John Conrad is back on the campaign trail with no party to back him. 

Independent's Day

As soon as John A. Conrad decided against running in the May 2000 election for a fourth term on Richmond City Council, people began speculating about his political future. Indeed, Conrad contemplated running for attorney general. But he didn't. Instead, he pursued what he called a "simpler life," leaving the law firm Sands Anderson Marks & Miller, where he'd been for 20 years, to start his own operation, The Conrad Firm.

Now he's back on the campaign trail, hoping to replace Anne G. "Panny" Rhodes as the 68th District representative in the House of Delegates. He is running as an independent against Republican challenger Brad Marrs. Style caught up with Conrad last week to ask about his campaign.

Style: What are the top three issues of your campaign?

Conrad: The budget, public education and transportation. I think there's the perception that the Republican members of the House of Delegates didn't meet their responsibilities when they failed to pass a budget this year.

Do you agree with that?

I do.

And what can you do about it?

Well, participate. I don't have all the answers to all the problems, and I don't pretend to have all the answers. But I do think that we need to admit that when we don't pass the budget that we've had some shortcomings, and we need to deal with that.

You mentioned public education and transportation. Briefly, what would you say your platforms are there?

I think the big challenge, generally speaking, as it applies to public education and transportation initiatives, is principally about money. I think there is a concern about getting more money down to the localities in order to fund the requirements of public education, and I support the elimination of the tolls on the toll roads. And I think that's an issue too, as well as all the transportation initiatives.

Speaking of tolls, how about the car tax? Where do you stand on that?

I support the elimination of the car tax, but I think you have to do it budgetarily in a way that balances the other priorities of government. And so, it may need to be phased out over a longer period of time. Because the reality is that people perceive that the elimination of the car tax has precluded the General Assembly from meeting its other obligations, with respect to school needs — not only in secondary, but also at the collegiate level — and the nonprofits, cultural and arts needs, and the state employees' compensation package.

Why did you decide to run as an independent in this race?

The short answer is: Some of the operatives in the Republican Party refused to have an open primary. And they also refused to have a nomination process that was fair or democratic. They refused to have open voting. They wanted a loyalty oath. They refused to have a poll anywhere other than Huguenot High School, south of the river. They refused to allow people who were impartial to run the election. They were proposing that only the supporters of Brad Marrs would run the election. They refused to allow the registrars to run the election. So there were a number of factors that I thought made the process unfair and undemocratic.

It sounds like there's a little friction there between you and the Republican Party. And of course [Republican] Panny Rhodes, who isn't on the best of terms with her party, has endorsed you as her replacement. Do you think that endorsement helps or hurts you?

Panny Rhodes is only one of 300 people that have endorsed me. The Chesterfield [County] commonwealth's attorney, Billy Davenport, who is a 14-year-incumbent, has endorsed me. Skip Forrest, the former counsel to the Republican Party of Virginia, has endorsed me. Other politically involved people like [Dr.] Percy Wootton, the [former] president of the American Medical Association, has endorsed me. ... I'm proud to have Panny's support along with the support of conservatives, moderates, independents, Democrats and Republicans.

About a year ago, Style published a story about your refusal to discuss your views on gun control. Would you like to outline your stand now?

Sure. I will say, though, that one of the reasons that I'm running as an independent, and not as a Republican, is because there's no room in the Republican party anymore for pro-choice Republicans. And I believe it's an opportunity cost … because the Republican party has spent too much time, politically, passing legislation on pro-life issues, and not enough time addressing the four priorities of government: public safety, public education, fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets, and neighborhood and transportation programs. And I think the Republican Party has gotten away from those priorities, and I think it's a mistake. So it is no coincidence that I'm an independent candidate, and I'm also a pro-choice candidate.

As far as the Second Amendment, I'm more conservative on that subject. I am pro-gun, but like all the other Bill of Rights, it's not absolute. My experience as chairman of the public safety committee of the city of Richmond has taught me that a lot of the gun legislation is legislative pollution — that it doesn't make the community safer. … I think that the important thing, when it comes to guns, are programs like Project Exile, and the other programs that we did locally … with joint partnerships between the police department and neighborhood groups, rather than gun legislation. And that is a result of my experience over the last six years [working with the public safety committee] reducing all violent crime by 40 percent and murders by 60 percent. The reality is, we didn't pass one single piece of gun legislation.

You sound like you also could be giving a speech as an attorney general candidate, and of course you had pursued the idea of running for attorney general. What happened?

I don't have any plans to run for attorney general. My long-term goal is to be a member of the General Assembly, and I don't have any pent-up desire to be an attorney general candidate.

What should voters know about your opponent, Brad Marrs?

I'm not going to speak to that. I'm more concerned about what they know about me.

You left City Council a year ago. You left Sands Anderson Marks & Miller in February to start your own firm. What do you miss most about each post?

Well I enjoy public service. I enjoy representing people. I enjoy representing constituents. And that's why I'm in this race.


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