By Libby Dozier
Tuesday marks the last day for Richmonders to cast their vote in the upcoming election, including the 5th District City Council seat.
The candidates include incumbent Stephanie Lynch, who was elected in last year’s special election; Jer’Mykeal McCoy, a business development manager; and Mamie Taylor, a former School Board member. Taylor Maloney, VCU’s student body president, announced plans to run as a write-in candidate at the end of September. Nicholas Da Silva, a fourth candidate who also ran for the seat last year, dropped out of the race in September though he remains on the ballot.
Each candidate has priorities they wish to address should they win the election.
Lynch and McCoy want to improve city schools. Lynch said she’s pushing to modernize schools and have adequate pay for teachers. McCoy also wants to create a summer jobs program to partner young people with local businesses and provide them with increased opportunities.
McCoy said he intends to address Richmond’s high eviction numbers. The city had the second-highest eviction rates in the country in 2016, according to an analysis by Princeton University.
“This crisis is bigger than our city, but it’s disproportionately going to hurt our city,” McCoy said. “So we have to make sure we have the resources in place to help folks weather this economic storm.”
Lynch said years of systemic racism in zoning and education policies have contributed to Richmond’s nearly 25% poverty rate.
“It is up to us to try and fix the years’ worth of systemic and institutional oppression that was intentionally placed on certain community members,” Lynch said.
Lynch and McCoy also intend to prioritize affordable housing development in Richmond. Both have endorsed Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposed $10 million commitment to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Lynch co-patroned a resolution approved recently by council that calls on the mayor to find a dedicated source of funding for the fund.
Lynch and McCoy agreed with the need to decentralize where new affordable housing developments are placed.
“I think historically, we have seen that when you pack portions of our city with low income, black and brown communities,” McCoy said. “The economic disparities are exacerbated in terms of access to jobs, housing and transportation. And, so I think we have to right the wrongs of the past and get it right.”
Lynch and McCoy have different approaches to handling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lynch wants to create an emergency relief fund for citizens struggling with the financial challenges of the pandemic. She proposed earlier this year to use $5 million of surplus funds in the city budget to create such a relief fund. Richmond City Council ultimately voted to allocate the money elsewhere.
“When there’s extra food on the table, let everybody eat is how I feel and that $5 million belongs to the people,” Lynch said. “We could give it right back directly to people that are struggling the most. Instead, my colleagues chose to put it into a retirement fund to fund police pensions.”
McCoy said he would focus on increasing citizen and small business access to resources. McCoy said he would also ensure that the public is properly informed about Centers for Disease Control safety guidelines and encourage cooperation with surrounding counties.
“I think that was one of the major challenges early on is that the guidance was at a place Richmond would have it’s own set of guidelines, Henrico would have theirs, Chesterfield has theirs,” McCoy said. “But we only share like a border.”
When asked about police reform Lynch and McCoy had similar sentiments. Both support the creation of a civilian review board to oversee cases of police misconduct and the creation of additional emergency response services. Lynch supports an emergency response system staffed by qualified mental health professionals. City Council approved a resolution to create a plan for such a system that pairs police with mental health professionals to deescalate situations involving individuals facing a mental health crisis.
Lynch has raised a little more than $77,000 since January and McCoy raised almost $40,000 since late April, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Da Silva raised just under $3,000 this year and no totals were listed for Taylor.
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