Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore on Thursday attacked his Democratic opponent's record as mayor of Richmond, saying the city's schools and neighborhoods suffered under mediocre leadership.
Kilgore said Timothy M. Kaine presided over "a city known for violence, failing schools and unemployment."
He acknowledged that Kaine increased spending on education to record levels but said that "all Mr. Kaine did was throw money into a broken system. There was no innovation, no reform, and that's why there were no results."
Campaign aides for Kaine, who served as a City Council member and mayor from 1994 to 2001, accused Kilgore of distorting the facts to ignore dramatic improvements in test scores and crime rates during Kaine's tenure.
"That's absolutely insane," Kaine's communications director, Mo Elleithee, said of Kilgore's comments. "I think Jerry Kilgore's credibility has hit an all-time low. Tim Kaine oversaw a significant period of improvement in the city."
The verbal dueling offered a glimpse into what is emerging as a key issue during the last two months of the campaign. Kaine repeatedly touts his tenure as Richmond's mayor, highlighting that he is the only candidate with executive experience. Kilgore has seized on Richmond's struggles in the 1990s as evidence that Kaine is unfit to be governor.
The campaigns use information and statistics in different ways to bolster their case.
Kilgore stresses facts about the city while Kaine was mayor: There were 840 homicides. The city's management was given a C-plus rating by Governing magazine. City schools ranked at the bottom of the state in performance.
Kaine focuses on trends. He says pass rates by city schools on the statewide Standards of Learning exams increased by 84 percent during his tenure. Teacher salaries rose by 25 percent. Dropout rates declined by 37 percent.
Kilgore -- standing on a hill with the city skyline as a backdrop and joined by Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R), a former member of Congress and Richmond mayor in the 1970s -- used his harshest language yet to criticize Kaine's tenure.
He cited Richmond City Hall, which has been undergoing renovations for years, as a symbol of the city's problems under Kaine.
"City Hall became a physical manifestation of the overall health of this city," Kilgore said. "Both the building and the city were crumbling, forgotten and unsafe."
Bliley, who retired from Congress in 2001, echoed Kilgore's criticisms and added his own. He said Kaine appointed unqualified people to top city jobs and failed to eliminate slush funds that were abused by other City Council members.
"If Tim Kaine is elected, it will be a step backward," Bliley said. "We will be entrusting the commonwealth to a mayor who presided over a period of disappointment, stagnation and corruption. That cannot be allowed to happen."
Bliley's comments contrast sharply with ones he made when Kaine was running for lieutenant governor four years ago. Then, he told a Virginia Beach newspaper that Kaine "did a good job with his council. He projected a good image for the city and that's very important."
Asked Thursday about his shift, Bliley said he has had more time to see the impact of Kaine's actions on the city.
Elleithee questioned the sincerity of the change of heart, coming in the heat of a close campaign. "I stand by Tom Bliley's comments from four years ago," Elleithee said.
Kaine aides called upon three Richmond politicians Thursday to defend Kaine's record as mayor. Del. Viola O. Baskerville (D-Richmond) called Kilgore's attacks "unfounded" and said, "Under Tim Kaine, the city really went forward."
Kaine campaign aides also responded to the attacks by accusing Kilgore of refusing to help Virginia cities deal with schools, police and property taxes. They noted that Kilgore opposed tax increases passed by the General Assembly in 2004 that meant millions for schools and police.
"It was the largest increase in state support ever provided for public education," the campaign said in a statement. "Jerry Kilgore was an outspoken opponent of the Warner/Kaine budget every step of the way."