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Competitive City Council race brings cash haul, three frontrunners emerge

Three frontrunners have emerged in the home stretch of the race to fill outgoing Richmond 5th District Councilman Parker Agelasto’s seat. Stephanie Lynch, Jer’Mykeal McCoy and Thad Williamson are almost neck-and-neck in regard to fundraising totals, voter enthusiasm and public presence, according to political analyst Bob Holsworth.

Capital News Service

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By Morgan Edwards

Three frontrunners have emerged in the home stretch of the race to fill outgoing Richmond 5th District Councilman Parker Agelasto’s seat. Stephanie Lynch, Jer’Mykeal McCoy and Thad Williamson are almost neck-and-neck in regard to fundraising totals, voter enthusiasm and public presence, according to political analyst Bob Holsworth.

With less than three weeks until election day, the seven candidates are working to connect with residents in their district and explaining their stances on key topics.

Earlier this month Richmond Mayorathon held a Focus on the 5th Forum at Randolph Community Center. In attendance were Lynch, McCoy, Williamson, Nicholas Da Silva, Robin Mines, and Chuck Richardson. Candidates Graham Sturm and Mamie Taylor were not present. On Friday, Sturm officially announced that he was dropping out of the race and endorsing Lynch.

“On November 5th, my name will appear on the ballot. When I cast my vote, it will be for Stephanie. Join me in doing the same,” Sturm said in a letter posted to his Facebook page.

New campaign finance reports show Williamson with a slim $133 lead over Lynch. Williamson has raised $22,554 since filing as a candidate. Lynch has raised $22,421. McCoy is not far behind with $18,100 raised. Da Silva and Taylor have raised $8,379 and $2,400, respectively.

Holsworth, who is a managing partner at DecideSmart consulting firm, says the election is still anyone’s game.

“Many of the older residents in the district retain considerable fondness for Chuck Richardson, and Mamie Taylor has actually won a race for school board in the district,” Holsworth said. “With so many candidates in the race, it is certainly possible that the victor will have less than a clear majority of the votes.”

Taylor said her background as a journalist and educator and experience serving on the Richmond City School Board sets her apart from opponents.

“I have a proven history of being incredibly transparent. It’s embedded in me from being a journalist,” Taylor said. “What I know I will always make sure the people know.”

A hot button issue that is driving the race is the $1.5 billion development proposed for the Navy Hill neighborhood. The Navy Hill development was proposed by NH District Corp. in February 2018 and is structured around replacing the aging Richmond Coliseum. It is supported by Mayor Levar Stoney and is currently undergoing review by City Council. All seven candidates oppose the development in its current form.

“Whether it’s protecting taxpayer dollars, funding our schools and basic city services, ensuring access to affordable housing, or being accountable and transparent, these are priorities in question in the Navy Hill deal and [issues] that I’ve heard from voters they want their next city councilperson to deliver on,” Lynch said.

Lynch said she is confident about her chances going into Election Day. She contends that the combination of small donations and voter outreach is giving her the last-minute boost she needs.

“Every day that I knock on doors and talk to people across the 5th, I’m encouraged not only because our campaign’s message is resonating, but because people are really engaged and focused on this race,” Lynch said.

The special election is designed to find a replacement for Agelasto, who is voluntarily resigning in November one year before his term ends. The large number of candidates on the ballot and the fact that no other major office is up for grabs in Richmond has been attracting extra attention from voters and local media.

However, Holsworth predicts that the election may be won in the trenches, rather than in the headlines.

“Old fashioned retail politics – gaining support from community groups, knocking on doors, and developing a ‘buzz’ within the district – is likely to be crucial to the outcome,” Holsworth said.

Taylor says she has purposely avoided participating in corporate-backed events such as Focus on the 5th because she prefers to operate a grass-roots campaign.

Williamson says he enjoys speaking at the forums so voters can get an in-depth look at how he would potentially operate as a city councilman.

“I am pleased that our campaign has done a great job laying out a clear vision of my priorities as a potential City Council member, providing in-depth policy statements on a range of issues, and demonstrating the extensive experience and effectiveness I have already demonstrated as a change agent in local government,” Williamson said. “In each of the candidate forums, I provided a substantive, in-depth and informed answer to every question posed, and we have shared detailed ideas on issues from potholes to education on our website and in candidate questionnaires.”

Williamson said he is focused on addressing Richmond’s education system. According to the candidates interviewed, education is at the top of almost every voter’s list when it comes to issues they care about.

“At the doors, many voters list schools as their top concern, but others are concerned with traffic safety and public safety more generally, expanding job opportunities, housing, potholes, taking care of our parks, and the general performance of city government,” Williamson said. “Without doubt schools is the most common concern.”

