Richmond Councilwoman Kimberly Gray is running for mayor.

Two people with direct knowledge of Gray’s intentions confirmed she will challenge Mayor Levar Stoney in November, setting up a clash that many observers of city politics have anticipated.

Gray has been Stoney’s most vocal critic on the City Council during the past three years, opposing his bids to increase the city’s meals and real estate tax rates. Earlier this month, she led a coalition of council members who opposed, and ultimately killed, Stoney’s signature project: the $1.5 billion Navy Hill proposal to replace the Richmond Coliseum.

During her term on the council, Gray spearheaded an effort to rename the Boulevard as Arthur Ashe Boulevard in honor of the tennis legend who was a native of Richmond. More recently, she helped organize an effort that aims to bring a new statue to Monument Avenue that would honor black soldiers who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Gray, 49, is a Richmond native. She was a Richmond School Board member from 2009 through 2016 and won the 2nd District seat on the nine-member City Council that year.

Gray’s candidacy may pose the biggest threat to Stoney winning re-election, said Bob Holsworth, a veteran observer of city politics.

“My sense is that she has an unusually strong record as a council person,” Holsworth said. “I think it’s very difficult for individual council people to become as prominent as she has in as short a period of time. … That she has developed this level of prominence I think is a testimony to her political skill.”

Stoney will still have an advantage as the incumbent come November, Holsworth said.

“He knows how to raise money. He has a significant degree of charisma. He is an extraordinarily effective campaigner, and he’s not going to be easily defeated. But if anyone has that capacity right now in Richmond, it’s Kim Gray.”

Stoney said at the end of last year that he would seek a second four-year term as Richmond’s mayor, though he also left the door open for a potential run for statewide office in 2021.

“I’m sure we’re going to have a full, spirited debate,” Stoney said when asked about Gray’s candidacy at a news conference he convened Tuesday about an upgrade to the city’s bond rating. “When the debate this fall occurs, we will be prepared. But there is a time and place for that; today is about the upgrade from Moody’s.”

A poll conducted by Jacksonville, Fla.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy before the councilwoman announced her candidacy shows a one-on-one contest between Gray and Stoney could be close.

The firm surveyed 625 registered voters by phone in the city during a three-day period in January. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. One question asked:

“One potential challenger is Second District Councilwoman Kim Gray, best known for her opposition to the Coliseum project, her work on the School Board and getting the legislation creating the Arthur Ashe Boulevard passed by City Council. If the 2020 election for mayor were held today, for whom would you vote if the candidates were Levar Stoney and Kim Gray?”

In response, 39% of respondents said they’d vote for Gray, and 37% said they’d vote for Stoney. About a quarter said they were undecided.

The question appears aimed at testing messaging that could benefit Gray’s candidacy, said Quentin Kidd, dean of the Christopher Newport University College of Social Sciences and director of its Wason Center for Public Policy.

“Candidates hire polling firms all the time to test out their best-case scenario. It doesn’t make the poll bad or somehow wrong. It’s just important to note that’s what the poll is intended to do.”

Paul Goldman, a former head of the Virginia Democratic Party and persistent critic of Stoney’s, said he paid to conduct the poll and provided a copy of it to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

A public announcement of Gray’s candidacy is planned in the coming weeks, a source close to Gray said. To make the November ballot, Gray must gather 500 signatures from registered voters, including at least 50 from each of the nine council districts, by a June deadline.

An aide to Gray said Gray was ill and could not speak with a reporter Tuesday.

mrobinson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6734

Twitter: @__MarkRobinson

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