Political candidates can speak in platitudes and rehashed Michelle Obama sound bites all they want, but I don’t vote based on who loves our country the most. I vote based on who I like.
With that in mind, I decide to find out if Richmond mayoral candidate Levar Stoney is the proverbial guy you’d like to have a beer with. And what better way to do it than by having a beer with him. Or three, but who’s counting?
There’s some history here. In another life I was in my 20s and a bartender at Cha Cha’s Cantina. Stoney, also a 20-something at the time, was one of my patrons. Those nights are blurry, so I can’t tell you some wild story about Stoney being shirtless on the bar. But I would, if it had happened.
There also was a stint shortly before then when I bartended for another mayoral candidate, Joe Morrissey, at Havana ’59. But again, that was a hazy period in my life.
I suggest to Stoney that we meet for drinks at Star-Lite in the Fan because it’s near my house and people mind their own business there. I could be interviewing Bill Clinton in the back booth and Beau Beau the bartender wouldn’t even blink.
Stoney’s spokesman, Matt Corridoni, arrives first, followed by Stoney who says he’s running behind because he’s been knocking on doors on the North Side. I should mention that it’s 94 degrees outside.
You’ve probably seen reports that Stoney’s fundraising is outpacing everyone — by a lot. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, he’s raised $416,699. The next closest is Venture Richmond’s former chief executive, Jack Berry, at $210,804. City Councilman Jon Baliles and former delegate Morrissey are pacing in the 70s.
You can probably attribute some of this haul to Stoney’s close association with Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Stoney was the secretary of the commonwealth under McAuliffe until April 15, when he resigned to run for mayor.
Before winning the governorship, McAuliffe was the longtime No. 1 moneyman for the Democratic Party. His ability to raise a lot of cash is legendary, and clearly Stoney learned a few things — and met a few of the right people .
But do you really need this much money to win an election that, in 2012, only 91,649 people voted in? Isn’t waste what we’re trying to eradicate when it comes to city spending?
“People are busy,” Stoney says, over a Hardywood Singel. “We have to find ways to break through the noise. Knocking on doors. Dominating social media. Taking our message to the mailboxes. Dominating whether or not we use radio or TV. You have to dominate every medium possible.”
Dominance seems to be a theme. I suppress the urge to make a 50 Shades of Stoney joke.
“Every dollar will be used to get people to vote,” he says. “What I’ve done fundraising for this campaign, I plan on doing as our next leader. I’m the only guy who can go outside the city and bring back dollars.”
Raising money is one thing, but the main issue that Stoney has on his mind is poverty, and he seems to be basing his campaign around it. He says the biggest problem Richmond faces is “confidence in our public schools, which is related to poverty.”
“The No. 1 thing the mayor can do is improve the quality of life of a child in the city,” he says. “We need to start getting back to the message that our children matter.”
The guy knows what people want to hear.
As for the security detail expenditures that Mayor Dwight Jones racked up, Stoney says he won’t have security: “I feel safe walking around this city, no matter what neighborhood I’m in. I see no need for it.”
He does quietly mention that he might have a driver. But again, this is the stuff people want to hear.
Asked about a perception that he’s a career politician using Richmond as a stepping stone for higher office, he says: “My focus when elected is RVA, 24/7, 365 days a year. I don’t plan to ride off into the sunset.”
Which of his mayoral campaign competitors does he consider the most viable threat? He deftly sidesteps the question. “When you spend any time focusing what your opponents are doing,” he says, “you’re off your game.”
Damn it. Why couldn’t he have just said Morrissey and made this easy on me?
Finish the sentence, Donald Trump is a ...? He replies, “divider.”
He’s too polished to slip up.
Finally, in an attempt to be funny or maybe just confuse him, I look him in the eye and seriously ask, “Levar, who will cut the grass?”
He returns my stare and says in an almost Terminator-like voice, “Jack, I will cut the grass.”
What can I say? He’s good. The only place I can maybe get him to open up is Cha Cha’s Cantina. But if that’s the case, I probably wouldn’t be able to remember what he said anyway. S
Jack Lauterback also is co-host of “Mornings with Melissa and Jack” on 103.7 Play weekdays from 6-9. Connect with him on Twitter at @jackgoesforth.