My recent election as mayor of Richmond has caused consternation in some quarters outside of the city--enough to prompt me to put certain concerns to rest. When I announced several months ago, I knew it would be an uphill struggle, since the incumbent had been in office for years--first appointed by a white majority of the council and subsequently elected in a district situation that kept incumbents in office. That gave him an opportunity to come up with what many thought would be a black agenda--but none was ever developed.
Many people felt that the five- member majority of blacks on the nine-member council engaged in much too much pettiness in confrontations with a similarly argumentative majority. Council sessions were farcical, and the mayor was at the center of much of the bickering. That was one reason I was prompted to run. Another was the incumbent mayor's total insensitivity to constituent needs.
In winning election to the council from a district that was 70 percent black and 30 percent white, I received no endorsements from the predominantly black voting organization, the black ministers association, the Richmond Afro-American (a black-owned newspaper) or the Richmond Education Association, even though I was described as very highly qualified and a friend of education. I did not even have a public endorsement from any political figure. Nevertheless, I received 34 percent of the black vote that turned out; this suggested to me that those blacks who did not go to the polls either did not want to vote against black leadership and/or were reluctant to endorse the incumbent.
Of those who contacted me about my seeking to become mayor, more than 90 percent were supportive, and they included people from outside the district. I am not unmindful of the fact that my vote for myself along with the votes of four whites on the council gave the immediate impression that it was a sellout to whites. I want to state categorically, without fear of contradiction, that there was no quid pro quo for their support of me. I have no obligations to them for this backing, any more than I do to those who did not support me for mayor.
I would note, too, that Richmond has a council-manager form of government, with the day-to-day operation of the city handled by the city manager-- to whom we pay a rather handsome salary. The mayor's job is part-time, as are the jobs of all council members. I say this not to disparage these positions, but to point out that there merely has been a changing of the guard, not a changing of philosophy.
It is not that Richmond is involved in some diabolical political maneuvering. On the contrary, my election heralds meaningful accomplishments; I will be pursuing affirmative action and seeking the involvement of both the business sector and the council. The fact that four members who represent business supported my candidacy does seem inconsistent with my predecessor's insistence that good relations already existed.
It is also interesting that there was some complaint about the white support I received--in view of the fact that my predecessor was appointed vice mayor with almost total white support. And the first black city councilman in Richmond since Reconstruction--Oliver Hill--obviously was elected with a majority white vote. The notion that I belong to anyone's camp is wrong; the decision to seek the mayor's job was mine and mine alone.
State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, among others, made suggestions. His advice had always been that I should weigh all the consequences very seriously; and he never wavered in suggesting that my predecessor could, in his judgment, continue as mayor. The only position he ever suggested that I accept was vice mayor. Wilder, a man of integrity, has stated that he advised me to be vice mayor and encouraged me to support Henry Marsh for mayor.
My corps of immediate advisers thought it would be in the best interests of the city to make a change. This, coupled with all the calls of support, prompted my decision.
I intend to provide leadership that will engender cooperation, dignity and responsiveness to the needs of all citizens. In addressing needs of blacks I do not intend to tolerate any retrogression.