City Council President Michelle Mosby, one of two declared candidates in the city's 2016 mayoral election, kicked off a three-day symposium at a cafe tucked beneath the stairs at the Library of Virginia.
News in late December that council President Michelle Mosby would host a three-day “mayoral symposium” this week was received with some confusion: How was she paying for this? Was it a campaign event? What, exactly, was the point?
Mosby, one of two declared candidates in the 2016 mayoral election, was largely mum on the symposium after it was announced, and spent much of her first week back from the holidays fielding questions about an offensive comment she was said to have made during a closed council meeting.
A chance for answers came Monday morning, at the symposium’s first publicly scheduled event, a round-table discussion organizers named “collaboration, collegiality and reflections.” The meeting was held at the café tucked beneath a staircase in the Library of Virginia.
In attendance were Mosby, her council liaison Uzziah Harris, and an employee of HarryCo. LLC, the private firm that organized and financed the symposium. Two of the five current or former mayors included in a media kit for the event were also present: Tyrus Byrd of Parma, Missouri and Shirley Gibson of Miami Gardens, Florida.
Mosby sat with her purse in her lap for the duration of the event, as if anticipating the end of the meeting from the start. What was advertised as a grandiose engagement amounted to a simple chat over coffee.
Byrd and Gibson shared their personal experiences on the job in their respective cities during the hour-and-a-half-long meeting. Gibson stressed the importance of persuading people to take ownership of their city. She said small steps, something as simple as a citywide cleanup, were instrumental in doing so during her stint in Miami Gardens, Florida. Equally as important, she said, was “building coalitions” that prioritized citywide goals set by the administration.
“As a coming mayor,” Gibson said to Mosby, “that’s the challenge – getting council to make decisions that will make the whole city better, not just part of it.”
No members of the public attended. Neither did Toni Harp, mayor of New Haven, Connecticut, Mamie Locke, a former mayor of Hampton, Virginia who now serves in the General Assembly, and Sharon Pratt-Kelly, a former mayor of Washington D.C., all of whom were listed on the symposium’s schedule as “honorees” invited to participate.
The symposium's agenda included various tours, meals and meetings, as well as a panel discussion called “African-American Female Governance – Leadership Transformation: Breakthroughs, Successes and Powerful Impacts Avenues for Effective Governance of a Mid-sized, Diverse City.”
Harry Watkins, founder of HarryCo. LLC, said in an interview last week that he planned the symposium in order to honor African-American women who had served as mayors. He said he had approached others in Richmond about taking part in the symposium, but Mosby was the only one who agreed to participate.
“I certainly am encouraged that Michelle Mosby has played a role in helping us welcome these ladies to the city,” Watkins said. He said he was glad Mosby wanted to hear from the invited guests, but also, "I want the city to hear from [Mosby], too.”
Mosby did not return multiple requests for comment last week to discuss her involvement in the symposium. She mostly listened during the Monday meeting, occasionally asking questions. Afterwards, she said she thought it went well.
“It just confirms some of the things that I already believe in reference to a mayor making sure they bring in the community,” she said. “We have a big role in that.”
The Richmond Times-Dispatch raised the question of whether Mosby’s affiliation with the event may violate the state’s campaign finance rules (she hadn’t filed the proper paperwork yet with the State Board of Elections).
Mosby said Monday she did not see her involvement as problematic because the symposium was not a campaign event, but regardless, she said she since has filed the correct paperwork.
Watkins said that he does not work for Mosby’s mayoral campaign, but does support her bid for the office. “I think that Michelle Mosby is going to be a wonderful mayor,” he said.
Asked about the cost of the event, Watkins said he was paying for the flights, hotel accommodations and meals for those who attended, but was unsure of the total dollar figure.