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5 Richmond mayoral candidates address range of issues at forum

Mayor Candidates give remarks
Shaban Athuman
/
VPM News
Candidates in the Richmond mayoral race participate in a mayoral forum on Monday, June 24, 2024 at The Chapel at Virginia Union University. Candidates include City Councilor Andreas Addison, Dr. Danny Avula, Michelle Mosby, former 9th District Richmond City Council member, Maurice Neblett and Bridging Virginia Founder Harrison Roday.

Housing, education, food security and more were discussed.

Hundreds of voters packed Virginia Union University’s chapel on Monday for a Richmond mayoral forum hosted by the Urban League Greater Richmond Young Professionals.

City Councilor Andreas Addison, Dr. Danny Avula, former councilor Michelle Mosby, Maurice Neblett and Harrison Roday — who are all vying for mayor — answered questions on issues like education, economic development, housing, food insecurity and more.

ULGRYP welcomed the candidates, reminding them that engagement is the cornerstone of democracy.

“The more we are informed, the more we are engaged, the better decisions we can make,” said Victor McKenzie Jr., a nonprofit executive, who moderated the forum.

Education

Nearly an hour of the event focused on questions around education and how the candidates planned to work efficiently and effectively with the Richmond Public School Board. The candidates each outlined a similar vision for RPS, including increased funding, a focus on competitive salaries for teachers, infrastructure improvements and investment in early childhood education programs.

Roday said the mayor’s job is to be a champion for public schools.

“Let's start with some simple goals,” he said. “We should want our students to succeed; we should want our teachers to feel empowered, not overtaxed or overworked. And we should want all of our schools to have the autonomy they need to deliver the best they can for our students.”

Mosby said she’d aim to strengthen the relationship among the mayor and school board members in order to discuss and implement community priorities.

“Education is extremely important,” Mosby said. “We know that the data shows that they’re building prisons for our young people if they can’t read. And so, I will continue to do what I have done — continue to work with our school board electors.”

Avula, whose wife is a teacher at Chimborazo Elementary School, said the next mayor needs to be able to build connections with school board members, as well as city councilors.

“The relationship between the mayor and school board is extraordinarily important, so that they know that they have the city support — that the mayor will advocate for optimal funding year in, year out,” Avula said.

Economic development

When it came to economic development, Roday and Avula both highlighted the city’s lack of support for small businesses, citing complicated tax processes and challenges getting a business up and running.

Addison echoed their comments, sharing his experience as a small business owner and detailed the challenges he faced obtaining permits.

“When you look at the Diamond District, I don't want to see a bunch of corporate chains, I want to see a Mama J's, Urban Hang Suite. I want to see a Croaker's Spot,” Addison said.

Neblett said he is committed to revitalizing Richmond’s historic neighborhoods by preventing displacement.

“We will implement a community-driven development approach ensuring the economic growth benefit of all Richmond residents,” Neblett said. “This includes supporting local businesses, improving infrastructure and creating mixed-use developments to enhance our communities — supporting the residents to become more skillful and more marketable.”

Housing

Housing was an issue during the previous mayoral election cycle — and continues to be as home prices have hit new highs across the country.

“Sounds crazy, but we need to build more apartments and we need to incentivize the affordability we want to see,” Addison said while discussing market pressures and rent rates.

Roday said the city isn’t properly addressing the housing affordability crisis and criticized Richmond’s FY2025 budget.

“I think we need a mayor who's gonna say, ‘I am willing to partner with anyone to solve this problem,’” Roday said.

Neblett said long-term solutions are key and committed to addressing the root causes of housing instability. He plans to launch programs to provide rental assistance to families at risk of homelessness, as well as homeownership education classes to help recent graduates achieve affordable housing stability.

Mosby said she wants to see her administration usher in a new era of homeownership through tiny homes.

“It’s time to not just be a renter,” Mosby said.

Avula said that during the past eight years he has seen the mass displacement of African Americans whose property taxes have skyrocketed, making their homes unaffordable.

“I think there are policy strategies that we've got to put in place to ensure that the housing market allows for a racial and socio-economic mix of residents,” Avula said.

Food insecurity

Candidates were asked how they plan to lessen the impact of food insecurity and food deserts on Richmond families and their children.

Mosby said food can be distributed to residents, noting that her church offers the service. The key component, she said, is looking at resources beyond just food to get families in a stable place.

Avula’s answer focused on ensuring that families have a way out of poverty.

“I think there is a lot of just building the net worth of food and ensuring that families are educated about where and how best they can use the benefits that they can get through the social services system,” Avula said. “But … how are we getting them to a place where they have the resources to be able to purchase food and not deal with food insecurity?”

As for Addison, he wants to see urban farming expanded in the city, saying the most important thing you can teach someone is where their food comes from.

“Every school should have a garden, every community [should have] a community garden, and we should see urban farming in every aspect of our city,” Addison said.

Addison received applause and cheers from the crowd as he said the following: “We just need grocery stores, high-quality, full-service grocery stores in Southside and Lakeside.”

The next mayoral forum will take place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Dogwood Middle School. Each of the five candidates plan to attend the forum, which will be moderated by 2nd District Councilor Katherine Jordan.

Stream the Richmond Mayoral Forum.

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