A Young Mayor Assesses His First Year In Office
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
One year ago, Levar Stoney was sworn in as mayor of Richmond, Va. At the time, his election was one of the bright spots for the Democratic Party after the Republican sweep in 2016. Stoney's also a 36-year-old millennial and African-American. Over his first year in office, we've checked in with him as he's learned how to run the city and try to navigate its challenges - underfunded public schools, a rising homicide rate and a bitter debate over Confederate monuments. Mayor Stoney joins me now in the studio to talk about his first year in office. Good morning.
LEVAR STONEY: Good morning, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So give me an assessment of your first year. And I know you are a politician, so try to keep it real.
STONEY: You know, I really do believe it was a great year. It was the fastest year of my life, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I wanted to hit the ground running and started to visit everyone's neighborhoods and visited every school, saw all the children in each one of our 44 schools, held nine town halls around the city. Public engagement, I think, matters.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But let's talk about a troubling statistic for your city. In 2017, there were 67 homicides in Richmond. That's the highest it's been since 2006. We saw homicides, though, go down in many cities across America last year, including New York, Washington, Houston, but not Richmond. What's happening?
STONEY: You know, 67 homicides are 67 deaths too many. And for Richmond, I think we have been somewhat victimized by the lax gun laws that you see in the commonwealth of Virginia. Every time an individual is able to purchase a gun freely, it also creates an illegal weapon that can be sold on the black market. There were people laughing at Richmond and Virginia - the ability to purchase as many guns as you want and then take it up 95 or down 95 or stay right in our communities.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to ask about one of the most contentious parts of your first year in office, and that, of course, is the debate over Richmond's Monument Avenue. Other cities and other mayors have moved much more quickly to take down their Confederate monuments. There's been a robust debate in Richmond. Can you tell me where things stand at the moment?
STONEY: We're in our second phase of our public feedback process. And by May, there will be a report provided to me and the city council - a recommendation on what we - how we move forward. I firmly believe that the monuments should be removed. That's my personal opinion.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there are people who have very different views on this issue, and they're very entrenched views. How do you come to a resolution that will satisfy everybody?
STONEY: Well, we're never going to satisfy everyone. There are some people in our city, whether they're black or white, who believe that those monuments should stay. But I do believe that they are relics of a segregated past that no longer, I think, represents Richmond. Now, we also need the Commonwealth of Virginia to give us the sort of authority to remove these moments. And right now, that's still up in the air.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Speaking of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia is now seen as a sort of political bellwether for 2018. The Democrats won the governorship, almost won the state's House of Delegates. It was decided by some, I have to say, unorthodox means for many of us watching. Where do you see the Democrats positioned right now?
STONEY: I think if Democrats are able to speak truth to power and to articulate a message of opportunity for everyone, I think we have a good shot at winning. It just can't be about a personality. It can't be about Donald Trump. I wouldn't say that the Donald Trump stuff is a one-trick pony, but we got to do a whole lot more than just that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Richmond Virginia Mayor Levar Stoney. Thank you so much.
STONEY: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "KERALA")
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