RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Election day is coming up in just a few weeks. And while city council elections are getting far less press than the presidential and mayoral elections, 8News is taking the opportunity to inform the electorate about the people who are running in each respective district, where the rubber meets the road in creating the policies that impact residents the most. These range from issues of public security, schools and public works.
8News spoke with each candidate running for city council to discuss matters ranging from existing issues in the city, their proposed solutions to those problems and their motivations and qualifications for running in the first place.
In this edition, we will discuss the election being held for the city’s seventh district which runs in the west from Mechanicsville Turnpike, I-95 and 14th Street in the west, the river in the south and city limits in the east and north.
The seventh district includes Church Hill, Fulton Hill, parts of Mosby Court, Rockett’s Landing, Shockoe Bottom, Creighton Court and Fairfield
The two candidates running in this area are Josh Williams and the incumbent Cynthia Newbille.
Both candidates were presented with the same general questions about their background, experience, qualifications for office, their priorities if elected, and their ideas for resolving major issues in their district and across the city.
Unfortunately, Cynthia Newbille could not be reached for comment after several tries. But this is what Williams had to say:
How did you make the decision to run in the first place?
Williams: “For me, I spent 10 and half years in the military as a leader and as an officer, and so, for me it’s been servitude to the people of Virginia and the people of the United States of America to do a federal mission or a state mission, so the skillset and abilities that I’ve acquired, leadership, the ability to work with multiple diverse backgrounds of people across different organizations. I want to apply that to my community, to the city, and we’re in dire need of that. So that’s what prompted me, over some frustrations; if you’re frustrated, you gotta do something, so it’s time to do something, and that’s where I can apply my skill set and abilities. Transition into further public service.”
What do you see as the biggest issue in the 6th District?
Williams: “For me, the East End, seventh district, is extremely diverse. There is a demographic shift in age. 46 percent of registered voters are millennials 18-35. So I don’t feel that we are represented as we could be. In the seventh district we’ve also got a lot of properties that need to be redeveloped. We also have housing communities: Creighton Court, Fairfield Court, a piece of Mosby, Fulton Hill needs to have attention in its redevelopment or revitalization. What I mean by that is, the city has a master plan that hasn’t been updated, sector plans that haven’t been updated. The community is not involved in the planning process or development process. Things sneak up at the last minute for these major developments or apartment buildings that put 54 units in two acres, high-density housing, and so, what I’m getting at, our core services, public safety for one, our police officer attrition rate is high. What we need to do is focus on funding all those basic services which would help out in the East End. And then we plan with the community to revitalize and redevelop the blighted properties , the housing communities, and improve work opportunities for everyone involved in the community, including businesses. So, if you get these core services and the foundation right, you can deal with what the east end is struggling to deal with, which is public safety, we’ve got a lot of crime here, we can also deal with planning way ahead to redevelop and revitalize our communities, but a key factor is that instead of at the last minute, behind closed doors securing a deal with the developer, which happens … and our property tax rates increase, we need to make sure we’re protecting the people that do live here and not pushing them to the fringes because that would be the negative effect of gentrification. And that is happening. If we have the plan and we have control over the foundation, city council works together with the mayor to do this, we can tackle a lot of the problems that the east end is having.”
Outside of your district, what do you see as the most pressing issue in Richmond government?
Williams: “I’m frustrated a lot with how our city cannot maintain its roads, its infrastructure. Simple things like trash, basic core services. Why are we reading every single day that the schools don’t have enough money. Or friends of mine left the police department because they don’t see anywhere for career progression. I’ve got a friend that’s in the fire department and he’s like, ‘I like what I do, but I don’t know how long I’m gonna be able to hang on.’ This is basic stuff that we need to make a non-negotiable funding criteria in the city government. So, for instance, all these basic services: police need to be paid, we need to decompress the salaries to what they should be. Firefighters, teachers, schools, public safety; all these things need to be funded without any question. Obviously, budget constrictions and constraints will determine what that is, but if we’re not able to do the job, then we shouldn’t be discussing building, I don’t know, say a Redskins Training Camp, and I’m not gonna harp on that one, but I’m just using an example. We don’t need to invest public dollars into other major projects because they pop up. Especially when we need to fund our basic core services first. Then we build on a good foundation. So those things are really what sparked me into action. We’ve gotta do something about this, I’ve got the energy, I’m a young guy and I’ve got the abilities and skillsets to make it happen.
