On March 6, Levar Stoney, the mayor of Richmond, Virginia, released a 2020 budget proposal full of promises. The plan featured more money for education, funds to keep people from being evicted, millions for infrastructure, and a new fund to address racial disparities in maternal health. Twelve days later, Stoney announced Richmond’s first positive cases of COVID-19. The following weeks and months created a budget crisis. Businesses closed; tax revenues dried up; support from the federal government expired.
Stoney won a second term as Richmond’s mayor last month, and he still wants to execute the ambitious equity agenda he set out in March. But how do you build a better city when the money is running out? I spoke with Stoney this week about his push to reform Richmond, this year’s racial-justice protests, and how he plans to support Black and brown communities in the absence of more stimulus money from the federal government.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Adam Harris: How were you thinking about leading Richmond through this moment at the very beginning of the pandemic?
Levar Stoney: When we first started seeing cases pop up on the East Coast, particularly 100 miles north of us in Washington, D.C., it almost felt like the walls were closing in on us. I saw the NBA had just shut everything down—that Utah Jazz game. And then the next day, we started seeing local governments do the same in our region and in parts of the South. Here in Richmond, we had a major St. Patrick’s Day weekend coming. I called the organizers of these large events and said, “I need you to cancel or postpone your event because of this virus.” A lot of them initially were like, “What?!” They spend all year planning for this. And this is where they make their money. I was able to convince just about all of them to postpone or cancel their activities. But I didn’t know that we were going to need to do more. It just started rolling from there.