Alexsis Rodgers

 Mayor Questionnaire: Alexsis Rodgers (https://www.alexsisrodgers.com/)

 

1. The City of Richmond has a 25% poverty rate, citizens and neighborhoods with enormous unmet needs, as well as public infrastructure such as roads and school buildings that are aging or sub-standard. The City also has the highest local property tax rate in the region. What strategies should Richmond employ to generate the resources needed to better meet the City’s needs? If these strategies don’t suffice to generate the revenue needed to meet community needs, would you be willing to consider revenue increases, and if so, in what areas? Be as comprehensive as possible in your answer.

 

Richmond residents already pay a lot in taxes. In addition to advocating for a fairer share of state funding for Richmond Public Schools, my administration would explore negotiating Payment in Lieu of Taxes with VCU and the state government to recuperate for lost tax revenues.  

 

As mayor, I will invest in the Office of Community Wealth Building’s efforts to eliminate poverty by connecting Richmonders to workforce training and living wage jobs. Additionally, raising the minimum wage helps countless Richmonders across the city. As Virginia State Director for Care in Action I led the effort to pass historic wage protections for domestic workers and to raise the minimum wage for all workers to $15/hr.  

 

The mayor must also work to form strategic partnerships throughout the region to bring more revenue into the city. I will work to establish strategic, community-driven partnerships with corporations that operate in the City to ensure they are investing in our schools and our neighborhoods as part of the benefit of operating in Richmond.

 

2. Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building, which helped 600 residents obtain employment in 2018-19, has established a goal of cutting child poverty (now at nearly 40% citywide) in half over the next ten years. It has set a further goal of moving 1,000 additional households a year above the poverty line through living-wage, full-time employment. Do you support these goals? What steps should the City take to encourage employers to train and hire under-employed residents into pathways leading to living wage employment and successful careers? What other specific actions will you support to achieve the goals of fighting poverty and building community wealth?

 

Yes, I support these goals. As a strong advocate for workers’ rights, I will proactively recruit and work to retain good employers in the city.  

 

Children who are economically disadvantaged often lack access to Pre-K, creating a learning gap before entering the classroom in grade school. Those who start behind their peers are more likely to stay behind. The city needs to recognize how crucial early childhood education is and should have a point person who’s in charge of city-provided services for children ages 0-3.  Early investment in a child’s development improves educational attainment and career readiness.  

 

3. Should aging public housing communities be re-developed in the next ten years? If so, how can this be done with genuine community input and support? How can such a process assure the availability of affordable housing does not shrink and that all current public housing residents obtain replacement housing? What funding sources should Richmond seek?

 

Every Richmond resident deserves a clean, safe, and affordable place to call home. However, the racialized nature of how Richmond neighborhoods were designed has negatively impacted generations of Black and brown residents. Housing is a human right. We need to tackle this head on.  

 

Anything RRHA does needs to be done through a lens of equity and racial justice while centering the needs and dignity of tenants. Residents who live in our public housing units have been wronged; where they’ve been repeatedly told one thing yet seen another happen, resulting in their safety net being disrupted. We know that having blended communities that are reflective of the diversity of our city is good, and we need to make sure that everyone who is living in RRHA housing has a voice in this process. Any kind of development around public housing has to be done in a way that leads with tenants first -- that respects their dignity, their right to self-determination, and a say in the process.  

 

I support one-to-one replacement for RRHA’s public housing stock. In order to repair trust with residents, the core of that trust needs to be that people are going to have a home after they allow a renovation or demolition and replacement of their communities. They need to know it’s not going to be a repeat of what happened in Fulton, Dove Court, or Blackwell. To take on the large endeavor of replacing six large public housing communities - all beyond their lifespan - it’s going to be necessary to build trust. My administration will lay out a framework for resident-driven redevelopment of our public housing.

 

4. In the past decade, two major efforts brought forth by mayors to promote downtown area development have been rejected by City Council and most of the public. Yet the city remains in need of economic development, a stronger tax base, and more quality employment opportunities for residents. What processes do you believe the city should adopt to promote community-supported economic development? How would you define successful economic development, in Richmond’s context?

