Casino vote aftermath

Stoney, Spanberger declare bids for governor; Paul Goldman proposes charter change

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 11/16/2023, 6 p.m.
Mayor Levar M. Stoney is brushing himself off after Richmond voters for the second time rejected the $562 million casino-resort ...

Mayor Levar M. Stoney is brushing himself off after Richmond voters for the second time rejected the $562 million casino-resort plan he fully backed and gearing up to run for governor in 2025.

Separately, Paul Goldman, who led both successful no casino campaigns, is now focusing on securing public support for a change to the City Charter or constitution that would require the mayor and the City Council to put the city’s children first when it comes to spending tax dollars.

Meanwhile, others are gearing up for the 2024 elections for the city’s chief executive officer and the council that could tell the impact of the crushing defeat that casino backers suffered has had on city politics.

The defeat by a nearly 2-to-1 margin among voters was a shattering blow to partners who planned to develop the combination casino, hotel and entertainment center — gambling and racing giant Churchill Downs of Kentucky and Black media company Urban One of Maryland. Urban One has been particularly affected, with its stock price down one-third, as it faces potential delisting of its stock from the NASDAQ exchange and a possible call of its loans by banks for failure to file quarterly financial reports for 2023.

Together, finance reports submitted to the state show they reported investing more than $9 million into the Richmond Wins Vote Yes campaign, the largest amount ever spent on a local Richmond election and 33 times more than the $285,000 the No Means No Casino Committee reported spending garnering the win.

Final certified results show that 41,629 city voters or 62% turned thumbs down on the Richmond Grand Resort & Casino, while 25,615 voted yes. The 16,014 vote margin was nearly 11 times the margin of loss in 2021 when the no vote won by 1,493 votes.

This time, six of the council districts rejected it, the final tally shows, with only voters in the 6th, 8th and 9th districts. In 2021, the casino measure won five of the nine districts, the 3rd, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th.

Urban One, South Side woes

On Monday, Urban One notified the Securities and Exchange Commission that it could not meet the deadline for filing its third-quarter financial report as it was still working on completing the reports for the first two quarters.

The loss also was a blow to the hopes of 8th District Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, who led the effort to hold a second referendum in hopes of gaining a major development that would generate hundreds of new jobs and tens of millions in new tax revenue for the city.

“My heart is shattered,” she wrote in response to a Free Press query. “My peoples’ hearts are broken. Voters don’t realize or seem to care that $26 million in new city tax revenue per year is gone. The 1,500 jobs are gone. The restaurants are gone. The 55-acre park and walking trails are gone. The four-star hotel is gone. It’s sadly our loss and another city’s gain.”

Eyes on the prize

Just days after the Nov. 7 election, Mayor Stoney was already pivoting for a run for the state’s top office.

While he has not formally announced, he leaked his plans to an online news outlet, despite indications he would struggle to carry the city he has led for seven years. Polls conducted by the Richmond Wins campaign indicated that his approval rating among city residents is below 35 percent.

Even as he gained attention in the past week as a potential candidate, 7th District Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger announced Monday that she would be running for the state’s top job and began picking up endorsements from Democratic establishment figures, including former Gov. Ralph S. Northam.

Mr. Goldman also was busy preparing and seeking approval from the Richmond Circuit Court for a petition he plans to circulate to put his proposed charter change on the ballot in November.

Mr. Goldman

Mr. Goldman

His goal is to use the energy that the “no” campaign unleashed to “reorganize and refocus city government for a singular overall purpose,” including securing the more than 13,000 signatures that would be needed to gain the court order to allow a vote.

The proposal charter change reads: The children of Richmond embody the future and therefore their future must be the paramount concern when the Mayor and City Council exercise the powers granted herein.

As President Kennedy stated in his famed Commencement Address at American University, the blame game is not a path forward. We need to find common ground. He proclaimed, “we all cherish our children’s future.” First Lady Abigail Adams, Nobel Prize winner Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and First Lady Michelle Obama have likewise reflected on children embodying our future.

The proposal calls for Richmond “to strive to become the best locality in America to raise a child” and would require the government to be reorganized to put children’s interests first, to ensure no child in the city goes hungry and that every approved expenditure in the city budget have an explanation attached telling how the expense would benefit the city’s children.

The proposal also would require the mayor and the council to lobby the state to provide sufficient funding to renovate or rebuild public schools. Finally, the mayor and council would be obliged to file a yearly report on progress in achieving the goals.

Mr. Goldman has previously led successful charter change petition drives, including the one that created the elected position that Mayor Stoney now holds.

Whether he generates the support for his 10-point charter change remains to be seen.