The city of Richmond's four mayoral candidates told a crowd in the Alice Haynes Room on Wednesday night that university students had a vital role in shaping the city's future.
Robert Grey, Dwight Jones, William Pantele and Lawrence Williams participated in the debate, hosted by the University of Richmond and moderated by political science professor Dan Palazzolo, which lasted about an hour and a half.
The candidates are vying to replace Mayor Doug Wilder, who announced in May that he would not seek re-election. Candidates were asked to critique Wilder's controversial administration. Candidates seemed to agree that Wilder had a questionable approach to governing, but Pantele came out most strongly against Wilder saying he was "disappointed" by the past four years.
"The first thing I would do as mayor would bring together the office and city council so they are not subordinates but actual partners," Pantele said.
Jones said he did not want to criticize the mayor but wanted to look to the future.
"I don't think we need to validate or repudiate him," Jones said. "Rather, this race is about, 'where do we go from here?' In order to make Richmond better, we have a collaborative leader who can work with the city council and the school board. I was told by my mother a long time ago that in order to get respect, you've got to give respect and I believe that I'm the kind of leader who can do that."
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Grey credited Wilder's leadership in creating a directly elected mayor in 2005. Before that, the mayor was chosen by majority vote in the city council.
"Style of leadership is key here, and his style of leadership was confrontational," Grey said. "We needed to challenge the status quo and that was done, but now we need someone who can take the city to the next level. My background is as a professional mediator, I would like to bring that skill to the office."
Williams said the student population was important primarily because having graduates stay in the area was beneficial to the city.
"All these university students need to recognize the importance of going back into the community," Williams said.
Jones addressed President Edward Ayers directly with a proposal to have the university, in partnership with Virginia Union University, sponsor a middle school and contribute to the struggling middle school education system. Ayers opened the debate with an introduction.
Pantele said the university was already involved in outreach to Richmond City schools and complimented the students on their efforts.
Many of the questions from the panels touched on race and Gray said the solution to racial issues in the city was to include younger people.
"You know, most of the time when we talk about race, adults are the problem. We need to reach out to the younger generation, who transcend that issue and turn that corner and make a difference in this community."
Pantele warned that state budget cuts would lead to a fiscal crisis in the city and that efficiency would be key in keeping the city afloat financially.
Contact staff writer David Larter at firstname.lastname@example.org
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