Seated on the dais of City Council, Charles Samuels isn’t boisterous. Fellow member Reva Trammell goes as far as describing him as shy.
But despite not having an outsize personality, the even-tempered lawyer has had an impact on council over the last eight years, two of them as council president.
Samuels has been a thorn in Mayor Dwight Jones’ side by pushing to keep baseball on the Boulevard. He called for the school division’s funding requests to be fully met, despite the mayor’s warnings that city services could be cut.
He also spearheaded a controversial sound ordinance that a judge first declared unconstitutional before Samuels drafted a version that passed legal muster but sparked an anarchist group to mock him.
But Samuels, who represents the 2nd District, seems ready to give his political career a break. Both he and Kathy Graziano have declared that they aren’t seeking another term. Their peers are either running for re-election or for mayor.
And while Samuels plans to stay abreast of city government, he says that eight years is long enough for anyone to serve on council.
So far, three candidates — School Board member Kim Gray, community and environmental activist Rebecca Keel and developer Charlie Diradour — are vying for his seat. Diradour ran against Samuels in 2012.
Samuels says he’s relished his time on council, professing love for the long meetings and the inner workings of city government. The fight over school funding was one of the recent items on which he took a stand. He was one of several councilmen who worked to trim the mayor’s proposed budget to transfer more money to schools. Earlier in the budget debates, he joined colleagues Parker Agelasto and Jon Baliles in an effort to get an additional $18 million more than what’s in the mayor’s proposed budget.
The city finalized its $717 million budget last week. Council approved an additional $5.5 million in operating funds to schools and $4 million for school facilities over what was proposed by Mayor Dwight Jones. His budget devoted $275 million to operations, of which $129 million came from the state. Facilities were to receive $5 million.
Early in the budget debates, members Graziano and Ellen Robertson had taken a more fiscally conservative approach, proposing an additional $5 million. Like Jones, Graziano says she’s concerned about the budget’s lack of wiggle room and the city’s ability to provide basic services.
Samuels ties the issue to economic development, saying that helping the school division will sustain growth of young families and professionals.
“I’m thrilled that we’re having empty-nesters and millennials flock to this city and we are having exponential growth,” he says. “But at some point, the millennials are going to fall in love and get married and have kids. They are going to look and see what the schools are like where they live.”
Last year, Samuels and other council members ignored warnings from the Jones administration that shifting an additional $9 million to schools would hurt city services such as leaf collection and snow response.
Michelle Mosby, who replaced Samuels as council president and has launched a run for mayor, was critical of the move. While schools have dire needs, she says, it’s often forgotten that the city has made strides toward helping them improve.
“Since we have had this administration there have been four new schools,” she says. “And I think a lot of times that gets blown off the radar.”
Samuels also may take a last stand to keep baseball on the Boulevard — a debate that continues even as the mayor’s office recently announced that it’s working with the Richmond Flying Squirrels and Virginia Commonwealth University to find another location for the team off of The Diamond’s current 60 acres of city property.
But a statement on the matter didn’t detail how a new stadium would be paid for, saying “a new ballpark would likely be funded primarily by the ballpark’s users.” Jones also says that the city intends to extend the Squirrels’ lease for another year, to end Dec. 31, 2018.
The moves come after the city administration announced that it was moving forward with requesting development proposals for the 60-acre site. A study on its best use, which sought public opinion, determined that most city residents want to keep baseball on the Boulevard. But the mayor hasn’t said whether development plans will include baseball.
Before the city started studying the site, Samuels and Baliles offered a proposal to consider baseball as a development anchor there. And Samuels pushed against the mayor’s bid to build a stadium in Shockoe Bottom.
“I think that although there was a big effort to support a Bottom stadium, the financial aspect of it, the calculations, just didn’t add up,” he says. “I am glad we were able to start something before it was too late and we were in a major fiscal crisis.”
But the election is approaching in November, and once Jan. 1 rolls around, the debates, budgets and proposals will fall into the hands of a new councilman. Samuels says he’ll be devoting a lot more time to practicing law, mostly in the city’s juvenile court representing children accused of crimes. S