The Richmond Times-Dispatch's 62nd Public Square, the first of 2016, posed a singe question: What does Richmond want in its next mayor?
The responses kept coming back to two priorities: A mayor who can foster greater cooperation between the city and its regional neighbors, and a mayor who will prioritize improving the quality of public education in city schools in years to come.
The standing-room only crowd Wednesday came up with a list of 54 desired qualities. Whoever is elected to replace Dwight C. Jones this November, he or she should have a vision for the city, solid administrative experience, the savvy to sell what the new Richmond has to offer, the ability to unite the city’s increasingly diverse populace and lift up its perpetually poverty-stricken neighborhoods, speakers said.
“We need a mayor who has gravitas and know-how and is energetic. This is a city on the move; if you don’t have a mayor to propel the city forward, then you’re really going backward,” said Ravi Perry, a VCU professor and Richmond newcomer.
Linda Tissiere, a Chesterfield resident who works in the city, advocated for improving what she called the “backbone” of the city: its public education system.
“One of the reasons I don’t live in the city is because when I moved here 15 years ago, I was told by everyone here ‘Don’t live in the city if you have kids because the school system sucks.’ … That is an exact quote,” she said.
Eva Colen, a city resident of about six years, said the mayor should work to complement the efforts of the school board and superintendent to improve public education. “The power of our public school system will be transformed and multiplied if we have an incredible amount of support coming from the mayor’s office, as well,” Colen said.
The call for improved schools prompted Supt. Dana Bedden, who was in attendance, to speak.
“Until we address all the challenges that exist outside for our families that we are serving, and aggressively pursue addressing the poverty issue, we’re still going to be spinning our wheels, quite often, with regards to success in certain schools,” Bedden said.
Jim Ryan, a lifelong Richmonder born in 1938, emphasized the importance of electing a qualified leader not just for the city, but for the whole region. In its next mayor, he said, the city needs “someone who will look at not just the hamlet called Richmond, but all the surrounding areas. This person must have the quality to rise above that, and also help the citizens rise above that.”
Shortly after Ryan spoke, Tyrone Nelson, chairman of the Henrico Board of Supervisors, took the mic and pledged to meet with the mayor-elect after the November elections to lay the groundwork for stronger regional collaboration.
“I would love for our next mayor and mayors to come to embrace a spirit of regionalism beyond the level that we are now,” he said, adding that the localities “do some things now that we don’t get credit for.”
A who’s who crowd of public officials and potential candidates in the city’s upcoming local elections were in attendance: Council president and declared mayoral candidate Michelle Mosby; community activist and mayoral hopeful Lillie A. Estes; Councilman and potential mayoral candidate Jon Baliles; Executive director of Venture Richmond and potential mayoral candidate Jack Berry; City Councilwoman Ellen Robertson; School Board representative Kristen Larson. Developers Bruce Tyler and Charlie Diradour, both rumored to be running for City Council seats, also attended.