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Opinion: Maybe It's Time Chesterfield Elected Its Own Mayor



Richmond’s new mayor, Levar Stoney, has been all over the place since taking the oath of office Dec. 31. Schools, City Hall, basketball games, Twitter. He even officiated a wedding. A weekend of inaugural events starts Friday.

Watching from Chesterfield County, I realize: We need a mayor. Here we are, 327,745 county residents of the metro region, and we have only a five-member Board of Supervisors and a county administrator.

Some of us are suffering from mayor envy. Richmond has 214,114 residents — more than 100,000 fewer than we do. Yet they get a mayor.

In Chesterfield, hardly anyone even wants to run for the Board of Supervisors. Last year, there were eight candidates for five seats. Just one was challenged. As for the School Board? Seven candidates for five seats. No challengers and two open seats.

It’s a different story in Richmond, where nine people ran for mayor, 28 for nine seats on City Council and 21 for the nine-member Richmond School Board. By November, there were still seven for mayor, and finally, six.

So what is it about Richmond? Everyone wanted to be mayor! If they didn’t want to be mayor, they wanted to be elected to something.

Getting a peek at a supervisor or School Board candidate wasn’t easy in Chesterfield. There was only one public forum each for the supervisor and school board elections. The Chamber RVA and the Chesterfield County Council PTA sponsored a forum for the five candidates running for three of the five school board districts. Non-challenged incumbents weren’t invited. Why bother?

For the six Board of Supervisor candidates running in the three contested districts, Chamber RVA and the Chesterfield County Chamber of Commerce sponsored a forum.

That was it.

Richmond’s mayoral candidates had 29 forums starting in June. One was televised, a packed audience watching.

News coverage? In The Richmond Times-Dispatch, an entire commentary section was devoted to a Public Square event about the mayor’s race. The candidates gave very, very long answers that were unedited, answering questions about, of course, city schools, the ballpark, Redskins Training Camp and potholes.

What about our Chesterfield potholes? Yes, I know, we’re under the state Department of Transportation. But we have potholes and we didn’t get to ask about them.

Newspapers devoted reams to the city races. Pages of pictures and write-ups about each city candidate. Outlets didn’t cover all 29 forums, but a headline on a story about the final one read, “breaks little new ground.” After 29, how could it?

If we had a Chesterfield mayor maybe we’d get some attention. And maybe Chesterfield folks would decide that they, too, would like to run for office.

During the Richmond campaign, Style published a cover story on the cultural pursuits of the candidates for mayor. We learned that Jonathan Baliles, like most third-graders, played the recorder “because I had to.” Michelle Mosby “sings a little bit” and likes to hear people sing. The winning candidate, Levar Stoney, must have been in a high-school play because he listed “drama in high school.”

Well, darn, Leslie Haley is my supervisor and I don’t know if she can play the recorder or anything else. Can she sing? I don’t know.

Chesterfield is about to get a first-ever Center for the Arts and we in Chesterfield don’t know if any of our supervisors sing, play the recorder or even, like Richmond mayoral candidate Jack Berry, ever built a kayak.

We had no Public Square. Minimal forums meant minimal news coverage.

In Chesterfield, ballots were short — the choices were presidential candidates, selecting a congressman and the voting on two constitutional amendments. Yet, at many precincts the lines were very long — a wait of an hour or more. That gave me a chance to hand sample ballots to voters. Many of them didn’t know they’d be voting on anything more than a president.

See, in Chesterfield, without a mayoral election, people just weren’t paying much attention. They knew — and who could escape it — that we were electing a president.  Period.

Chesterfield, we’re bigger than Richmond. We’re richer. We have a lot more taxpayers. But we have only five people running our show. And we don’t know much about them or about the School Board.

What’s worse, we’ve never had a transition team. Richmond’s new mayor-elect has invited 41 illustrious, well-known Richmonders to give him guidance and advice.

Actually, they’re not all from Richmond. Jay Stegmaier, our recently retired county administrator, is to be one of the mayor’s advisers. Maybe Stegmaier can advise on how you can run a much bigger government than Richmond’s without much government. Stegmaier may be Stoney’s most valuable adviser!

Getting our own mayor isn’t far-fetched. Counties may become cities. In the Code of Virginia, 15.2-39-00, labeled Transition Authorized it reads: “Any county in this Commonwealth may become an independent city by complying with the regulations and procedures set forth in this chapter.”

There is hope or, if not, how about more supervisors? Now they represent nearly as many residents as do House of Delegates members. S

Former reporter Nancy Finch has been a resident of Chesterfield County since 1965. She is former chairwoman of the Chesterfield Business Council and Chesterfield Citizens for Responsible Government. She was also a board member of the Chesterfield County Cultural Arts Foundation.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.