 

I’ve lived in the Richmond area for my entire life, and I know firsthand how the Coliseum and the Baseball Diamond have driven tourism and economic development over the years. We desperately need to develop parts of downtown Richmond to create good jobs, and increase tax revenues for the city. Richmond needs to provide efficient city services, reliable transportation and quality public education in order to attract new residents and business -- both local and national. Growth must be intentional and equitable. We must also ensure that any new development with plans in the city focuses on the needs of its residents, including: keeping jobs local, ensuring a fair procurement contract, and negotiating with housing developers for a set number of affordable housing units. For any major changes or developments that arise during my term as mayor, I will ensure that there is ample opportunity for public input.  

 

5. What is the role of the Mayor and City Council in supporting Richmond Public Schools and RPS students and families? How can funding needs for the RPS Strategic Plan be met while also assuring accountability for use of funds and for outcomes? What does the City need to do further to meet the need of children outside of the RPS school day?

 

As mayor I will lead the fight to fully fund Richmond Public Schools, by advocating at the General Assembly and coordinating innovative community-driven philanthropic investment. 

As a proud union member myself, I will support collective bargaining rights for educators and all school staff. Students benefit from smaller class sizes, more robust staffing, and teachers who make long term careers at one school; these are all facilitated with collective bargaining rights. Additionally, many RPS employees are also RPS parents and Richmond residents; what’s good for them is good for our schools and for our city. 

 

Because of years of advocacy, we now have clearer evidence that suspensions and expulsions disproportionately impact Black and brown students. We need more adults in our schools who can work with disruptive students so that our teachers can focus on maintaining a conducive learning environment. I would work with the School Board and RPS to replace school resource officers with social workers, more nurses, and other qualified mental health professionals who can support our students’ health and wellbeing. I support expanding programs between the schools, Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, and City Hall to meet students' needs.

 

6. How can Richmond better leverage its status as the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia to gain further support from state government? What priorities for funding and policy would you set?

 

For the last eight years, I have worked as an organizer and policy leader to pass progressive policies for healthcare access, college affordability, and workers’ rights. I have built the relationships with the General Assembly and state government agencies to bring a lot of positive growth to Richmond and the entire Commonwealth. I will use my political capital to advocate for things that can change the daily lives of our residents. Our budget is a reflection of our values. My administration would work to reshape the budget to bring equity to our communities with the following priorities: 

● Relief for people and small businesses impacted by coronavirus 
● Affordable housing 
● Public education 
● Public transportation 

 

7. Do you believe the City of Richmond’s internal functioning has improved over the last four years? Why or why not? Do you believe the delivery of basic services in the City has improved over the last four years? Why or why not? What steps would you promote or support to improve the City’s internal operations and improve citizen confidence in City Hall? Be as specific as possible in your answer.

 

I know every day many hardworking professionals at City Hall are doing their best to serve our community without the resources or support they need. ​ Still, too many Richmonodersexperience problems interacting with our government whether trying to get a permit or pay their taxes.  As with everything I do as mayor, I will improve the services offered through a lens of equity and justice, starting with incorporating options for website accessibility for all Richmonders, not just those who can speak or read English. I will work with employees to quickly improve the permitting process -- economic development and news jobs are impossible if builders are unable to proceed with their projects. I have proposed a Department of Transportation to provide direct accountability for improving our roads and sidewalks.  

A lot of the work that’s done as mayor is not going to get you the front page headline, but it can improve the lives of our residents and that’s a goal I will keep in focus during my term as mayor. 

 

8. What tangible steps do you envision Richmond as having taken by 2024 to promote racial and economic equity and to tackle systemic racism? How will you use your office to advance these steps, and how will you act to build the public support needed for sustained action?

 

We have deep divides across race and class lines in the city that leave many families behind. Decades of redlining has shaped the economic, environmental and social landscape of neighborhoods, leading to decline, crime, underperforming schools, inadequate infrastructure, displacement and divestment. Your race, income and zip code determine your life expectancy in Richmond. These are systemic issues that need progressive policies that address poverty and build community wealth. I am committed to an equitable, sustainable city that works for every Richmonder with: fully funded schools, inclusive and affordable housing, police reform, environmental justice, a robust transit system and an accountable government that centers the voices of community stakeholders. 

 

am proposing the creation of a new Department of Transportation to prioritize mobility throughout the city. By working with the talented staff at the city and transportation advocates and community members, we can create a multi-modal city that centers pedestrian safety, increases bike lanes, improves sidewalk conditions and connects neighborhoods. We should make zero-fare public transit permanent, where more working families can save money to pay other bills and feed their children, instead of spending $60 on a monthly bus pass. For $6 million, our region can make public transportation free to everyone. This is an investment for safe, reliable, and frequent service to increase ridership, which will reduce more cars on the roads and the resulting carbon emissions.