How do you plan on better funding Richmond Public Schools/public safety/core values?
Williams: “When we look through the budget and we find inefficiencies, for example, we find we are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on projects that are not a part of core services, you take them off of the table for the time being, you say, o.k. We need to stop funding this, we need to focus on our core services, fund them in their entirety, and then you look at the extra things outside of the core services, outside of what we need to run the city. Fortunately, what I think will happen, at first is the extra projects that are exciting and great, the grants that go to a lot of artwork in the city, they might have a reduction in their budget. It’s gonna happen. It’s inevitable when you can’t fund everything in its entirety, but focus on a select group of core services, it’s inevitable that the extra things, the fun things that we all like are going to have a reduction. But that doesn’t mean it has to happen in its entirety. If we hold accountable our department directors to be efficient with the resources that they’re given, I guarantee you that we’ll be able to provide the funding for those extra projects that we want. And I also think that you’ll be able to drive more business if your infrastructure is the best it can be, if your neighborhoods are as safe as they could be. You’re gonna get more business in the city, businesses are gonna want to come in, and you’re gonna say, ‘You know what, I wanna put a coffee shop on that corner. There isn’t one there already and it’s a great neighborhood and I don’t have to drive through the potholes or fall down on the uneven sidewalk.’ Simple things like that. And that’s my thought process. Fix the basics, make them efficient, fund them. So funding is not an issue, nobody has any excuse at that point.”
What do you think sets you apart from the other candidates running in your district?
Williams: “For one, I think I’m much more representative of this district. I have got … I’m a young guy with a lot of energy and a lot of passion. I want to listen as a leader. Leaders listen and leaders take advice and then they have to make the decision. We haven’t been doing that. There’s a building going up on Venable, a project for apartments. The entire community has reached out to our liaison and our councilperson with zero response. Our councilperson needs to listen. They need to represent the entire district. They need to focus on how to plan for the district, and plan on the development of the district. Since she’s been in city council, out of the 56 sponsored legislations for city council, not one of them is how to redevelop or replan this sector with the community’s involvement. And I understand that that’s not necessarily a city ordinance, but the initiatives aren’t there. It’s status quo. Let’s do what we’ve been doing and that is how I’m different. I need to involve the community in conversations, determine what they want the neighborhood to be and protect that history and culture that makes us the East End. Don’t support backdoor deals. The neighborhood doesn’t want it. The neighborhood doesn’t want a ballpark in the bottom. And why would we build the ballfield on top of sacred African American burial grounds in the first place? That’s ridiculous. She’s voted to continue the conversation into that. So long as the museum is there. No, I think that entire area should be an area for reflection and education. I grew up in Richmond, but I didn’t really know the significance of that area until maybe six or seven years ago. That should be an area that people go for field trips. And it should be a park for reflection and education for tourists and people who grow up and live here. Leadership to listen to the community, listen to the neighborhood, protect their culture and history. Don’t push folks to the fringes with increased property tax and backdoor deals with developers that do that. Involve them. Retain them. Keep them. Find out what they want. And action. Don’t just have nice conversations about it, bring it to the table to discuss. And then transparency. You’ve got to go back and tell them what you’re doing. Here’s what we’re doing, here’s where we are in the process. Be responsive. You can’t be transparent if you’re not responsive to your constituents They’re my neighbors, so I guarantee you if they don’t like something they’ll come tell me. And that’s gonna get the results that we need.”
Anything else that you’d like to share about yourself, this upcoming election or your candidacy?
“First time running for anything like this. It’s interesting. I always thought politics was like you’re running and doing these fancy things, politicing, like a fancy campaign, but what I’m really finding it to be is you’re just having conversations with your neighbors and you’re finding out where they stand, what things bother them. And they don’t necessarily bother me the things that they’re talking about, but it’s not about me. The exciting thing is that you’re getting to feel and see this whole perspective and all the concerns that everybody has that otherwise aren’t listened to. And so it’s very exciting because at the end of this, I’m gonna be able to do something. That’s what I’ve found about the whole campaign thing. I’m pretty much just knocking on doors and talking to folks. The exciting thing is to hear their issues and hear what they want to do and know that you can really do a lot to help. Then again I’m a young guy and I’m a little bit more idealistic than some of the other entrenched candidates.”