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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.

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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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People

PHOTOS: Neighbors in the Fan socialize at a safe distance during weekly ‘#PorchSolidarity Parties’

Neighbors in the Fan have found a creative way to socialize during this time of social distancing, and do it from the comfort – and safe distance – of their own porches. Reader Rachel Scott Everett and her husband Brian Gibson organize regular porch gatherings to catch up with neighbors over drinks, music, and conversation.

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Neighbors in the Fan have found a creative way to socialize during this time of social distancing, and do it from the comfort – and safe distance – of their own porches. Reader Rachel Scott Everett and her husband Brian Gibson organize regular porch gatherings to catch up with neighbors over drinks, music, and conversation.

“While the photos may appear fun and carefree, all of us are currently facing different challenges regarding health, family, loss of work, financial strain, etc.,” Rachel said in an email to RVAHub. “This time offers everyone an hour to come out on their respective porches (or stoop or front yard) and (re)connect in solidarity – possibly with neighbors they may not have seen or met before.”

She says it’s an easy and fun way to “keep our spirits up.”

We hope these photos brighten your day as much as they did ours.

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Community

Suspects Sought in Fan District Graffiti Vandalism

At around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 22, security video shows three unknown males walking in an alley near North Allen Avenue and West Grace Street. Video captures one suspect vandalizing a trash can with graffiti.

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From RPD:

Richmond Police detectives need the public’s help to identify the suspects in the attached photos and video who are suspected of vandalizing property with graffiti in the Fan District.

At around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 22, security video shows three unknown males walking in an alley near North Allen Avenue and West Grace Street. Video captures one suspect vandalizing a trash can with graffiti.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact Third Precinct Det. H. Wortham by email at[email protected]comor by phone at (804) 646-1940 or contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000, online at www.7801000.com

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Downtown

Schools, nonprofits hustle to feed over a half million Virginia students: ‘It’s incredible’

Richmond school bus driver Tyrone McBride is still driving a big, yellow bus through Richmond neighborhoods, but these days, he’s transporting boxes of food for kids in need. More than a week has passed since Gov. Ralph Northam announced students will not return to school this academic year, and volunteers are still fighting to feed the 590,000 children in Virginia with free or reduced lunches who were ordered to remain home during the coronavirus pandemic.

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By Hannah Eason

Richmond school bus driver Tyrone McBride is still driving a big, yellow bus through Richmond neighborhoods, but these days, he’s transporting boxes of food for kids in need.

“It gets me out of the house,” said McBride, who has been a school bus driver for 18 years, “and you know, you’re doing a great deed and helping people out.”

More than a week has passed since Gov. Ralph Northam announced students will not return to school this academic year, and volunteers are still working to feed the 590,000 children in Virginia eligible for free or reduced lunches who were ordered to remain home during the coronavirus pandemic. Schools have been closed since March 16, though students were originally slated to return by March 27.

Whitcomb Court resident Simone Sanders said her children are now eating at home during the day, but she didn’t receive an increase in food stamps. One child is disabled, which prevents Sanders from being able to work.

“It’s affecting us bad, especially in the projects, and there’s nothing for the kids to do all day,” Sanders said. “And then you have to worry about your child just being outside getting shot.”

Sanders said she’s grateful for the food from Richmond Public Schools, and says she occasionally gives food to neighborhood kids who say they’re hungry.

The Richmond Public Schools meal distribution program, like others around the state, continues to evolve during the coronavirus pandemic that caused a surge of Virginians to file for unemployment. Almost 46,300 Virginians filed for unemployment between March 15 and March 21. The previous week 2,706 people filed an unemployment claim, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

The program started with 10 school sites, and has since grown into at least 43 sites throughout the community and 10 school sites.

Erin Stanley, director of family engagement at Richmond Public Schools, said volunteers, bus drivers and the district’s nutrition staff have made the efforts possible. Volunteers were using personal vehicles to drop off food, but RPS decided that school buses would better suit the cause.

“We did that for a couple of reasons,” Stanley said. “One, so we can get more food out, and two, because school buses are a bit more well known and probably more trusted than individual volunteers going in with their personal vehicles.”

Plastic bags filled with milk cartons, sandwiches, apples and snacks are handed out in neighborhoods found on the Richmond Public Schools’ website. School distribution sites are open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and neighborhood times vary by location. Any student in the school district can use the program, Stanley said.

Volunteer Natalie Newfield said many families she gave meals to lost jobs in the restaurant industry.

 “They’re changing the way they do deliveries, which is amazing,” Newfield said. “Every day you give them a count. If they need more food, the next day, all of a sudden your bus has more food. It’s incredible.”

Statewide efforts to feed children in Virginia

When schools closed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture activated the Summer Meals Program, which funds public schools and local organizations to serve breakfast and lunch during the summer.

Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, pressed the USDA to change its policy which required parents to have their child with them when picking up food.

Roem said it was difficult for a Prince William County mother to access food for her two children. Her daughter has an immune system deficiency caused by recent cancer treatments, making her susceptible to the COVID-19 virus.

“When you’re talking about a 7-year-old with cancer, we have to really evaluate what is it that our policy is trying to prevent that is more important than feeding a child with cancer,” Roem said.

Roem said she was able to bring groceries to the family, who live in the representative’s district. As they carried bags of food inside, Roem said the mother told her children, “We’re eating tonight.”

“I fought with the USDA for a full week and won a major, major victory for kids throughout Virginia and across the country, and especially immunocompromised kids, to make sure that they stay safe, that they stay home,” Roem said.

The USDA waived the restriction last week, and states can now choose to waive the in-person policy for students to receive food.

No Kid Hungry, a national campaign launched by nonprofit Share Our Strength, is offering emergency grants to local school divisions and organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grants can help people who are trying to make meal distribution possible, but may lack the equipment necessary to feed children outside of a school setting.

Sarah Steely, senior program manager at No Kid Hungry Virginia, said the grants can fund necessities like vehicles, gas, coolers and equipment to keep food safe during distribution.

“Those might not be resources that folks already have, because those aren’t service models that were expected of them before,” Steely said, “so we’re here to support community organizations and school divisions as they figure out what it is they need to distribute to kids.”

The organization works with YMCAs, childcare centers, libraries and all 133 of Virginia’s public school divisions.

The organization recently activated their texting hotline for those unsure of where their next meal is coming from: text “FOOD” to 877-877. The hotline is generally used during the summer months, but was reactivated to combat food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.

Steely called the hotline “a tool in a bigger toolbox of resources” and encouraged families to contact their local school board for updated information about their locality.

“They count on that as a primary source of nutrition, so with schools closed, we want to make sure that the students who are accessing meals at school are now accessing those meals at home,” Steely said.

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