Court intrigue at RVA City Council?

Richmond City Council President Charles Samuels has made his political bones by opposing the Mayor, particularly on the Shockoe Stadium project. Is it coming back to bite him?

The Richmond Free Press reported on Tuesday that first-term Councilmember Michelle Mosby was organizing what amounts to a coup against Samuels. She apparently has enough votes to become the Council's first African American female President when council members elect new officers in January. Reporter Jeremy Lazarus quotes a source as saying that "the votes are firm."

In a follow-up article on Wednesday, Style Weekly's Ned Oliver couldn't confirm the report. But if true, this could dramatically change the nature of the Council's relationship with the administration. Just a few of the dynamics going on here:

  • Mosby is a bit of an unknown. She's inexperienced -- fellow RVA politics watcher Silver Persinger calls her "easily flustered" -- and it's not clear what her goals might be as President. She's focused somewhat on social justice issues, and had a big victory this summer when the Council approved her "ban the box" legislation, eliminating the requirement that felons report their convictions on many city job applications.
  • Longtime Council Veep Ellen Robertson probably wanted the job, Lazarus reports, but couldn't find the votes. She's apparently willing to step down in favor of Chris Hilbert and support Mosby if she can gain a leadership position on a Council committee, where she might have more influence over policy matters.
  • Interestingly, Mosby fired Robertson's former liaison, John Westbrook, earlier this year. (She replaced him with Uzziah Harris, who she described as her pastor and life-long friend, but is also her roommate, which raised eyebrows at the time.) Whatever was going on there, there's apparently not enough bad blood to prevent Robertson from getting behind Mosby.
  • Samuels seemed to be positioning himself as a contrasting voice in city leadership to Jones -- and possibly a mayoral candidate. He can certainly continue to speak out against the Mayor, but losing the President's chair means he heads into the next election cycle in a much weaker position.
  • Parker Agelesto was another of those opposition voices during the stadium battle who seemed to have his eye on the Mayor's office. But he's named by the Free Press article as one of Mosby's supporters. It's possible to see this as a move to weaken Samuels, but it's hard to know; he, like other council members, may just be tired of feeling "short-changed" by Samuels, who Lazarus' sources say seems to favor some members over others.
  • Finally, there's the role of Mayor Jones. His M.O. in the past has been to help place favorable allies in powerful city positions. Whether he has anything to do with Council intrigue is unknown, but he certainly would favor a Council run by Mosby, who has been much more conciliatory towards the administration than Samuels. A change in leadership could lead to another push by Jones to revive his dormant stadium plan. (Urban politics are, above all, the politics of development.)