Behind the name plaque on Richmond mayor Levar Stoney’s desk sits a small turtle only he can see.
It was a gift from Virginia Union University president, Hakim J. Lucas. When Lucas gifted the turtle to Stoney he said “you know the only animal that sticks its neck out? A turtle.”
When Stoney sees the small turtle with the tortoise colored shell, he is reminded of what makes a strong politician.
“Good leaders stick their necks out in a time of crisis,” Stoney said.
That motto has motivated Stoney to overcome adversity and become well acquainted with the concept of being ‘first.’
Stoney was the first in his family to go to, and graduate from, college.
In 2004, he graduated from James Madison University where he was the first African American male ever elected president of the student government.
From 2014 through 2016, he served as the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia, becoming the first African American to serve in this role and the youngest member of Governor Terry McAuliffe’s administration.
On December 31, 2016, at 35 years of age, Stoney became Richmond’s youngest elected mayor.
“It would be shocking if someone from our generation wasn’t at the helm of a city that’s on the rise like Richmond,” Stoney said. “I think in 2016 folks made it very clear they’re ready to turn the page and ready to embrace that we’re a city on the rise.”
Stoney was born in Nassau County, New York, but shortly thereafter moved to Hampton Roads. He described growing up in a situation “where you knew we didn’t have a lot, but you knew everything was always going to be okay.”
As a kid, he handled his grandmother’s finances. He was the one who would call the bank and check how much money was in the account toward the end of the month.
“When you call on a Monday and you have to get through to Saturday and find out all you have is $60 left in the account, the adults were very, very creative around me,” Stoney said.
Within his first year in office, Stoney has put a special emphasis on children and education.
Stoney proposed earlier this year to bump the meals tax at Richmond restaurants and catering businesses from 6 to 7.5-percent, starting July 1, 2018. On Feb. 12, City Council voted 7-2 in favor of the tax.
The higher meals tax would generate $9.1 million in new revenue, allowing the city to borrow $150 million to fund improvements to school facilities over the next five years.
“In the legislation we proposed, we created a special reserve fund where the people in the City of Richmond will see the dollars that go in and the dollars that go out,” Stoney said. “That reserve fund is dedicated solely for the construction of new schools in the city of Richmond … but I do believe there will be hell to pay if the money is moved.”
Last fall, Stoney sat down with restaurant owners and explained the meals tax. Stoney said research showed 70 percent of Richmond residents would support an increase in the meals tax dedicated solely to construction of new schools in the city of Richmond.
According to Stoney’s press secretary Jim Nolan, research showed half of the people who will be paying the tax don’t reside in the city and 30 percent of them live 50 miles away.
“Some of these conditions in these schools are horrible and the mayor visited every school last year so he’s seen first hand the conditions of these schools,” Nolan said.
Stoney said one of the most memorable moments during his first year in office was creating a partnership with Richmond Public Schools and a couple nonprofits to ensure 20,000 kids will have access to vision screenings and receive glasses.
He said a young woman who attended the screening with her 7-year-old son found out her son had been blind in one eye for nearly seven years. That day he left with a pair glasses.
“I almost got emotional right there on the spot,” Stoney said. “That’s why we do what we do here, that’s why I got into public service — to ensure children like that get a fair shot. It was something as small as him not having a pair of glasses that was holding him back.”
“The kids can’t wait.”
Sophia is a senior print/online journalism student pursuing a minors in history and gender, sexuality and women’s studies. Over the summer she interned at ABC7-WJLA in the sports department. She enjoys writing about current events and sports and hopes to one day be a sports reporter on the sidelines of game seven of the NBA Finals or in the press box at the World Series.