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Protests Affect Mayoral Race, Unite the Right Anniversary, and the Special Session: Political Analysis for Friday, August 14, 2020

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

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis.  Topics include continued violence in Richmond protests impacting the mayoral race, the anniversary of the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally coinciding with Kamala Harris, a woman of color, being named as Biden’s running mate, and the return of Virginia legislators next week for a special session.

Craig Carper:  From VPM news in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper.  Joining me now is Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist, Jeff Schapiro.  Jeff, good morning.

Jeff Schapiro:  Good to see you again, Craig.

Carper:  You, as well.  Jeff, another violent burst of demonstrations in Richmond this week.  It's jump-starting tensions between protesters and police, as well as sharpening the focus of the fast-approaching election for mayor in which an embattled incumbent, Levar Stoney, faces a crowded field.

Schapiro:  These are not the conditions under which Levar Stoney was expecting to stand for a second term.  And when things looked as if they might be quieting down after months, days of demonstrations, all the result of the George Floyd killing in the custody of Minneapolis police, we have another wave of violent demonstrations.  Tuesday night small, but purposeful demonstrations, for sure, in terms of the level of destruction.  Any number of windows at the courts building shattered, a number of office buildings, bank headquarters hit.  The mayor says this is all the result of a violent, hostile group.  And it's rooted in kind of a solidarity with what was going on in Chicago earlier in the week.  But you know, this has Richmonders, you know, wondering when will this end.  And back to the original point, Levar Stoney.  He wanted to be running on, you know, schools being built and maybe a big construction project downtown, you know, Navy Hill, which didn't go anywhere.   Now he's got to answer for street demonstrations, Confederate monuments being pulled down, a certain measure of perceived lawlessness, at least in the eyes of protesters and even residents, by the police.  And this, again, this latest wave only contributing to the unease and bringing into very sharp focus this election in which I think Kim Gray of City Council hopes this is pretty much a two-person race, herself and the mayor.  But of course, there are other candidates, among them Alexsis Rodgers and Justin Griffin, then a fifth candidate, as well.  One wonders, you know, is it something that could push a high turnout mayoral election concurrent with a high turnout presidential election, perhaps into a low turnout runoff just before Christmas.

Carper:  And Jeff, this week Virginia observed the third anniversary of the violent Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville at which a counter-protestor was killed, and two state police pilots monitoring events died when their helicopter went down.  The anniversary falls on the same day Kamala Harris, the first woman of color on a national ticket, made her first appearance as Joe Biden's running mate for vice president.

Schapiro:  Certainly nationally, this juxtaposition of events is something that's generated a good deal of conversation.  Senator Harris, a woman of color, joining Biden for that rollout in Wilmington on the same day as the anniversary of the Charlottesville disturbances.  But also sort of interesting aftershocks here in Virginia with the Biden selection of Senator Harris, there are two women of color standing for the Democratic nomination for governor, Jennifer Carroll Foy, a delegate from Prince William County, and Senator Jennifer McClellan, a senator and former delegate, as well, from the Richmond area.  All of this has a lot of people wondering, you know, even in a gubernatorial primary, presumed gubernatorial primary on the Democratic side in which Terry McAuliffe is seeking his old job, you know, is it time for a change?  Will there be, you know, more of a hue and cry for Democrats to advance a new and different face, and might that be a woman?

Carper:  And legislators return to Richmond on Tuesday for a special session to balance a budget ravaged by COVID-19 and take the first steps toward police reform.  Democrats have yet to coalesce around a single plan, and Republicans are depicting the new majority as contributing to lawlessness.

Schapiro:  House Democrats rolled out to their plans this week, Senate Democrats, theirs last week.  There is some similarity, but there are some steps that are maybe a step too far in the view of some Democrats.  For example, Senate Democrats, and I think we've talked about this in previous weeks, would like to “defelonize” assault on a police officer.  This has been the law since 1997.  Maybe over on the House side, there's some skittishness on this.  Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that in 2021 there's going to be an election for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and the House of Delegates.  Democrats know they have to defend that majority.  The Republicans have been focusing on several events, including the release of a cop killer from state custody by the Parole Board.  This chap was eligible for release because he was sentenced before parole, in effect, was abolished in 1995.  But that, combined with what's been going on in the streets, particularly in the city of Richmond, has the out-of-power Republicans, you know, wondering, you know, can the Democrats be trusted with our safety?  There is something Trump-like about this, though one does not hear Republicans invoke the name of the president, given his unpopularity in Virginia.  We're even seeing Republicans rolling out video ads, trying to call attention to what's going on with the Parole Board or not, trying to generate public interest and pressure on the governor to fire his Parole Board.  This has also been an opportunity for the Republicans to spotlight some of their prospective candidates for 2021, including while you were away, Kirk Cox, the former speaker, who's got a birthday coming up on Monday.  A good deal of the conversation on the Republican side on this law-and-order push is being led by Cox.

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

Schapiro:  Stay safe.