McCoy said that campaigning in a competitive race has not fazed him. He sees Richmond’s revival in recent years as an exciting opportunity to tackle new obstacles.

“Richmond has an energy about it that it has not had for a while and it is a beautiful thing,” McCoy said. “We have to figure out how we grow as a city, but more importantly how we grow together. And that is what this campaign is about.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Education

Night shift: Student safety ambassadors provide a resource for the VCU community after dark

The ambassadors, part of the university’s transition to a more equitable public safety model, provide assistance when people need help but don’t need to contact law enforcement.

RVAHub Staff

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If you’re looking for Virginia Commonwealth University sophomore Ayanna Farmer-Lawrence in the evenings, you’ll most likely find her around the Compass wearing a bright-yellow vest.

Farmer-Lawrence is a newly hired student safety ambassador for the VCU Police Department — and her vest is both a uniform and visual identifier for VCU community members.

This past summer, the university announced a plan for police reform initiatives, including workforce realignment and the hiring of non-sworn, unarmed employees to serve as resources on campus when members of the VCU community need assistance, but do not feel compelled to contact law enforcement.

Carly Jackson wearing a safety vest.
Carly Jackson models a designated, uniform vest during her shift. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

John Venuti, VCU’s associate vice president of public safety and chief of police, said with safety and well-being as the focus, a student may be a better alternative option for needs such as asking for directions, answering questions about transportation, working at events and walking people to their cars at night.

“The safety ambassadors will be present in places with high volumes of students, such as outside the University Student Commons and the Compass,” Venuti said. “They will predominately work at night because in the spring 2020 perception of safety survey, students told us they feel less safe at night.”

The three safety ambassadors received 40 hours of training and are also tasked with reporting safety concerns they come across during their shifts. In their first two nights working, they reported to police about damaged property, a traffic light failure and a fire at a business on West Broad Street.

Farmer-Lawrence, a homeland security and criminal justice major in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, said the part-time position coincides with her goal of becoming a special agent for the FBI. She was drawn to become a safety ambassador to learn from police, build relationships, network and be ready for internships or employment opportunities upon graduation.

“I thought it was a good idea to be that person that [people] can go to if they have a problem, but don’t want to go to the police directly,” Farmer-Lawrence said. “It’s a good idea given what’s going on in society currently.”

Venuti said he looks forward to hearing feedback from community members about the new program and plans to expand the number of student safety ambassadors, and their designated locations, in spring 2021.

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Community

VCU Life Science Building on West Cary Street Suffers Fire

The fire was quickly brought under control and no injuries were reported.

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From VCU Alert:

On Nov. 18, 2020, the Richmond Fire Department was called to VCU’s Trani Life Sciences Building just before 10:45 a.m. for reports of a fire on the roof. The building was evacuated and no injuries have been reported. The fire appears to be limited to the roof of the building. The cause is being investigated.

  • The Cary Street Gym is open and not impacted by the fire. Cary Street is closed in the area to allow emergency vehicles to respond.
  • No other VCU buildings were impacted due to this incident.

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Community

VCU Ram Attendance Capped at 250

VCU Athletics will begin basketball season with a capacity of 250 spectators inside the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

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VCU Athletics issued this statement earlier today.

VCU Athletics will begin basketball season with a capacity of 250 spectators inside the Stuart C. Siegel Center. Tuesday’s capacity adjustment was made in accordance with new COVID-19 safety guidance from the Commonwealth of Virginia, announced last week.

Should the State issue new guidance in the future, VCU Athletics will adjust accordingly.

A limited number of tickets will be made available to VCU students and guests of student-athletes. Approximately 175 seats will be reserved for season ticket holders. VCU Athletics will determine access to season tickets based on giving level and rank within each giving level, consistent with the Seat Equity model. VCU Athletics has created protocols to make unused tickets available to Ram Athletic Fund members on a single-game basis.

Season ticket holders will receive notice by Wednesday, Nov. 18 if they qualify for the new limited capacity model. Ticket holders who do not meet the limited capacity qualifications will have a variety of options, including the ability to transfer their season ticket donation to a Ram Athletic Fund gift for 2021-22 or a refund.

“We regret that we cannot have our usual full capacity to start the men’s basketball season,” McLaughlin said. “Our loyal, dedicated fans make our home games the best environment in college basketball and we will miss everyone who cannot attend in person. We will continue to work with all parties in an effort to maximize capacity beyond the current guidelines as the season progresses.”

VCU Athletics will limit seating to the arena bowl in a socially-distanced manner, with a buffer zone around the court to prevent contact between fans and participants. Courtside seating and the Tommy J. West Club will be closed. Ticket holders in those areas will have the opportunity to sit in the bowl area.

We here at RVAHub are in communication with the Rams and are hoping to have a photographer at the game but that isn’t confirmed yet.

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