In his April 22 column, Jeff Schapiro, a recent inductee into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame, discussed Richmond’s 2016 mayoral election. For the first time since it moved to a popularly elected mayor, the city anticipates a campaign without a clear favorite.
Douglas Wilder won the 2004 race, as everyone knew he would. The impetus for the reform came from one of Wilder’s regular columns for this newspaper. When voters endorsed Wilder’s mayoral change, the former Virginia governor became the inevitable pick for City Hall. His tenure proved provocative.
Wilder retired after one term. Dwight Jones soon emerged as the leading candidate to succeed him. Jones did not score a landslide but won with relative ease. He cruised to re-election in 2012.
Next year’s campaign has an open field. Schapiro identified Jonathan Baliles (who serves on the City Council), Jeff Bourne (who serves on the School Board) and Levar Stoney (a Democratic insider who serves as secretary of the commonwealth). None enjoys a commanding edge. Voters might see genuine competition.
Richmond is Richmond, so of course its mayoral process is not straightforward. Mayors are elected by popular votes, not by council members as they previously were, but victory does not necessarily go to the candidate with the most votes. To win the mayorship, a candidate must carry at least five of the city’s councilmanic districts. This is Richmond’s version of the Electoral College. The city’s first three elections under the clumsy system lacked controversy. The fourth could be different.