Style: What is it about the elected mayor system that does not appeal to you?
McCollum: Well, we have to focus on not just the concept of elected mayor, but focus on the Wilder-Bliley proposal. … And to me, it’s much ado about nothing. Because if we don’t really address issues which are structural in nature that impact us from the outside, then you can appoint, elect or anoint the mayor, but his hands are going to be just as handcuffed as mine.
Right now, we don’t have home rule in the commonwealth of Virginia. We operate as a Dillon’s Rule state, which means our power is not derived from within, but it’s derived from the General Assembly. We don’t have the ability to grow in Virginia and enhance our tax base because there’s been a moratorium against annexation that’s been in effect over 25 years. And that’s what really constrains us in our ability to be able to grow, and develop and provide greater quality of life for our citizens. The tax structure in Virginia is antiquated, and studies have been clear to show that, but the General Assembly is very reluctant to change it. …
There are so many things that people aren’t aware of that do adversely affect our ability to govern. … as opposed to, in my mind, spinning our wheels trying to find some savior who’s going to be able to be elected and come in and change the way that our city is operating. It’s not going to happen. And to me it’s a waste of our time, and it’s insincere.
What will you do if the referendum passes? What’s going to be your first plan?
I got involved in local government because I, as a citizen of Richmond — who grew up in public schools, had the opportunity to leave here, be educated, come back and be able to have some measure of success — I want to give a contribution back to my community. That’s why I got involved. And there are many people in my neighborhood that were a part of that process, that helped me get past a number of limitations that I had inherently, and to get me on the road to success. And I was asked by them to serve in this capacity. … They haven’t gone back and asked me not to do it. So I’m just going to continue to serve in whatever capacity I can to be able to make our city recognize that we’re one of the greatest cities not just in this commonwealth but in this country.
If the referendum passes, do you plan to fight against it at the General Assembly?
Some of the issues I brought forth with regard to some of the legal aspects of this, certainly are the kinds of things I think we need to make sure are brought forward to the General Assembly. You could call it fighting if you want, but I call it informing.
What are some of those legal issues?
Some of the issues that I’ve talked about in terms of the Voting Rights Act, but also some of the issues that I’ve talked about in terms of some of the constraints that are imposed upon us by the General Assembly. I think this is an excellent opportunity to talk about those issues, as well, so that we can begin to get the response that we need to get for real change from our General Assembly. So certainly I intend to be an advocate for the city of Richmond. And that’s basically how I see my efforts.
Let’s say the citizens of the community you represent have said they want the elected mayor, but you disagree. How do you reconcile that?
Call it the democratic process. That’s how this country was founded. People have differences of opinion, and we’re to take those issues to our government. … It’s a responsibility.
But you don’t see that you need to push this in the General Assembly one way or the other?
Somebody’s got to bring the issues out, and who better to bring them out than someone who’s been involved in them from the inside? I think everybody recognizes that … issues look differently from the inside than they may from the outside. And as someone who’s on the inside, I think I have a responsibility to voice this issue as I see it, and certainly the issue in terms of how the votes come out is certainly going to be reflected by others as well. We take all these issues to the table, we put them out and we let the General Assembly deal with it, and we let the Voting Rights Act address it through the Justice Department. And we take it from there.
Let’s say down the road we change the form of government, we have a popularly elected mayor, you run and win. How would that change the way you operate? What would you do differently as a popularly elected mayor than you do as the mayor today?
That’s a good question, because as I said, my commitment has been a major commitment from the beginning now. Certainly, probably, I could use the fact that I’ve been elected by the full city as a means to help prioritize the agenda. But that would have to be after I’ve had the opportunity to put together a citywide, agenda-setting process. Because I think that’s something that I’d want to do differently. Right now I represent a district, and serve as the chairman of the board, so to speak. I think there would probably be some things I’d do differently, but that’s something that I think is too early to say right now. I haven’t even thought about that.
You don’t have your slogan ready if you have to run?
Exactly. That’s definitely not any decision that I’ve made yet. S