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Will Council Majority Shift?

"It was one of the most politically divisive times in Richmond's history," says John Moeser, professor of urban politics at Virginia Commonwealth University. "That black majority came about as the result of a great struggle. Should the council shift in its majority it would not come without great anguish in the African-American community."

Still, Moeser is quick to point out how far the city has come in closing the racial divide.

The issue of race has dimmed, says Commonwealth's Attorney David Hicks, especially on Richmond's cultural horizon. Critics of the elected-Mayor plan argue it will dilute the black vote. But it's also become "our partisanship" in City Council elections, he says.

Ray Boone, editor of the black-oriented Richmond Free Press, takes it a step further. "I don't like to speculate on something as drastic as that," he says of a white-majority Council being elected. But if it were to happen, he says, "a lot of hard-won gains would be lost."

For City Council to shift from a black to a white majority certain variables would have to align. Consider the setup:

In the 1st District, Councilman Manoli Loupassi, who is white, is unopposed.

Both 2nd District candidates, Councilman William J."Bill" Pantele and challenger Thomas Benedetti, are white.

Councilman W.R. "Bill" Johnson, of the 3rd District, is black. Although he is the incumbent, he's previously won his district by a slim margin of votes. Challenger Chris A. Hilbert is white.

All three candidates — Kathy C. Graziano, Gregory L. Layton and Jerry E. Miller — seeking to replace former Councilman Pete Grimm in the 4th District are white.

Mayor Rudolph C. McCollum Jr. is running for elected mayor and not his former council seat, so the 5th District has no incumbent. Candidate Mark E. Brandon, who is white, is well-connected in the business and arts communities and is challenging the ubiquitous E. Martin "Marty" Jewell, who is black.

Richmond's East End is a surety for black seats. Both incumbents in the 6th and 7th districts — Ellen F. Robertson and Delores L. McQuinn — and their opponents are black.

In the 8th District, former Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, who is white, is looking to unseat Councilwoman J. M. "Jackie" Jackson, who is black. While Jackson appears to have the ear and support of City Hall, Trammell may have a majority of its taxpayers.

Lastly, there is an open seat in the 9th District, vacated by Gwen C. Hedgepeth. Douglas G. Connor Jr. and Larry O'Neal Hucks, who are each white, are running against School Board member Eugene A. Mason Jr., who is black. Forecasters say Connor's working-class roots and longtime presence as a business owner on Hull Street lend him an edge.

That means if two contests with white and black candidates are won by white candidates, then five of the nine districts will have white councilmen and result in a majority white council.

Hicks predicts "three-to-five" odds that a white majority will win.

VCU's Moeser counters: "My view is the African-American majority will remain."

But both agree that if the elected mayor is black, he would more than overcome any majority or coalition in city government that aims to wield power. — Brandon Walters

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