He offered the city of Richmond's first formal apology for slavery, had a hand in selecting Monument Avenue for the Arthur Ashe statue, and was called to respond when an outdoor portrait of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was firebombed downtown.

As he got his start in Richmond politics as a councilman and mayor in the 1990s - a time when racial divisions in the city were both real and apparent - Tim Kaine earned a reputation as a bridge-builder. 

"He was way ahead of most white leaders, even so-called progressive mayors," said John Moeser, a longtime local political observer and an urbanologist at the University of Richmond Bonner Center for Civic Engagement.

"If there’s one thing that is most important as part of his moral gyroscope, it's racial justice."

Kaine, who would go on to serve as lieutenant governor, governor and a U.S. senator, described getting his start in politics in Richmond during his first appearance Saturday as Hillary Clinton's pick for vice president.

"I started at the local level listening to people, learning about their lives, and trying to find consensus to solve problems," Kaine said, adding that he decided to run for office after he began attending City Council meetings and became frustrated with the division and infighting.

The first reference in the Richmond Times-Dispatch archives to Kaine’s participation in a council meeting came in 1987, when he spoke to advocate for a proposed homeless shelter in Jackson Ward. 

The council members were considering a resolution signaling their opposition to the shelter, citing concerns that it would harm the neighborhood’s ongoing attempts at revitalization.

Kaine at the time was serving as the chairman of the board of Freedom House, a homeless service organization that shut down in 2013. He urged the council members to reconsider and said “the community has a responsibility to provide shelter for its poor.”

Council members ignored Kaine. They passed the resolution unanimously and essentially torpedoed the Freedom House plan.

In the following years, Kaine appeared in the news sporadically - primarily related to his work as a civil rights lawyer. But he didn’t show up in the context of local politics again until he announced his 1994 run for City Council in the city’s 2nd District, representing the Fan District and parts of North Side.

Marty Jewell, a former councilman and then head of the Richmond Crusade for Voters, said Kaine was not a well-known figure when he ran, but the group decided to endorse him because they liked his stances on the issues. The crusade, still in existence, then was a major force in local politics.

"I can tell you it was a lot worse than it is now for African-Americans, and we set out to change a number of council members," Jewell said.


Kaine’s platform in 1994 was not dissimilar from the current local campaigns: He focused primarily on the quality of schools and the failure of the city’s elected officials to address the issues adequately.

He also cited crime and regional cooperation as key and said he wouldn’t rule out consolidating local governments.

As he noted Saturday, he won in what he called the first of several “squeakers” - a 94-vote victory over incumbent Councilman Benjamin P.A. Warthen, who questioned how long Kaine lived in the district and accused him of wanting to pump more city money into the now-defunct 6th Street Marketplace, an ill-fated downtown shopping mall that still is an oft-cited example of poor investments by the city.

Instead, as a councilman, Kaine got local neighborhood watch programs cellphones to make it easier for them to report crimes; studied government efficiency in Richmond compared with other localities; and advocated for the city’s elections to be moved from May to November, to increase turnout.

Kaine's early years were not entirely without turbulence. At one point, he drew ire from homeless advocates with whom he previously worked when he drafted an ordinance to crack down on aggressive panhandling. Kaine ultimately toned down the law but still saw strong opposition.

It was a minor blip, and Viola Baskerville, who was elected to the council alongside Kaine and later went on to serve in the General Assembly and as CEO of the Girl Scouts in Virginia, credited Kaine with "really biting his teeth into government at the local level."

She said the resurgence the city currently is experiencing has its roots in the policies Kaine and his fellow council members began pursuing in the 1990s.

"Those things are starting to come to fruition now," she said. "It was the basic roll-up-your-sleeves and get-things-done approach."

The city manager at the time, Robert Bobb, said Kaine immediately stood out on the council as a steady presence who looked beyond the interests of his own ward in his work.

"He seemed to be the one person among members of City Council at the time who would push a vision for how to make the city of Richmond a better place," Bobb said.

"Although he had a ward constituency, he understood quickly the broader issues that were at stake in making the city a great place.


Kaine became mayor in 1998 after his election to a third, two-year term on the council.

At the time, the mayor largely served in a ceremonial role and was elected by council members from among their ranks, though Kaine later would be credited with bringing new levels of authority and power to the position. 

Chosen on an 8-1 vote, Kaine was the second white mayor since 1977, when a court order created the current ward system and blacks became a majority on the council.

The lone dissenter, then-Councilman Sa’ad El-Amin, said he opposed Kaine because he believed the city needed an African-American mayor.

Bobb said Kaine's selection by a majority-black council was a testament to his capacity to "to bridge the gap between the African-American community and the larger community and work to develop partnerships not only among races but a vision for the city. ... I think the honor that one gets (for that) is being elected mayor from among members of the City Council."

In a speech accepting the role, Kaine lamented the chasm between the city's haves and have-nots, who he said languish in unsafe neighborhoods and crumbling schools.

"Can we really say we believe in equality when that is happening so close to us?" he asked.

Kaine led the city through a number of local controversies surrounding race and Confederate imagery. He served as a member of the committee that selected Monument Avenue for the Arthur Ashe statue, a decision meant to expand the street beyond monuments to Confederate leaders that was strongly opposed by Confederate heritage groups.

Several months after he became mayor, a controversial portrait of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee hung downtown on the city’s floodwall was hit with a Molotov cocktail. The portrait was part of a larger display on the city's history.

Kaine called the vandals “punks” and “losers,” and he supported replacing the portrait. "Much of our history is not pleasant," he said. "You can't whitewash it."

Early in his term, he offered an official apology on behalf of the city for slavery. Moeser, the urbanologist at UR, said the action stood out as significant.

"I just remember when he said that, that I was very proud of Richmond," he said. "It should have been said long before Tim, but he did it."

Otherwise, Kaine focused on city schools, where he sent his three children.

Early in his tenure, he asked “people to do one thing to commit to the city ... send your kids to public schools.”

As his term wound down, he cited among his accomplishments the construction of five new schools, along with the city’s growing population, the rehabilitation of Main Street Station, and the expansion of the downtown convention center.

Kaine's seven years at City Hall concluded with a farewell ceremony in September 2001, as he prepared for his ultimately successful run for lieutenant governor.

According to news reports from the time, the council chambers were packed, with onlookers waving signs thanking Kaine for his service to the city and wishing him well going forward.

"I think there was a lot of pride," Moeser said, "because I think that when he was on City Council, I always felt some kind of destiny for Tim Kaine, and I think that others did as well - that he would go well beyond the city."