never as convincingly as he did it Tuesday night. Baliles offered sharp critiques of the mayor while simultaneously casting himself as the candidate most qualified to fix City Hall’s shortcomings. He cited his role in opposing the Shockoe Bottom Baseball Stadium plan as evidence of his leadership and pointed to his school funding measures currently before council as a first step addressing RPS’ funding woes. Asked about his accessibility if elected, Baliles said he would attend council meetings, if invited. And, he added, “I’d drive myself.”
5. Bruce Tyler’s off-beat answers – A sampling of Tyler’s more colorful answers throughout the night: In response to a question about leadership in a time of crisis, he told a story about how he and his wife once survived a plane crash. In response to a question about school choice, he said he thought it was a good thing, then continued, “I find it very interesting that when we start talking about teaching children, there’s only one way to teach a child. But I bet there’s a minimum of six different religions in this room tonight … I find it interesting that we all believe in God but we all go to God in different ways. So when it comes to children, one size does not fit all.” Finally, in his closing remarks, he promised to give out his cell phone number if elected so anyone could reach him at any time. We’re holding you to it, Bruce.