 

9. What more should the City of Richmond being doing to reduce gun violence in our communities? What does Richmond need to do to better address the root causes of violent crime?

 

have been a longtime advocate for gun violence prevention laws. At the city ​ level, our

focus should be on prevention and opportunities we can create for young people in Richmond. As mayor, I will engage community organizations, social workers and faith leaders to make a community-driven public safety plan, to reduce crime and bring healing to our community. This is a public health crisis and must be treated as such. 

10. What changes in policing, criminal justice, and public safety are needed in Richmond, and what is the role of the Mayor and City Council in bringing them about? What more needs to be done to support successful re-entry of returning citizens?

 

Currently, we call on police officers to do too much. I support reducing the scale and scope of policing in Richmond to ensure we’re only sending police officers into situations they are trained and prepared to handle. Some police training curriculum has not been updated in 20 years, and currently not all forms of training are mandatory. Richmond deserves public oversight of the Richmond Police Department through an independent civilian review board with subpoena power. We also need greater transparency within the police department. I will advocate for collecting and reporting demographic data on all stops, arrests, charges, and use of force incidents. I’ll work collaboratively to meaningfully address these challenges instead of making political decisions to create the appearance of action.  

 

Every Richmond resident deserves to live without fear of facing deportation or being separated from their family. As mayor, I will call to end all collaboration with ICE and proactively work to build trust with all immigrant communities. 

 

Racial equity is something we need to focus on within every agency and city government office. We have to look at hiring practices that still exclude qualified candidates based on criminal history, tax abatements that impact Black homeownership, language justice so every resident can access city services, zoning that affects density and diverse housing, green spaces that will improve health outcomes for Black and brown residents, as well as the conditions needed to bring more grocery stores to neighborhoods. I will pursue police reform to ensure that Richmond reinvests in our community including after-school programs, mental health and social services.

 

11. What should city government do to assure that economic recovery from the pandemic- induced recession takes place on an equitable basis that includes residents hit hardest by job loss during the spring 2020 downturn? What specific steps can be taken to support Black and Latinx-owned local businesses?

 

The city should also put more revenue into micro-loans for small businesses (or stop-gap funding), both for the start and continuation of small businesses. A lot of smaller businesses run on razor-thin margins. $10,000 from the city could be the startup cost they need or the money to keep moving.

 

Richmond should also facilitate the establishment of worker owned cooperatives to build sustainable wealth, as allowed through new state legislation. This allows for the creation of more worker owned cooperatives. Assisting in the creation of these cooperatives -- coaching would-be small businesses to navigate the legal and tax structure -- is a way for the city to speed the realization of access not only to jobs but to equity and wealth.  

 

12. What have been the strong and weak points of the City of Richmond’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, from a public health perspective? What has the crisis revealed about long-term disparities in health outcomes that should inform future public health strategies? What specifically will you do to support stronger public health (including mental and behavioral health) during your term in office?

 

I am grateful that Richmond started prioritizing widespread testing sooner than other areas. We need to make sure that we’re doing outreach to more diverse communities, especially as ​ most city services are inaccessible to anyone who cannot speak or read English. That is a major disservice to Richmond’s diverse community in the midst of a global health crisis. In addition, the city needs to do intentional outreach to the Latino community by partnering with organizations to deliver important health information and social services.  

 

An individual’s health is impacted by a variety of external factors and this is more evident in Richmond because we are a city built by redlining. We rank eighth for emergency room visits and certain communities have a much higher rate of asthma than others. And, of course, physical health impacts mental and behavioral health as well. Richmonders deserve better. As mayor, I will fight for more tree canopy coverage and access to green spaces for all, regardless of zip code. This is just a start in what the city can do to help improve the health of its residents. 

 

A lot of our neighbors live in fear because of over-policing. In fact, some of us are triple-policed by the RPD, Capitol Police, and VCU Police. The pressure from this is increased for those in our communities with mixed-immigration status. The city needs to be intentional in removing these external, unnecessary pressures and increase access to social services for everyone. I will do that with true police reform and actively investing in communities that have been divested from.