CT Staff Report
Mayor Levar Stoney led the Richmond mayoral race Wednesday morning with more than a third of counted votes. A city councilwoman and VCU alumna both trailed the incumbent by less than 10 percentage points.
Some absentee ballots had not been counted by the end of election night. As of early Wednesday morning, according to the Virginia Department of Elections, Stoney led the race with 37.12% of votes. VCU alumna Alexsis Rodgers and 2nd District Councilwoman Kim Gray followed with 26.86% and 26.24%, respectively.
Winning the mayoral position requires a candidate to receive a majority of votes in five out of the nine city council districts.
“Everyone take a deep breath – Richmond’s Election Officials are working hard to ensure every vote counts in this critical election,” Rodgers wrote in a tweet. “We still have 70K early votes outstanding and multiple districts in play.”
The candidates’ platforms have focused on Richmond’s COVID-19 response, Black Lives Matter protests, police reform and funding for Richmond Public Schools.
Stoney campaigned for his second term, while the other four candidates sought first bids for city leader. Stoney announced his reelection campaign on Sept. 1, referencing his experience as mayor as a reason to vote for him.
“To tackle these challenges facing our city, we need a leader who has the experience and partnerships to get the job done,” Stoney said when kicking off his reelection campaign. “I am the only candidate in this race who can accomplish that mission.”
Richmond has reported 5,521 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Of the 78 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the city, 53% were Black people, compared to 27% statewide. In an interview with ABC 8 News, Stoney said he would continue to work with health officials to increase testing and tracing of COVID-19 infections.
Gray said if elected, she would raise funds for local businesses that have been hurt financially. Rodgers aims to provide immigrants in Richmond with personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing.
Candidates have differing opinions on the response to civil unrest that occurred over the summer. With election protests expected nationwide, a city leader could determine how law enforcement responds to local demonstrations. Protests erupted in Richmond and other cities in May after George Floyd, a Black man, died in Minneapolis police custody with a knee on his neck.
Richmond and Virginia State Police officers deployed chemical agents, flashbangs and rubber bullets against protesters on several occasions throughout the protests.
During a peaceful June 1 demonstration, Richmond police deployed tear gas on people gathered at the Robert E. Lee monument. Stoney publicly apologized for the incident, and former Police Chief William Smith resigned at Stoney’s request.
Rodgers criticized Stoney for being too hard on protesters and for not speaking out against the use of chemical agents.
Rodgers believes in reducing the responsibilities of officers and supports an independent civilian board with subpoena power. The VCU alumna advocated for the collection and reporting of demographic information for all arrests, stops, charges and use of force during protests.
Gray called Black Lives Matter protesters “terrorists” for being “armed and often threatening” in Jackson Ward, the area she represents in city council, according to the Richmond Free Press.
Each candidate focused on how to improve Richmond Public Schools and what to do with the $331-million budget the Richmond School Board approved for the 2020-21 school year. The budget included a 2% salary increase for teachers and staff and hiring new teachers.
As mayor, Gray wants to help better the education system by developing a regional approach for students with disabilities, creating a secure budget and fixing unsafe school buildings.
According to her campaign website, Rodgers would replace school resource officers with social workers, nurses and other health professionals to help disruptive students, largely because suspension and expulsion heavily impact Black and Brown students.
During his term, Stoney approved funding for three new public schools serving Black communities in the Southside and East End.
As of Wednesday morning, lawyer Justin Griffin won 7.32% of the vote, Michael Gilbert — who dropped out of the race in September — received 1.32%, and author Tracey McLean received .97%.
News Editor Eduardo Acevedo, Contributing Writer Sagal Ahmed and Staff Writer Katharine DeRosa contributed to this report. Results are as of 2:45 a.m. on Wednesday.