Thursday, October 27, 2016

Bijou Salon: Levar Stoney

Bijou Salon No. 3 Report

In the Chair: Levar Stoney, mayoral candidate 

Panelists for this session: Chris Dovi, Michael Garrett, Don Harrison, Karen Newton, Reggie Pace, James Parrish, Carrie Stettinius, Gordon Stettinius, Charles Williams, Matt Zoller. 

Host: Terry Rea 

Background: A few weeks ago, during a Facebook discussion about Richmond's nettlesome baseball stadium issue, something interesting occurred. After some messaging back and forth a sit-down meeting with mayoral candidate Jack Berry was arranged. It took place on Oct. 3 in the Bijou Film Center's downtown screening room space. Berry, 62, met with a savvy group of invited citizens for about 90 minutes, to answer questions and discuss various local political issues. Thus the concept of the Bijou Salon was launched. Then, on Oct. 23, Jon Balies, 45, sat in the chair to answer questions and present his vision for Richmond, his home town. 

Oct. 25, 2016: Levar Stoney smiled, rolled up his sleeves and sat down. He seemed to relish the opportunity to present his case to the Bijou Salon panel on hand. As with the Berry and the Baliles sessions, no political beat reporters were invited. No television journalists were invited. No recordings of the confab were allowed. Once again, the conversation went on for about 90 minutes.

Once again, the panel got to ask follow-up questions. The panelists spoke naturally, while sitting around a table, drinking beer (or wine or sodas) and listening. Of course, the candidate did most of the talking.

Stoney spoke frequently of his experience working in Gov. Terry McAuliffe's administration as Sec. of the Commonwealth (2014-16). At 35, Stoney's youth and background in state government help to set him apart from the other two most prominent anti-Morrisseys – Baliles and Berry – who have experience working at and with City Hall.

Stoney asked those listening to him to see his youth and energy as a plus. He pointed at the "system" in City Hall as maybe more of a problem than the personnel. However, when it comes to the task of taking at hard look at some of the entrenched city employees who may have overstayed their welcome, Stoney presented his fresh face in town vantage point as an advantage. He smiled often and confidently.

While criticizing Mayor Dwight Jones for his lackluster performance, in general, Stoney reminded us of how Jones has seemed to an enigmatic presence in recent years. Stoney asserted that he will be a mayor who is accessible and visible.

Of the three candidates who participated in the Bijou Salons, Stoney seemed the least interested in spending taxpayers' money on professional sports. He said he thinks the Redskins will probably leave town sooner than later. He also seemed less convinced than some of his rivals that minor league baseball simply must stay within the confines of the city limits, no matter what.

Concerning the admissions tax issue, Stoney seemed happy enough to see it phased out. Whether he would provide leadership in that area wasn't clear. However, on this topic neither Stoney nor Berry showed the depth of understanding that Baliles revealed.

Indeed, this particular issue flies under the radar for most Richmonders, who have no sense of how that seven percent grab, which the city takes off the top of the price of every ticket sold in Richmond, hobbles show biz to limit our entertainment options (click and scroll down to read an OpEd penned by yours truly). A forward looking city government should take a hard look at what eliminating that tax has done to create entertainment scenes in Austin and Nashville.

In summing up, after three sessions it's obvious that our relaxed atmosphere format allowed for more complete answers than a typical candidates-on-stage forum provides. It seemed the attendees enjoyed the conversation. So much so, in each case some folks lingered to talk about what they had heard and ask one another about their views of this year's fascinating mayoral race.

My thanks go out to the three candidates who took a chance. All three guys came in without handlers. All three appeared to appreciate the opportunity to have a beer and explain their views. Fortunately, we didn't hear all that much canned, sound bite talk. The trio gave me more to think about, as I decide which mayoral candidate will get my vote.

And, my thanks also go out to the panelists for the three sessions. They were: Chris Dovi, Lillie Estes, Barry Fitzgerald, Sasha Waters Freyer, Betty Garrett, Michael Garrett, Don Harrison, Katey Knox, Enjoli Moon, Karen Newton, Reggie Pace, James Parrish, Billy Rice, Markus Schmidt, Nicki Stein, Carrie Stettinius, Gordon Stettinius, Charles Williams, Matt Zoller.

After three "strong mayor" terms (of four years each) that have been disappointing, Richmond needs to finally elect a mayor who can make the strong mayor system work. We need a full-time mayor who can foster the regional cooperation that's vital to solving metro problems. An energetic mayor who can cure the morale problem at City Hall. A mayor who wants to listen to a fair range of voices representing the whole community.

The presumed front-runner Joe Morrissey is clearly the most polarizing of the four candidates who, at this writing, seem to have a chance of winning. Or at least finishing in the top two, to qualify to be in the run-off in December. In the last days before election day, Nov. 8, many of Richmond's voters may still be undecided about the mayoral contest. Maybe this piece will help.

To close: On November 8 please remember to do you duty as a citizen and vote. After that, stay tuned for more news about future Bijou Salons.

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