Richmond mayoral candidate Levar Stoney is no stranger to politics, nor those who are disenfranchised from it.
As the first in his family to graduate high school, and then attend and graduate college, Stoney began his political career after graduating from James Madison University.
“I grew up on free and reduced lunch,” Stoney said. “I missed out on a lot of field trips and extracurricular activities, but my family told me I could do anything I put my mind to.”
Raised by his father and grandmother, Stoney explained how his father, a former offender, worked as a custodian while his grandmother worked domestic jobs as a maid or cook.
Stoney moved to Richmond after graduating from James Madison University and began his political career as a Fellow in then-governor Mark Warner’s office. He eventually became the first African American Secretary of the Commonwealth and youngest member of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s cabinet. Stoney retired his post as Secretary of the Commonwealth in May after announcing his candidacy.
As Secretary of the Commonwealth, Stoney spearheaded the effort to restore the civil and voting rights of more than 18,000 felons — more than the past seven administrations combined — on April 22 of this year.
Stoney said when the McAuliffe administration came into office in 2014, there were studies showing nearly 400,000 people in the Commonwealth were disenfranchised, including one in four African American men and one in five African Americans.
“My father was one of those disenfranchised men at one point,” Stoney said. “I recall him getting a number of doors slammed in his face because he had a felony on his record, so taking myself back to that place, putting myself in my father’s shoes, all those things kind of drove me to reform our current system and restoring those civil rights.”
On July 22, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled the executive orders issued by Gov. McAuliffe on April 22, May 31 and June 24 restoring the rights of more than 200,000 Virginians were unconstitutional.
The court directed the Secretary of the Commonwealth to delete from the records any individuals who had their rights restored under these orders, and for the Department of Elections to cancel the voter registration of any individual who had been restored under these orders.
“It’s not just politics, it’s about restoring dignity,” Stoney said, “and you know it’s something big, its monumental, when the other side attacks it every single day.”
On Aug. 22, Gov. McAuliffe announced individuals whose rights were revoked after being restored through Executive Order are encouraged to contact the Stoney’s former post, Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office. After thorough review, McAuliffe will individually restore each person’s rights and a restoration order will be mailed to them, according the the governor’s website.
Stoney said this dedication to public service is why he is running for mayor.
“What drives me in this race — obviously I love this city in many ways — but things I don’t love are what drive me in this context,” Stoney said. “I don’t love that 26 percent of the people in this city live under the poverty line; 40 percent of children live under the poverty line; our infrastructure is crumbling all around us — whether it’s our schools, or our roads — I don’t love high grass.”
Stoney said he is committed to working collaboratively with city council, the school board, partners in the county and the Richmond Police.
On Aug. 10, Stoney’s campaign released an education platform outlining challenges facing Richmond Public Schools and his proposed solutions. The described challenges include discord among the mayor’s administration, City Council and the School Board, a large percentage of RPS students living in poverty, the system’s difficulty retaining principals and teachers, outdated facilities and funding operations.
Last week, the ACLU of Virginia and the Legal Aid Justice Center filed a federal complaint against Richmond Public Schools with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
The complaint reiterates many of the challenges Stoney’s education platform outlines, to include the RPS student population being 74.73 percent African-American and 69.89 percent economically disadvantaged as of Sept. 30, 2015. Across Virginia, the public school population was 22.9 percent African-American and 38.92 percent economically disadvantaged. Similarly, RPS’ population of students with disabilities in 2015-16 was 17.7 percent, compared to 12.47 percent statewide.
Stoney campaign spokesman Matt Corridoni told Richmond Magazine the education platform has been a work in progress since Stoney announced his candidacy in the spring. The platform was developed with input from students, parents, teachers, principals, academics and others, according to Corridoni.
“For the last 10 years, all I’ve heard is ‘planning, talking, studying, and fighting,’” Stoney said. “Frankly I’m tired of fighting. I’m ready for some do-ing. I’m a do-er.”
Stoney said in regard to college-aged voters, he wants to make Richmond a place where students can live and work long-term after graduating.
“I think Richmond is on the rise; you can feel it in just about every neighborhood you go to,” Stoney said. “Richmond is moving in a positive direction, but we do find ourselves at this crossroads and we have to decide whether or not we want more of the same in city hall or do we desire to have something new.”
For example, Stoney said he wants to diversify the economy to create a fertile ground for start-ups and small businesses, as well as making the city a safer place. In the latter regard, Stoney said addressing gun violence is at the top of his priority list.
“I think about crime in the city — 41 murders last year — if we want to be considered a desirable place for people to live long term, we have to create safer neighborhoods,” Stoney said. “Unfortunately, many of the deaths we’ve seen in this city have been due to the end of a bullet.”
To help amend this, Stoney said he wants to bring more sworn officers to the streets of Richmond by partnering with Richmond Police Chief Al Durham and encouraging community policing tactics throughout the city.
“I think we’ve been looking at government, frankly, the same way for the last 10 years,” Stoney said. “We’re in an Xbox era but some people are still playing Atari. We need Xbox thinking, and that’s what I’m trying to offer in this candidacy.”
Executive Editor, Sarah King
Sarah is a senior studying political science and philosophy of law. She is a copyeditor for INK Magazine and reporter for the Capital News Service wire. Last spring, the Virginia Press Association awarded Sarah 3rd place for Public Safety Writing Portfolio and the Hearst Awards recognized her as the 4th place winner for Breaking News Writing. In April, Sarah was invited to the White House for the Administration’s innaugural College Reporter Day. She previously worked as an editorial intern for Congressional Quarterly Researcher and SAGE Business Researcher in Washington, D.C. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn