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Statue Removal, Police Reform, and a New Contender in Richmond's Mayoral Election: Political Analysis for Friday, June 12, 2020

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone between the two.

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include the removal of statues during protests in the state, the debate over police reform and rebuilding the state budget, and Alexsis Rodgers joins the electoral contest for Mayor of Richmond.

Craig Carper:  From VPM news in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper.  Joining me now from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is political columnist and VPM’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro.  Jeff, good morning.

Jeff Schapiro:  Good to see you again, Craig.

Carper:  As always.  Jeff, street demonstrations continue across Virginia.  They've been going for nearly two weeks now.  This is, of course, in response to George Floyd's death in police custody.  Virginia protesters are talking up police reform and racial equity by pulling down statues of Confederate figures and others in Richmond and Portsmouth.

Schapiro:  Yes, and I believe this has been keeping you up at night, Craig.  Yes, three statues have been pulled down in Richmond - a General Wickham, a Christopher Columbus, and a Jefferson Davis.  We have seen, and in Portsmouth too, a somewhat standard brand Confederate monument, it was toppled as well.  And there were apparently injuries in that episode on Wednesday evening in downtown Portsmouth.  There is, as well, a fight going on in Richmond Circuit Court over Governor Northam's order to remove the likeness of Lee from Monument Avenue.  This is emerging now as a trusts and estates issue.  Descendants of the family that gave the property on which Lee stands to the state say the state has a legal responsibility to preserve the statute in perpetuity where it stands.  The governor argues that he has the authority to do so.  Nonetheless, a circuit judge in Richmond by the name of Brad Cavedo has stopped the governor through court order for 10 days from taking any steps.  That's the legal story, but back to the toppling of these statues and what it means.  It certainly illustrates several things – one, a continuing enthusiasm, if not outright anger over what happened in Minneapolis and what this signifies in terms of continuing inequity, in terms of continuing questions about police authority and police tactics.  And what we are seeing in the streets of Richmond, much like in other cities, is a much younger crowd, signifying the generational shift that is taking place, as well as a diverse crowd.

Carper:  And the legislature's new Democratic majority expects to take up police reform when it returns this summer, likely in August, to repair a state budget ravaged by COVID-19.

Schapiro:  Yes, we've heard from the Democratic leadership of the House of Delegates and the leadership staff in the Virginia Senate that Democrats are anticipating taking some steps when the legislature returns this summer, as you point out, primarily to do something about this COVID ravaged budget.  We're not hearing anything at this point in terms of specific recommendations.  For example, will the Democrats push for prohibition on these various choke holds that one has been hearing a great deal about, and which apparently cost Mr. Floyd his life two weeks ago?   The Republicans are jumping on this immediately.  We've heard statements from the Republican leadership that this is nothing more than an attempt to defund police agencies around the state.  The governor has indicated that he opposes defunding.  He doesn't necessarily oppose reforms in police tactics and new controls, but the Republicans counter that the governor is merely engaging in some type of a word game.

Carper:  And the Northam administration is rolling out plans for reopening elementary and high schools, public and private, as well as colleges and universities, all of which closed earlier because of the pandemic.

Schapiro:  And the elementary and middle and high schools would have to subscribe to some fairly strict standards about social distancing, about masks.  The level of control for K-12 is going to be much stricter.  The universities have to develop plans that meet certain standards.  The administration only talked about that on Thursday, so we'll be looking for details from the colleges and universities.  Of course, this applies to public education as well as private education.  Just a footnote on the forthcoming legislative session - the Northam administration indicated this week that the hit on the budget attributed to the pandemic looks like about $800 million.  That's a little bit less than the billion that had been anticipated in March, but of course, we're seeing continuing reversals on the stock market.  There’s a lot of alarm about possible spikes that could have an economic consequence as well.

Carper:  And the activism attributed to George Floyd's death is propelling another candidate into the Richmond mayoral contest, which is shaping up as a referendum on the incumbent mayor, Levar Stoney, who's having to answer for street violence, police aggression, and vandalism.

Schapiro:  This was not the reelection campaign that Levar Stoney was anticipating.  He had enough for which to answer, his critics would say, with that big play on Navy Hill, a property tax increase that didn’t go anywhere.  And then there seems to be this notion that instead of a second term, Levar Stoney is really looking for a second chance.  But to your question, we have now another candidate, Alexsis Rodgers, a young Democrat, who is a veteran organizer, at one point worked for Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam.  And she decided only at the last minute, largely in response to what we have been seeing in the streets because of the Floyd death, to make this run.  She has to submit petitions, and she's having little difficulty coming up with the requisite 500 signatures, or so.  She has another couple of weeks, but she is now well north of 2,400 signatures.  She seems to have raised a bit of money, as well, and the appeal of her candidacy seems to be largely generational.  This crowded field is going to complicate the mayoral election, because as you know, it has that mini-Electoral College.  For anyone to actually win the mayoralty, he or she has to win five of nine wards in the city.

Carper:  Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, we will catch up again next week.

Schapiro:  Stay safe.