Mayoral candidates debate education, transportation

Despite the looming threat of Hurricane Frances last Wednesday, about 100 students and people from the community attended the kick-off mayoral debate held at VCU. This year Richmond will have its first mayoral election in more than 50 years.

VCU’s Young Democrats, along with the Richmond-area, University of Richmond and Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School Young Democrat clubs, brought Mayor Rudolph C. McCollum, Charles Nance and Lawrence E. Williams together to debate issues facing Richmond in the University Student Commons.

L. Douglas Wilder, the fourth mayoral candidate and a former Virginia governor, did not attend.

McCollum questioned Wilder’s commitment to the city during the debate.

“How committed could someone be to run for mayor if they do not even participate in a public forum to debate issues?” he asked the audience.

Paul Goldman, campaign manger for Wilder, said Friday that the Richmond Crusade for Voters was to sponsor the first debate in October.
“Usually campaigns only have a few debates,” Goldman said. “We thought that the Richmond Crusade for Voters should have the first debate.”

At one point during the debate the issue of safety around VCU was discussed.

Williams, an architect, said as mayor he would work to get more volunteers to work with the police. He also discussed getting more police officers to patrol “on foot” and to work on the relationship between the VCU and Richmond police.

“You’re in an urban area and crime is a big issue,” Williams said.
McCollum said he recently filled more than 30 vacancies in the Richmond Police Department and “already we’re looking at a reduction of crime across the board.”

Nance, a former Richmond School Board member, suggested conducting a performance audit on every aspect of the police force.

“I am very attuned to helping people take back their front porches,” he said. “We need to take back these streets from the drug dealers and murderers.”

The three candidates agreed that unmarried partners of city workers should receive benefits.

McCollum called Richmond a “21st century city.”

“The definition of family has changed and we must move with that change,” he said.

Williams also said that Richmond should recognize “different types of families.”

“It’s that love factor,” he said. “That’s the barometer that we need to judge families by now.”

Nance simply said “yes” when moderator Jeff E. Shapiro, chief government reporter and columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, asked a question submitted by an audience member concerning development around the city. Nance said as mayor he would not get directly involved.

“There will be another Shockoe Bottom,” he said. “And those of us in government probably won’t even see it coming … the best thing that we can do is not get in the way.”

One point that Nance stressed throughout the debate was that “we’ve got to make public education first.” He also said Richmond needs to build better relationships with the surrounding counties.

“We can’t have these arguments between cities and counties about where the bus line stops,” he said.

Williams said he would improve the efficiency of city government so that it is response-driven and proposed three mayor’s offices concerning family and neighborhood development, small businesses and public safety.

“I walk the neighborhoods and have had the opportunity to understand this city well,” he said. “We need strong families to create strong neighborhoods. I know how difficult it is to raise a family.”
McCollum said that public education, transportation and development in Richmond are on the right track and suggested the improvements he would make if elected.

He said he would provide economic incentives for people to start businesses downtown and suggested improving the infrastructure of certain historical buildings.

“We need to make sure we preserve those historical aspects of the city,” he said.

McCollum also mentioned encouraging Chesterfield County to provide funding for the GRTC bus system again “and provide the commitment that is necessary.”

Aaron Larrimore, president of the VCU Young Democrats, said while it “was a tough night to do it” with the rain, the debate went well. He added that while students are more interested in the presidential election, the mayoral election carries equal importance.

“Having a strong mayor – it changes the way that business will be run in the city,” Larrimore said. “I think it’s very good for students because there’s this tendency to put a space between yourselves and government.”

The oppotunity for students to shake the candidates’ hands and speak to them after the debate worked to get students interested in the mayoral election, he said.

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