(CNS) – The five Richmond mayoral candidates battled over the removal of Confederate statues, COVID-19 concerns and other issues during an in-person debate that was live-streamed Thursday night from Virginia Union University.
The debate was moderated by former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder and ABC 8News anchor Juan Conde. The moderators and candidates did not wear masks but were socially distanced.
Questions were prepared by Wilder and Conde or submitted from viewers.
One question asked the candidates what they planned to reorganize the police and reduce use of excessive force.
“I’ve always felt that I’ve been sort of caught in the middle as a black man, but also as the chief executive of the municipal government,” Mayor Levar toney said.
Tracey McLean, Kim Gray and Alexsis Rodgers all support reorganizing the police and a citizen review board. McLean did not give details about policy, and Gray said that she supported subpoena powers but was concerned it could pose a threat to public safety.
Rodgers called out Stoney for being slow to act after the killing of Marcus Peters and after a summer of protests against police brutality, and said yes immediately to supporting a citizen review board with subpoena powers.
Griffin does not support defunding the police or a citizen review board and said that there are enough review processes right now, and that right now a mayor who defends the police when necessary and holds “bad actors” accountable is necessary.
When asked about corruption and “cronyism” in government and how to stop it, Stoney’s opponents did not hold back, with multiple candidates calling out the $1.8 million deal, Stoney made with NAH LLE to remove the Confederate statues in Richmond as well as his failed Navy Hill project. Gray called for an investigation into the contract in August.
Stoney defended the deal, saying that Richmond spent far less than other cities such as New Orleans in removal of statues. In response to his opponents calling out questionable deals and nepotism, Stoney said that he held other officials accountable in city government.
To make the most out of financial and administrative resources during the ongoing pandemic, Rodgers said that she would reallocate funds from the police to other issues, find a permanent chief administrative officer, and work closely with administration, non-profits and businesses.
Candidates said they do not see a need to increase taxes for Richmond residents. Rodgers and McLean both mentioned universities paying more taxes.
Griffin said there is not a revenue problem, but rather mismanagement and misplaced priorities.
Education disparities were repeatedly brought up throughout the night by multiple candidates.
Stoney said that he lived up to his pledge to be the “education mayor” with giving $30 million to Richmond Public Schools, implementing after school programs and building three schools. McLean and Rodgers said they were partially satisfied with the progress of Richmond Public Schools and called for more teachers and more equity and funding from the state respectively, while Gray and Griffin both directly criticized Stoney’s approach to education.
Gray cited her role as a Richmond public schools parent and cited worse graduation rates in recent years. Griffin used similar statistics concerning graduation rates and said that Stoney failed to deliver on a publicly supported referendum to fix local school buildings.
When candidates were asked about whether they would reopen the Richmond Coliseum, Stoney said no because it is functionally obsolete and would cost millions to renovate. His opponents shared various ideas for where to proceed in the future, and some took the opportunity to criticize how Stoney handled the project.
Rodgers said the coliseum could be a great economic driver for Greater Richmond, but there needs to be an assessment to determine how to revitalize the area.
The candidates mostly expressed themselves as eager to collaborate with officials in Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover on issues including transportation. Gray blamed Stoney’s stance on policing for bad relationships with Richmond’s neighbors, and instead of calling for collaboration, Griffin said that Richmond is in competition with Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover.
The technological disparities impacting virtual learning during the pandemic were brought up repeatedly. Most of the candidates said they would work with telecom companies and increase broadband access for students and teachers, but Griffin pushed for bringing students back into classrooms.