Mayors and Money

Everyone, it seems, is running for Mayor of Richmond. A second candidate's forum held Tuesday night featured 11 (!) of the 17 (!!!) declared candidates. (A local neighborhood website offers -- with tongue firmly in cheek and terrific pix by a local cartoonist known as "RVA Coffee Stain" -- a great guide to this glut of hopefuls.)

Still, this month should show us who is serious about running. Petition signatures are due next week, and this past Monday was the first important campaign fundraising report deadline. We're already getting a sense of what resources might be available for the candidates.

I talked to Mark Tenia of WRIC-8 on Tuesday night about the biggest news from these initial filings: former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney's dramatic lead in fundraising, with over $300,000 in donations already. As I told Mark, it's clear that Stoney's connections give him access to donors that other candidates can't even dream of, including $5k combined from the Governor and his wife. (The essential Virginia Public Access Project offers searchable versions of the finance reports for many candidates, including Stoney.)

Just to provide a sense of how much of an advantage this is for Stoney, one of his biggest rivals, City Council President Michelle Mosby, only managed to raise $5,000. Her fellow Council member Jon Baliles got to $17k, and former Councilman Bruce Tyler only $7k.

Still, money is not everything. Stoney is largely an outsider to city politics, with his power base in state government. (Both governments are located in Richmond, of course, but Broad Street between the capitol buildings and City Hall might as well be a moat.) Mosby and Baliles may have a smaller base, but that base, importantly, is one of the city's nine council districts, which gives them important connections to local neighborhood groups and institutions. Mosby in particular will vie with Stoney for support of the city's Democratic machine, in part by supporting the Mayor (or at least not bashing him while everyone else does).

But as I've been saying all along, this is Stoney's race to lose. Other candidates may be able to rely on local resources. But in a citywide race where very few candidates are known outside of small constituencies, money can get your name out there: on signs, direct mailers, and even television ads. TV can be expensive and even wildly inefficient, since so many viewers are outside city limits; still, Stoney's immense fundraising advantage may make such a strategy viable - a bazooka compared to every other candidate's popgun.

One other name to keep an eye on: former Venture Richmond Director Jack Berry. Mosby may be seeking the support of Richmond's black power structure, but Berry is connected to the city's white power structure. According to VPAP, he raised a nice $160k, which would be fantastic if not for Stoney raising twice that amount. Since Berry filed paper reports, VPAP does not have information on specific donations to his campaign. But I'll bet his list is a who's who of powerful West Enders and RVA downtowners. If anyone can give Stoney a run for his literal money, it's Berry.

The VPAP reporting information sheds some early light on important city council races as well. In particular:

  • In the city's 2nd Council District, real estate developer Charlie Diradour has a big jump on funding vs. current Richmond School Board member Kim Gray, with $10k vs. just $250 for Gray. Diradour's donor list includes some powerful friends. (State Senator Scott Surovell is on the list, for example).
  • Donald Moss, who is challenging longtime incumbent Ellen Robertson in the 6th, reported a promising $12k in donations. Although $5k came from one CarMax systems analyst, he has over 100 small donations as well. Moss, a seemingly tireless Democratic activist, is making school funding a big part of his pitch; he may be drawing support from the #SupportOurSchools network, who are not big on incumbent city leadership right now.
  • In my own 4th district, Council staffer Tim Grimes appears to have access to his retiring boss Kathy Graziano's fundraising network, generating $5k to his opponent's $6k. That opponent, School Board member Kristen Larson, has been working with local lobbyists and fundraisers for some time. (This may sound sinister, but south side Hills and Heights neighborhoods are full of lobbyists. Some of my best friends...) These initial filings suggest a competitive race here -- but hopefully not a negative one, as both candidates are popular in these parts.

One final note: the Richmond First Club, a longstanding civic association of wealthy elites, is hosting its own mayoral forum on Wednesday, and only invited Baliles, Berry, Stoney, Tyler, and former House Delegate Joe Morrissey. (According to the RTD, they invited Mosby but she was unable to attend.) These are candidates that the club said "substantially completed requirements to qualify for the ballot by June 3," but we can read that to mean "these are the ones we think might actually win." So that's our first short list of viable candidates.