Richmond mayoral candidates traded jabs over the economic development deal that brought Stone Brewing Co. to the city during a town hall at Fourth Baptist Church on Tuesday.
Former Del. Joseph D. Morrissey kicked things off, criticizing former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney for the governor’s support of the deal.
“Levar, I really love you, my friend, but you supported along with the governor putting $33 million into a brewery and not schools,” Morrissey said, drawing a rowdy and supportive response from the crowd.
Stoney responded by defending the deal, saying it brought jobs and economic revitalization to a long-struggling neighborhood.
“You ask the folks in Fulton what that has done for their community,” he said, adding that the funding incentivizes big businesses to come to the state and “give people jobs that raise them out of poverty.”
Stoney won his own appreciative reaction from the crowd, which grew louder when he went on to criticize Morrissey for not doing more as a delegate to increase school funding from the state.
“Now, you were a member of the General Assembly for many, many years,” Stoney said. “I didn’t see an act by you to ensure that Richmond got its fair share for public schools. ... So it’s great for you to come into a church now and find religion, but I didn’t see those actions years ago.”
City Council President Michelle R. Mosby also defended the Stone deal, calling Morrissey’s description of it taking $33 million from schools misleading. Instead, she compared it to taking a mortgage for a house.
“If you all have ever purchased a house, you know they haven’t given you a house,” she said. “It’s a house that you’re paying a mortgage on, and that’s what Stone Brewing does.”
Mosby added that Stone generates tax revenue as well, which she said can go to addressing the city’s school funding problem.
The Stone deal is complex: Richmond agreed to finance and oversee the construction of Stone’s brewery and a companion destination restaurant at a cost of $33 million, financed through general obligation bonds issued by the city last year. On top of that, the city agreed to provide Stone with about $2 million in grants and performance incentives.
But city officials have stressed that the money provided through bonds didn’t take away from what’s available for schools or other city services. That’s because the bonds are backed by a revenue source — Stone’s lease payments — and as such do not count against the city’s nearly maxed-out debt capacity.
Aside from the flare-up over Stone, the forum was largely genial and plodding, retreading common themes from the campaign trail.
Councilman Jonathan T. Baliles touted his work to block Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ Shockoe Bottom stadium proposal and his experience working as a city employee, as a councilman, and in the administration of then-Mayor L. Douglas Wilder.
Jack Berry described his work directing Venture Richmond, responsible for the RVA marketing campaign and the Richmond Folk Festival, as well as his work as a high-level government employee in Richmond and Hanover County.
Former Councilman Bruce W. Tyler talked about his fiscal oversight during his time on the City Council, saying on multiple occasions that the city’s budgetary situation has deteriorated since he departed.
Architect Lawrence Williams promoted himself as a native son of Richmond and a public schools graduate who went on to graduate from Harvard University and own and operate his own architecture firm.
An eighth candidate, retired real estate consultant Bobby “BJ” Junes, attended but did not participate. He said he did not hear about the forum until a reporter mentioned it to him Tuesday afternoon and came in hopes he could participate but was turned down.
He was unfazed.
“There will be plenty of other events,” he said.