Homelessness, safe transportation among issues important to students, professors in City Council election

The 5th District covers most of VCU campus, as well as Oregon Hill and part of Southside. Infographic by Jeffrey Pohanka

Mae Oetjens, Contributing Writer

Hannah Eason, News Editor


Resources for the homeless population, increased bike lanes and funding for Richmond schools are among the issues that students and professors say will impact the 5th District election.

The 5th District was previously represented by Parker Agelasto, who resigned after moving out of the district last summer. The special election, set for Nov. 5, will determine who fills the remainder of Agelasto’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2020.

Political science professor Christopher Saladino said despite limited polling information in this stage of the election, a clear front-runner will emerge “once campaigns really kick-off.”

“Dr. Thad Williamson has raised some substantial money for this early in the special election,” Saladino said in an email. “And combined with his close relationship to Mayor Levar Stoney, this puts him in a front-runner position.”

Saladino said older residents may be familiar with Chuck Richardson due to his time on city council in the early 1990s.

“He was actually quite popular,” Saladino said. “But drug scandal ultimately hurt him enough that he resigned and actually served a prison sentence.”

Richardson held the seat from 1977 to 1995, before he was arrested for heroin distribution. His voting rights were restored in 2016. 

Saladino, who teaches international relations and human security this semester, said many candidates have “compelling” backgrounds, including a clergy person, high school teacher, community organizer, entrepreneur and others.

Professor Alex Keena said in an email that transportation, infrastructure and the Navy Hill development project will be highly debated throughout the election.

“There is a big debate about elementary school rezoning,” Keena said. “In particular, there is a discussion about combining two of the elementary schools in the District — Fox and Cary — in order to diversify the schools and improve educational equity.”

Keena also said many constituents are concerned about the city’s spending priorities, which he says are due to a long history of funding problems for schools and education.

Keena, a 5th District resident, says he’s publicly supporting his former student Nicholas Da Silva in the race.

Many students were concerned with homelessness, as well as eviction and high poverty rates. Other issues include an improvement of public transportation and maintaining cleanliness around campus.

Christine Reyes, co-president of VCU’s Latinx Student Association, said she wanted to see the city address homelessness and improve infrastructure.

“It would be good if we could get a little more like Lantinx inclusivity within the community itself, more, I guess, appreciation for the culture,” Reyes said.

Reyes said Richmond should show more appreciation for its diverse cultures. 

Sophomore Navdeep Sekhon said the city’s crime level and resources for the homeless population are two of her biggest concerns.

“I feel like the homeless population has gone up in Richmond,” said the psychology major, who hopes to see more job openings for people in need.

President of NextGen at VCU Meredith Speet said she feels high poverty, eviction and homeless rates are being ignored.

The sophomore says NextGen plans on working with VCU to bring progressive candidates to campus.

“We want to work with VCU’s Department of Student Affairs to give an opportunity for progressive candidates to speak to the students,” Speet said.

First year graduate student Ju Lee said she wanted to see more bike lanes in downtown Richmond, as she frequently travels between the Monroe Park and MCV campuses. She bikes to Franklin Street from her house before heading downtown in order to feel safe on the roads. Lee, who lives near Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, says otherwise she has to be careful biking on Broad and Leigh streets. 

Mass communications major Lucas Greeves said he hoped to see more student-friendly transportation, such as scooters and bikes.

“I know some people aren’t big fans of scooters,” Greeves said. “But I feel like it’s actually a really cheap and effective method for students to be getting around and seeing the city.”

Biology major Michelle Balderrama said the cleanliness of the city could be improved with more receptacles.

“Instead of large dumpsters, more trash cans to recycle and throw away trash would be good,” the freshman said.

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