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.”