After declaring his support for taking down Virginia’s Confederate statues, Gov. Terry McAuliffe seemed to soften his position Thursday by saying fixing Richmond schools should take precedence over removing statues on Monument Avenue.
“If I’m the mayor of Richmond or I’m on the City Council, I’m facing a tough decision,” McAuliffe said Thursday morning during a radio appearance on Richmond’s WRVA. “Do I spend, I don’t know, five, 10 million dollars taking something down. When I got schools. I tell you, my first priority’s got to be schools.”
As the state’s top Democrat, McAuliffe had previously said the state’s Confederate monuments should be left alone. After the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, McAuliffe changed his stance, saying he now feels the statues have become too divisive and should be moved to museums or battlefields.
In an interview with WRVA’s Jimmy Barrett on Thursday, McAuliffe said Richmond has bigger concerns than statues.
“Richmond has to deal with the issue that a lot of folks, young millennials, are here. But when they have children they sort of move out to the neighboring jurisdictions for education,” McAuliffe said. “We’ve got to keep people right here in this beautiful city. And that’s their biggest challenge.”
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a McAuliffe protégé, created a commission this year to study possible changes to Monument Avenue, the stately boulevard built around towering statues of Confederate figures such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. Stoney’s administration originally said the commission would not consider removing statues as an option. In the aftermath of the Charlottesville rally, the mayor said removal is now on the table.
During McAuliffe’s radio appearance, a caller who identified herself as Valerie suggested building more statues, adding context to the Confederate memorials and renaming the street “Progress Avenue.”
“I would agree with Valerie,” McAuliffe said. “Let’s go ahead and put some context to these things and move forward. This is going to be a debate that’s going on for a long time.”
Though most of the statues on Monument Avenue are under city control, the statue of Lee is state-owned. McAuliffe has said he’s considering introducing a bill to the General Assembly to take down the Lee statue. State officials said this week that they have not explored the potential costs of moving the 60-foot statue. A McAuliffe spokesman said the governor’s office has not asked for a cost estimate.