Sarah Elson, Contributing Writer
For Nicholas Da Silva, the path to politics started on a late summer day in Charlottesville, when a white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the “Unite the Right” rally. One woman was killed and dozens were injured on August 12, 2017. Da Silva was among the crowd. After nearly being hit, he decided politics were the way to make a change.
Less than a month after graduating VCU with a political science degree, Da Silva, former head of the university’s Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter, has set his sights on the 5th District’s open seat on Richmond’s city council.
“It was such a profoundly life changing experience that I realized I couldn’t ignore the conditions around me anymore,” Da Silva said of the Charlottesville protest.
The alumnus said he intends to implement five policy changes: greater tenant empowerment, equal access to healthy food, an increase in public transportation, increased police accountability and increased funding to public schools.
“It’s time for the city council to grow up and value our next generation,” Da Silva said, criticizing what he considers city council’s unwillingness to update Richmond Public Schools.
Da Silva also criticized Mayor Levar Stoney’s Navy Hill Project, a plan to redevelop the Richmond Coliseum and the area surrounding it.
“Our mayor is most concerned with a coliseum we don’t have the details of, to benefit a construction company attached to the city’s largest corporation, Dominion Energy,” Da Silva said.
Nonprofit group NH District Corp is in charge of the coliseum’s construction and the Navy Hill redevelopment project. The affiliated NH Foundation is comprised of Dominion Energy President and CEO Thomas F. Farrell II, former Altria CEO Martin J. Barrington and former SunTrust executive C.T. Hill, among others.
Jim Nolan, communications director and press secretary to Stoney, said the mayor’s concerns consist of creating jobs, access to affordable housing, economic opportunity to minority businesses, education funding, infrastructure and support services to underserved communities.
“In short, the mayor only cares about the future of the city, and we will only move forward with the Navy Hill project if he believes it addresses these priorities,” Nolan said.
Da Silva said the needs of students and teachers should take priority over the coliseum plans.
“There will be no stadium until every student has the resources they need and every teacher has a raise,” Da Silva said.
The candidate plans to execute policy changes with accessible office hours and community engagement. Da Silva said he will work with residents and civic associations to get feedback on policies affecting their communities.
Housing must be treated as a right. Our city must invest in additional public and affordable housing to ensure all working-class people have a place to call home. By collecting tax revenue from our largest corporations we can ensure the workers who power Richmond have housing.
— Nicholas Da Silva for Council (@DaSilvaRVA) June 17, 2019
VCU student Chante Holt said “gigantic” pot holes and food deserts, which are areas without easy access to healthy foods, in her neighborhood need city council’s attention.
“My neighborhood is a food desert, and a lot of families end up shopping at the Family Dollar or the corner market for food,” said Holt, who lives in the Byrd Park area of the 5th District. “Neither of which have fresh food options.”
Holt said Da Silva seems passionate about helping the district, but she would like to see an “action plan” on how he’s going to address certain issues.
5th District resident Marissa Parker signed Da Silva’s petition to enter the election ballot.
Residing in the Swansboro area of Southside, Parker said her area “desperately” needs a large grocery store. She says the closest supermarket is a 10-minute drive in either direction.
“If I didn’t have a car, I don’t know what I would do,” Parker said. “I’d probably have to rely on convenience stores and drug stores — which are more expensive — or try to use public transit.”
The research analyst said the neighborhood’s safety was also a concern.
“I live right near Carter Jones Park, where a shooting occurred a few weeks ago,” Parker said. “I’m on the same block as a house that was run into by a drunk driver last week.”
Da Silva said he was motivated to run for the open seat after the shooting of high school biology teacher Marcus-David Peters in May 2018 and what he considers a “lack of acknowledgement” from city council toward the incident.
Peters, a 2016 VCU graduate, was unarmed and naked when he was killed by Richmond police on Interstate 95.
Da Silva said he plans to hold police more accountable to prevent another shooting of an unarmed person. His proposals include requiring police officers to report all physical altercations and weapon discharges.
(11/11) Communities should be able to criticize and regulate the actions of law enforcement in their own neighborhoods. Civilians should not fear for their lives. People need to be given a platform to address their concerns directly to the Richmond Police Department.
— Nicholas Da Silva for Council (@DaSilvaRVA) June 19, 2019
“I think we’re at a crossroads,” Da Silva said. “Current leadership isn’t willing to even talk about these issues, let alone hold individuals accountable when they’ve done something wrong.”
Da Silva did not elaborate on how he plans to work with city council and the Richmond Police Department to see his policies executed.
University of Richmond associate professor Thad Williamson is also running in the 5th District. Williamson teaches leadership studies and often incorporates social justice into his curriculum. Before pursuing the open seat, Williamson served on Mayor Stoney’s Anti-Poverty Commission and served as co-chair of the Maggie L. Walker Initiative for Expanding Opportunity and Fighting Poverty.
Chuck Richardson, who represented the 5th District from 1977 until 1995 before spending time in prison for distributing heroin, is also running, as well as social worker Stephanie Lynch, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Da Silva is endorsed by Del. Lee Carter, a Democrat who represents Prince William County and the city of Manassas. Da Silva interned for Carter in 2018. The Richmond chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America voted to endorse Da Silva on Tuesday.
The 5th District includes areas south of Main Street, bordered on the east by Belvidere Street and on the west by Arthur Ashe Boulevard. The district includes parts of Southside Richmond, west of Belvidere and Hull Street.
More information on Da Silva’s campaign can be found at @DaSilvaRVA on Twitter and @dasilvaforcouncil on Instagram.