Part Two 

Is It Time?

Not only does Law see the movement for an elected mayor as a threat to black voting power, he believes it is unnecessary. He points to neighboring municipalities' selections of the leaders of their legislative bodies from within their council or supervisor ranks and asks why Richmond should attempt to do something so radically different. "There's nothing so critical about Richmond's future that could use this on our radar screen," Law says. "What's so unique about Richmond that Richmond has to do this while other larger jurisdictions do not do this?"

The urgency for this change arises from the desire of powerful white leaders to hold political power in Richmond, according to Law.

"There are people in the African-American community who believe the wealthy individuals who brought it to Mr. Kaine are more interested in doing it in a hasty fashion. These are people who have doubts about the abilities of African Americans," says Law.

" … There are a few wealthy individuals in the town who are not happy with the way the mayor is elected."

And when it comes to wealth and power in Richmond, there's hardly a more representative group than the board of directors of the Coalition for Greater Richmond. The coalition's backing can sweep a relatively unknown candidate into office; its silence can sweep out an incumbent.

Robert Grey, an African American and founding member of the biracial organization, dismisses the idea that electing a mayor is a means to weaken black voting power. He says a change in government will empower all Richmond citizens.

"If you look at what we have right now in voter participation, I don't think we can get any worse," Grey says. "I think it [electing a mayor] will stimulate voter participation. With an increased level of participation comes great awareness and the opportunity to have a leader who can advance this city."

As an attorney with the law firm LeClair Ryan and the first African American to serve as an officer of the American Bar Association, Grey has always kept a watchful eye on issues that affect minorities. He is aware of the negative racial history in Virginia, but sees people moving away from the bigotry of the past. The election of Wilder by a majority white population is just one of many encouraging signs, Grey says.

"When you look at popularly elected mayor in cities our size they don't have a problem electing a black mayor or a white mayor," Grey says. "It's a shame some folks would say this is a conspiracy for whites to regain power. They shouldn't say it will dilute black voting power when they don't have any evidence it will."

Jim Ukrop, chairman of Ukrop's/First Market Bank and a council member for the Coalition for Greater Richmond says that his organization is promoting discussion of changes in local government that will increase voter participation, but will investigate both sides of the issue before taking a formal position. In the fall his organization will hold a public forum in which supporters and opponents of changing our local government will be encouraged to voice their views.

"We're keeping a neutral position until there has been study," Ukrop says. "We're inviting [to the forum] the NAACP, the Richmond Crusade for Voters."

While the Coalition is planning a forum to discuss the situation, Wilder sees the urgent need for a change. He believes that the city faces a mountain of troubles that have not been addressed under the present system. A strong mayor would have a real opportunity to address the problems of city schools, race and housing in the city, according to Wilder.

"School attendance has dropped," Wilder says. "There is no integration. There are no housing starts in the city. We need to have an executive branch of government and a legislative branch [to address these problems]."

Wilder scoffs at the charge that allowing the people to elect their mayor will violate civil rights laws.

"How would it violate the Voting Rights Act?" Wilder asks. "It gives people a chance to vote."

West also sees the need for a strong leader who would be accountable to the voters and in turn give direction to the various government agencies in Richmond. Education and poverty issues rank among the city's most serious. But under the present system little is being done to address these issues, according to West.

"You need a mayor who says to the entities, 'I've got my eyes on you,'" West says. "Right now we don't have that. You should have that one individual who provides people with hope."

Kaine is banking on the study and public hearings that will run from September to May 2001 to douse some of the fires that are fanned by this issue. He admits that there are many specific issues that need to be addressed. At present, no one knows whether an elected mayor would be a chief executive or another legislator. If he were to be a chief executive would he have veto power over legislation? Would an override on his veto require a two-thirds majority? Will there be a run-off election if no candidate receives a majority of the votes? How will this new form of local democracy affect the role of the city manager? These issues and many others will be ironed out during a process that Kaine hopes will gather support from people who previously opposed the concept.

"Some concerns that the NAACP has can be addressed in the mechanics [of the referendum]," Kaine says. "If we do he process right then the public outcome will be implemented."

Kaine also plans to bring in elected mayors from other cities to speak about how their local governments work. Mayor Wellington Webb of Denver and Kirk Watson of Austin, Texas are two of the chief executives Kaine wants to invite to Richmond.

"I refuse to believe that every other community of this size can have an elected mayor but Richmond cannot work together," Kaine says. "We get to choose our governor, our president. I have a much higher degree of faith in Richmond."

City Manager Calvin Jamison welcomes study of the citywide mayor issue. At present, he says that it is difficult to determine how this would affect the city and his position.

"It would be good to look at other municipalities in Virginia," Jamison says. "You haven't written a referendum and until you evaluate other localities it would be difficult to determine its impact."

[image-1](Chad Hunt / Style Weekly)Former Richmond Mayor Roy West has always favored electing the mayor. During his days in the office he says he felt empty because he did not have a referendum from the voters.With advocates such as Kaine, Wilder and West, Richmond voters will probably see a referendum on the fall 2001 ballot. Given the past popular support for such a measure it is unlikely the voters will say no to the chance to elect their mayor. The final question is, will the Virginia General Assembly approve such a referendum?

