You don't have to like Mayor Dwight Jones. You don't have to think he's succeeded in addressing the region's most pressing issues. You don't even have to think he's using his power in the right places.
The point is, Jones has power. And he's demonstrated it more than ever this year. It shines through in the success of competently executed projects such as the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center. It's evident in his administration's ability to hold an increasingly assertive City Council at bay. And it grows by default in the continued absence of a more influential figure in the debate about regionalism.
In Style Weekly's 10th annual ranking of those in power, Jones regains the top spot from the ever-influential chief executive of Dominion Resources, Thomas F. Farrell II (No. 3). For years, Jones has been a community and faith leader as the pastor of the large and prominent First Baptist Church in South Richmond. He's also served in the Virginia House of Delegates. But after winning re-election to a second term as mayor with no real opposition last year, he came to life. He's demonstrated the extent of his influence, his willingness to use it to get what he wants, and — by bringing the Redskins to Richmond — the city's ability to pull off a project without completely bungling it.
Remarkably, Jones' rise comes while he weathers a string of embarrassing revelations and leadership questions. Remember those horrifying reports about the city's Social Services Department? The high-level staff shake-ups after gotcha interviews in City Hall elevators? The drawn-out ouster of one police chief and the behind-the-scenes choice of another? Any of them could have served as an inviting springboard for those who would challenge him from below. But Jones is nimble. He easily sidestepped, for example, an effort by newly minted City Council President Charles Samuels (No. 44) to torpedo his soon-to-be-released plans for a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.
His plan for the ballpark still will face a mountain of opposition, but the city's success with the training camp boosts Jones' standing, proving he's capable of making a major project happen in real time — and capable of doing it with little input from Council and the public. And, as his collaboration with Bon Secours' Peter Bernard (No. 8) exemplifies, he's coming into the year with strong backing from the business community.
Jones may be lacking in the area of grass-roots support — his anti-poverty plan is described by some as smoke and mirrors. And without a doubt, the coming year will test Jones. For one, his new jail looks likely to be overcrowded from day one. But the year also holds promise: Richmonders increasingly are proud of their city, and the projects that Jones has championed have only bolstered that feeling.