As a number of news outlets reported this week, former Governor and Mayor Doug Wilder is hosting a Richmond Mayor Candidate's Forum in early April. The April 6 event, which is to be held at Virginia Union University, will feature candidates who have already declared their intent to run, as well as a few who are exploring a possible candidacy. (The event has not been officially announced yet, but news orgs got wind of the invites being sent to potential candidates, and then Wilder's office confirmed the forum's existence.)
The list of attendees include current Council members Michelle Mosby, Chris Hilbert, and Jon Baliles, plus former Council member Bruce Tyler; local activists Chad Ingold, Rick Tatnall, and Lillie Estes; and Venture Development director Jack Berry.
Mosby is an intriguing candidate. A political neophyte when elected to the City Council in 2013, she maneuvered her way to the Council Presidency, an unusual coronation for a first-term member and south-sider. She might be able to gain the support of the city's Democratic Party machinery.
Baliles is also a force to be reckoned with. The son of a former governor, he can count on some powerful allies in the state, as well as the significant funding power of his West End district. (He's already hired Glen Sturtevant's fundraiser.) Berry, head of the city's pre-eminent economic and cultural development organization, may be able to tap into similar networks in the city.
But, as always with Southern city politics, race will be a factor in the upcoming election. Mosby is African-American, while Berry and the City Council candidates are white; candidates need to win a plurality of votes in five of the city's nine districts in order to win overall. That means that candidates need to build at least a geographically broad coalition. The city is majority black (although the electorate may look different), and having a base in the black vote helps.
And it's the two candidates who may not be coming to the forum, both of whom are black, who are the ones to watch. Jeff Bourne, the School Board President, would likely get the current Mayor's support (although it's not clear whether that would be a good thing right now, considering Mayor Jones' troubles) and could replace Mosby as the favorite of the city's Democratic leaders. (Bourne is not sure if he's attending the April forum.)
But then there's Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney. He particularly has to be seen as the frontrunner, as he has state-wide name recognition and would get the full support of his buddy the Governor. Still, when I brought up Stoney to a friend who works in city government, my friend asked, "who is that again?" So even Stoney has some work to do in getting city voters -- and city interests -- to line up behind him. Thanks to Doug Wilder, it all starts next month.