Someone We Respect: Why Rachel Burgess Backs Berry

We asked people whose opinions we respect to tell us why they’re voting for whom they’re voting.

With only hours until the election, the race has narrowed. Many have picked their candidate, but there are many who have still yet to decide.

And it makes sense, we have two good choices in Berry and Stoney. I made up my mind on who I am voting for by thinking about what it will take to effectively address the biggest challenges facing our city, successfully attract young professionals and new businesses, run City Hall, and, in the end, unite all of us together. The answers to these questions lead this 33-year-old Millennial to see the advantages in a 62-year-old Boomer.

1. Effectively address the biggest challenges facing our city

A recent scientific survey conducted by the Chamber confirmed what everyone already knows—the biggest challenges facing our city are poverty, education, reducing crime, economic development, transportation, etc. However, this survey also uncovered something about these challenges that surprised many of us. Across all nine districts, City of Richmond residents want the next Mayor to address all of these major challenges on a regional basis. Across the board nearly 4 in 5 of us said we should be addressing transportation systems, public transit, economic development, poverty, and workforce development as a region. Why? We have all come to realize that these issues now effect all our jurisdictions and that they are just too big to effectively address alone. To be effective, we must act as a region the way we did when we built the convention center, ballpark, RMA, etc.

Berry or Stoney? One of the reasons we don’t effectively work well as a region is that our leaders don’t really know and trust one another like they did two decades ago. Berry knows and has the trust of our regional leaders. As Deputy City Manager and Chief of Staff in Richmond and as the County Manager of Hanover, Berry has spent decades building working and trusted relationships with county leaders. In fact, he mentored many of them. No surprise, Henrico has already offered their support to him in helping fix the Rapids billing system. When Berry calls everyone to the table to work on these most pressing issues, everyone will come.

Stoney’s 15 or so professional years have not been focused on Richmond and on understanding the challenges and building the key trusting relationships needed to address our challenges with regional partners. We don’t have time to wait as trusting, get-it-done relationships take time to build…like decades!

2. Help turn around Richmond Public Schools

In the Chamber study we learned that three quarters of respondents give the school system a grade of C or lower, citing the poor equipment and facilities. It is no question improving schools is one of the number one issues the new mayor needs to address.

The survey said our priorities, when it comes to turning around Richmond public schools, are to 1) work with City Council and the School Board to set clear expectations of funding based on results, 2) create a 5-year predictable source of funding (currently, the budget is created on an annual basis) and 3) identify areas where the School System can save money.

Collaborating with City Council and the School Board will be key in establishing clear funding expectations and developing predictable sources of funding.

Berry or Stoney? Berry already has great experience bringing people together and making things happen. Whether it’s a festival or his work while in Hanover where one of the many things he did was negotiate a long-term water deal with the City. More importantly, while Berry was in Hanover he helped them win approval for the largest school bond referendum in the County’s history. This bond allowed Hanover to build new schools, improve existing schools, and maintain its place as one of the best school systems in the state.

Jack has the experience and ability to bring people together to effectively address this top priority. And as he has the experience to tackle #1 (above) and #4 (below) it will allow for a clear path to focus time and money on improving schools.

3. Successfully attract young professionals and attract new businesses

I study demography for a living. The future will bring us relatively fewer younger people and relatively more older people. Cities are already starting to compete to become hot spots for young professionals. In economic development jargon, they call this new focus “placemaking.”

The new economic development model is to attract the people and the businesses will come—not the other way around.

Berry or Stoney? Berry was among the country’s first economic development leaders who invented placemaking—the festivals, the parks, the events, and even the RVA logo. Stoney has not had the opportunity to work in this placemaking space—to study what and how to attract young people and businesses.

4. Run City Hall Like a business

The City of Richmond municipal government is a big business—a $1 billion business. That’s B, as in Billions of dollars. Running this kind of sizable enterprise requires experience, wisdom, and grit. Grit doesn’t mean cleaning house, but it does mean ensuring that the best people are in a role for which they are qualified and accountable to goals and standards.

Berry or Stoney? Berry was the Deputy City Manager of Richmond. He knows the city’s budget and business of the city better than all of the candidates combined. He ran Hanover County, a $400 million business with 1,000+ employees. How could we possibly expect a 35-year-old with little business experience to run a $1 billion business? I couldn’t do it. None of my friends could.

5. In the end, unite all of us

On November 9, the unprecedented divisiveness of Election 2016 will be behind us. The road ahead will require a leader who can quickly unite disenfranchised communities.

Berry or Stoney? Berry will represent all of us equally. He grew up in Lynchburg where his mom was a civil rights activist and the first white teacher in an all black school and his father worked in city government. It was a regular occurrence for them to have African American families over for dinner—in the 60s in Lynchburg this was a big deal. Berry was the first white board member of the Metropolitan Business league. Berry is someone who knows how to collaborate, who can reach across lines and bring people and even our region together.

Stoney’s youth simply has not given him these kinds of life experiences and relationships to do the same. They will come, but we don’t have time to wait.

6. Berry has the best chance to win

The biggest threat to this election is Joe Morrissey, who as the Times-Dispatch recently detailed, is “a skilled politician who has smothered his own potential under decades of personal and professional misconduct.” He is not the leader we want, need, or deserve.

Berry or Stoney? Unfortunately, we have a system that does not rely on a popular vote to decide who becomes Mayor, the candidate must win 5 of 9 districts. If not, then it goes a runoff between the two candidates with the most votes citywide. A special election will be held December 22, and the candidate who again wins 5 of 9 will become mayor.

In the Chamber poll we see that Jack clearly has the lead in Districts 1, 2 and 4, and a recent survey shows Jack with large margins in the 3rd—with a significant decrease in Joe’s numbers. No polls show Levar winning any districts. The best Levar can do is get us to a runoff. If the large number of undecideds and the former Baliles supporters rally around Berry, especially in the 5th district, then he can win this outright—no runoff necessary.

All of this leads me to Berry. Please know that I have respect for Stoney, but at 35, he is not the man for this hour. There is too much at stake and too much that requires an experienced manager and leader. Someone with a proven track record who we know can make the tough decisions.

Once Berry is elected, he should find a key role for Stoney—to groom him for our future. If Stoney really loves RVA, he’d jump on it and become our Mayor-in-waiting. From what I have heard about Berry, it won’t be a long wait as Berry just wants to get us pointed in the right direction and not make a career (or second career) out of being a career politician.