Dwight Clinton Jones will be the City of Richmond's next mayor after carrying five districts and defeating three other candidates vying for the office.
But 6,300 absentee votes remain uncounted, a number that could theoretically swing the election for Pantele if there are enough votes in two key districts. Votes are still being counted, but it appears that Jones will hold out for the win.
Jones, a pastor and leader of the state legislature's Black Caucus, narrowly defeated Richmond City Council president William Pantele in Tuesday's election, according to initial accounts, after running a campaign centered on education and social justice issues.
Dan Palazzolo, a political science professor at Richmond and moderator at one the mayoral debate on campus a few weeks ago, attributed Jones's victory to the strength of his campaign's message on leadership and experience.
"One of the overarching issues in the campaign was about leadership," Palazzolo said. "Jones did well in making the case that he had experience, he knew how to lead, deal with complex problems and multiple constituencies."
Both Jones and Pantele ran effective campaigns, Palazzolo said. But in the end, it came down to who could rally enough support, especially in the two swing districts that would decide the election.
"What I was struck by was that both of them could have been an effective mayor," Palazzolo said. "That might've explained why it was so close. Pantele was well-organized in three districts and had appeal in those three districts. But Jones just had better access, organization, and endorsements throughout the city."
Richmond senior Tony DeRosa had been campaigning for Pantele for the past month, focusing on door-to-door canvassing in the pivotal fifth district, consisting mostly of the Fan area of Richmond. The race had been close and unpredictable until Election Day, he said.
"Most of their policies were essentially the same," DeRosa said. "It came down to an issue of style and personality. I think if we had more of a presence in some of the districts it could have gone a different way."
The other two candidates, former American Bar Association president Robert Grey and architect Lawrence Williams, carried no districts.
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Grey, who out-fundraised and out spent all three of his opponents, was long-considered the assumed successor to former Richmond mayor L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first black governor in 1990. But Wilder's recent clashes with the Richmond City Council and his decision to not seek reelection may have had an effect on Grey's performance in the race.
"I don't know if Grey's association with Wilder hurt him," Palazzolo said. "But it certainly didn't help him."
Richmond senior Jenny Boylan campaigned with Jones during the last few weeks of the election. Many of Jones's messages and rhetoric, she said, were reminiscent of Democratic president-elect Barack Obama's style, a factor that she thought contributed to his mayoral victory.
"There's definitely a parallel there," Boylan said. "He speaks about divisions in the city, and the need to unify people past race and party lines. Obama's wildly popular in Richmond, so a connection like that was very important."
Palazzolo agreed with this comparison.
"Jones has kind of an Obama-esque quality to him," he said. "He talks about unity and post-partisanship. He spoke to the broader concerns of everyone in Richmond. It's interesting to see how Obama's style has kind of trickled down."
Although all four of the mayoral candidates are Democrats, only Jones received the endorsement of the Richmond City Democratic Committee, as well as a chance to speak at an Obama rally last month. This too, Boylan said, was helpful to the campaign's success.
But the endorsement was controversial in the Pantele camp, DeRosa said.
"The endorsement was kind of questionable and definitely contentious," he said. "They're all Democrats, and it was supposed to be a non-partisan election. The question was whether it was appropriate to seek it."
Contact reporter Michael Gaynor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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