Rebecca Keel is 24 years old, native to Richmond, a self-proclaimed policy nerd and just completed her master’s degree in social work at VCU earlier this month.
Keel is also using her savings as a research assistant at VCU to run for the hotly contested 2nd district city council seat.
“My policy platform is based on values, because as the issues change those values need to stay in tact,” Keel said. “(This job) is about public health and well-being, and i’m going to carry that into every fight.”
Despite her youth, Keel said she is no stranger to the “political game.” Keel worked to pass the Virginians for Medical Amnesty, also known as the Good Samaritan, policy this year. The policy ensures that if someone calls for help in an overdose or related situation, the person who made the call will not be persecuted.
This summer, Keel worked at Rubicon — a 28 day in-patient rehab and mental health facility in Richmond’s Highland Park area.
“For a lot of people that was their last stop before prison, or local jails, or death — frankly — and seeing how systems had totally failed these folks, it really made me think about what policies could have been implemented or amended to help prevent these outcomes,” Keel said.
“I know I can represent many different voices in local decision making,” Keel said. “The duty of a councilmember is to be the voice of the people and my vantage points allow me to represent larger intersections of Richmond.”
Keel said she is also aware of different “vantage points” and what different perspectives mean at a local level. Personally, Keel said she is queer, black and albino and legally blind — but is appreciative of what her perspectives have taught her.
“The way I experience Richmond gives me a complex understanding of our city,” Keel said. “I’m legally blind, which means I can’t drive a vehicle or perform a number of other visual tasks. But I bike, which has really allowed me to feel out our city and know its streets — I know where every pot-hole is.”
Keel said transparency and community engagement are two core values she would guarantee if elected; she would also be the first council member to implement a participatory budgeting model for her district.
“Essentially, the community comes up with different ideas for what they want changed, implemented, fixed and then the folks from the community come out and vote,” Keel said, “and the project with the most votes gets the funding.”
Keel labeled this model “actual democracy” and continual community engagement that goes beyond just visiting the polls in November.
Keel explained that each council member has a $15,000 discretionary fund which, if elected, Keel would allow the 2nd district to delegate using the participatory budgeting model.
“It is and isn’t a lot of money — you can’t put up a new building, but you can improve a park, put up street lights, build gardens, pay people for neighborhood clean up,” Keel said, “and I think when people see that ‘hey, my voice made this thing happen,’ I think that’s so empowering.”
Although Keel is running against two power-house candidates — Kim Gray, who has served on the Richmond School Board the last eight years, and real-estate developer Charlie Diradour — Keel’s biggest advantage might just be her dedication and native Richmond roots.
Keel is currently foregoing employment to campaign for the City Council seat, opting to use her savings as a VCU research assistant so she can dedicate herself fully to the task at hand.
If elected, Keel said she would take on her responsibilities to the city and her district at a full-time, 40 hours a week, capacity, despite the council position being a part-time job.
“I’m really serious about this,” Keel said. “I can make it work — I grew up real poor, so I know how to spread some dollars — which I think is so important on City Council because Richmond’s in a deficit — come on, let’s get creative with our funds.”
Keel said she sees this approach as advantageous, too, because it would mean she has more time to attend school board meetings, meet with community members — even make house calls.
“Nobody on the City Council (attends school board meetings) right now; nobody on the school board (attends City Council meetings) right now, and it’s kind of bizarre to me because people in Richmond have a lot to say about how the money is spent but have no avenue to come to the table,” Keel said. “Most people don’t even know where the table is.”
Keel’s opponents, Gray and Diradour, have raised $23,690 and $61,410 in campaign funds, respectively, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP). Currently, Keel is at just under $1,000.
Diradour, who is president of Richmond-based real estate company Golden Paw Development, ran for City Council in 2012, but lost to Charles Samuel by 4.81 percent of the vote, despite having raised more than $117,000 in total funds, $54,650 more than Samuel’s total, according to VPAP.
Gray is a democrat who is known for her outspoken attacks of Mayor Dwight C. Jones, and fiercely advocating for the public schools. Keel said if elected she would make a point to work closely with the school board. She believes the Richmond Public Schools should be fully-funded.
“It’s not my decision what the fight is — it’s the people’s decision to let me know what the fight is. it is my job to be there to hear the community,” Keel said.
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