Va. State Sen. Stephen H. Martin (R-Chesterfield) sees popular support as one key to Assembly approval.

"It seems that the public wants it and if the Assembly understands that it's more likely to be adopted," Martin says, despite the fact that the referendum had 2-1 voter support in 1995 and was defeated in the General Assembly. "The advocates need to show very strong community support."

But even with popular support, Martin says that the referendum would need the backing of State Senators Henry L. Marsh (D-Richmond) and Benjamin J. Lambert (D-Richmond). Marsh has recently said he would oppose any change to the system.

"It's really going to depend on the [Assembly] leadership in the community," Martin says. "[We have to show] some respect for the [Assembly] representatives in the city."

Lambert is taking a wait-and-see approach. He says that two factors have to be considered before he would vote on a referendum: popular support and the impact that population changes could have on representation for African Americans.

"You really have to take into account what the people in your city want," Lambert says. "I would like to study the [census] figures a little more before I say I'm definitely for or against it."

It's likely that Richmond City Council members will be split on the issue as well. Vice-Mayor Rudolph C. McCollum, 5th District Councilman, opposed the popular election of a mayor in the past and still worries about what the measure might do to black voting power: "I have some concerns about impact on the Voting Rights Act. We need to tread very lightly when it comes to voting implications."

G. Manoli Loupassi, 1st District Councilman, favors a local system that is analogous to our state and federal system. He says, "The founding fathers came up with the idea of the separation of powers. At the state and federal level we have a chief executive. At the local level it makes sense that we have an executive who is answerable to the people."

And 8th District Councilwoman Reva Trammell says she'll back the outcome of any referendum: "If the people are for it, I'm for it."

Bob Holsworth, Director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Public Policy, believes that a thoughtful referendum will pass the General Assembly because it is now a Republican majority and past opponents such as Wilder have decided to back the elected mayor issue. With Wilder's support it will be difficult to make the case that the referendum is an attack on black voting rights.

"It seems hard to believe that Gov. Wilder wants to bring us back to Jim Crow," Holsworth says.

Holsworth also sees a more positive voter perception of Richmond's leadership in 2000. In 1996 Mayor Leonidas Young was perceived to be a power-hungry politician who wanted to seize the office of elected mayor.

"I think there was some added opposition because people did not want to further Young's ambition," Holsworth says.

But despite the calm optimism from supporters, a proposal to change Richmond's method of mayor selection promises a battle that could turn ugly. Can even the most extensive and open public hearings calm the fears of those who know what a struggle it was to get more black people elected to Richmond City Council?

Law sees the "vestiges of 1970" hovering around the proposal. Both Law and Khalfani see a new referendum as the offspring of the annexation maneuver. Khalfani remembers the last fight over the mayor referendum and how it split the black community. He expects that it will do the same this time, but he promises to be ready to crush the referendum. "We'll have to be foot soldiers because we don't have the money that the other side has," Khalfani says. "This will be another war similar to what we faced with [the] Robert E. Lee [mural]. It will be a tough fight."

While it will be painful to go against other African Americans in this struggle, Khalfani says he is willing to do what is necessary to support the cause. In 1995 Rev. Jesse Jackson flew to Richmond to endorse the citywide mayor referendum. This angered members of the local NAACP and they let the celebrated civil rights leader know how they felt.

"We let them know if Jesse Jackson comes back betraying black strength he will have hell to pay," Khalfani says.

Khalfani hopes that Wilder will rethink his position before the battle begins and join forces with the NAACP.

"I count Gov. Wilder as a mentor and an adviser," Khalfani says. "Hopefully once the dialogue starts he'll join our side."

But for Kaine, who recently announced his campaign for lieutenant governor, Khalfani has an ominous warning. To secure the Democratic nomination he will need black votes, and Khalfani wants Kaine to know he will actively oppose any candidate supporting a citywide mayor plan.

"If Tim Kaine runs for statewide office after pushing the Robert E. Lee [mural] and the mayor at large he will pay for what he's doing to our community," Khalfani says. "If we have anything to do with it he will not get a nomination."

Coming Up:
The University of Richmond has announced its schedule for The Jepson Leadership Forum 2000-01 and those interested in the elected-mayor issue may want to check out the March 29, 2001 event. Mayor Jerry Brown and City Manager Robert C. Bobb of Oakland, Calif., will talk about that city's dramatic turnaround. Bobb, who was Richmond's city manager from 1987 to 1998, was instrumental along with Brown in changing Oakland's council-manager system to a strong-mayor government. Governing Magazine has called the Brown-Bobb effort "the most engaging experiment in dislodging a stuck city government by reshuffling executive and political power. … It is an experiment with implications well beyond Oakland."

The event takes place March 29 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jepson Alumni Center. Tickets are free but must be reserved. For ticket information call 289-8980 or go to www.richmond.edu/academics/leadership/forum.

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