Mayor Stoney at midterm
2/1/2019, 6 a.m.
Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s victories and foibles are up for public review and discussion this week as he offers the annual State of the City address on Jan. 31.
January marked the midpoint of Mayor Stoney’s four-year term in office, a good place to pause and reflect on the highs and lows of Mayor Stoney’s administration and leadership so far, and what still needs to be accomplished in the city before his job ends in December 2021 or he joins the brain trust for his ever-ebullient mentor, Democratic presidential hopeful and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, whichever comes first.
Mayor Stoney continues to be visible and enthusiastic in the community as his administration completes big projects launched by his predecessor, such as installation of the Pulse bus rapid transit service and the renovation and overhaul of the 17th Street Farmers’ Market, Main Street Station and Monroe Park.
He was out front last March when thousands of students, parents and families marched from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School to the state Capitol calling for an end to gun violence in schools and communities. He also led the March for More rally on Dec. 8 seeking more state funding for public schools.
Mayor Stoney also helped foster a partnership to bolster after-school programming for elementary and middle schools students in Richmond; extended the hours of five Richmond community centers to provide sports and other activities and programs for people of all ages; and partnered with GRTC to provide free bus service to all city high school students, as well as free service on Election Day to increase voter turnout and on New Year’s Eve.
During the last year, he also almost single-handedly pushed for the 1.5 percent meals tax hike in Richmond to support new school construction in a city filled with aged and decrepit school buildings. City Council approved the tax hike, which went into effect July 1 and is scheduled to generate $150 million to help pay for the construction of two new elementary schools and a middle school. Ground was broken on those projects in December.
While the mayor has much to crow about, we believe his efforts have fallen short in other areas. That’s why we give him a “C” for this term.
The schools situation has become a thorny one for the mayor, whose $800 million plan to fully fund capital projects for schools falls short, we believe, because of its lack of specificity and because it is dragged out over 20 years. Students who are just starting school this year may spend their entire elementary and secondary years in poor, dumpy and inadequate buildings until they graduate. That would maintain the disaster Richmonders voted to avoid.
We also have grave concerns about Mayor Stoney’s plan, generated by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II, to replace the Richmond Coliseum and raze and redevelop a large swath around it in Downtown, while pretending it will not have a negative impact on city tax dollars and services elsewhere across the city. It is a $1.4 billion plan that will siphon future tax dollars needed for schools, public safety and other essential services for a new white elephant in Downtown that we feel is not needed.