RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The top five candidates for Richmond mayor debated the issues for an hour at the Altria Theater on Monday night.
The conversation was civil while still managing to address several controversial topics brought to light during the campaign season. Chief among them frontrunner Joe Morrissey's past scandals which were the topic of the first question asked by moderator Diane Walker of NBC12.
"With regard to Myrna, she is my wife, we have two beautiful, healthy children and we are very, very happy. People have to look at my body of work," responded Morrissey pointing to his work in the House of Delegates and as a criminal defense lawyer.
However, Michelle Mosby took issue with Morrissey's relationship with his now-wife when she was a 17-year-old secretary at his law office, and with his work as a lawmaker.
"I do not see any legislation that has passed by Mr. Morrissey that would help the African-American community," said Mosby. "We can say married or not married. This young lady was underage and to me for anyone in the African-American community, they would have went to jail had they done that to a young lady."
- FULL RICHMOND MAYOR COVERAGE: www.nbc12.com/rvamayor
Levar Stoney also criticized Morrissey for his lack of effectiveness in office and the toll the scandals took on his ability to lead.
"In his last year in office, he was stripped of all his committee assignments. How can you represent constituents when you aren't on any committees? This is a gentleman who was on the education committee for eight years yet brought no dollars back for the children of the city," said Stoney.
Schools were a hot topic with all candidates agreeing more needed to be done to help the struggling school system. The candidates also agreed in more support for police to curb crime and fostering the arts community in Richmond. Only Morrissey said he would be in favor of removing statues from Monument Avenue.
Mosby was questioned about her 2002 and 2010 Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings but said she has become a better financial steward.
"Let's be clear we know we have a presidential nominee who has filed bankruptcy and many other people," responded Mosby before citing several steps she has taken in recent years. "I have recovered and helped the City recover with my knowledge and skills and abilities."
News of a Memorandum of Understanding between VCU and the Richmond Flying Squirrels on a new ballpark near the Boulevard announced hours before the debate also found its way into the debate.
"I say 'Hallelujah!' It's fantastic news," said Jack Berry. "Yes, I tried to get Nutzy to come downtown, but that was then this is now. I think this is a tremendous opportunity for Richmond to create a Midtown right on the Boulevard that would include retail, restaurants, sports, entertainment, hotel."
But Jon Baliles and Stoney called out Berry for championing Mayor Dwight Jones' effort to put a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom, saying he continued to cheerlead the project even after the mayor had pulled the plug on the project. Berry rebutted their attacks and also advocated for a slavery heritage site in Shockoe.
The candidates took turns railing against the current administration for everything from financial mismanagement to the Richmond 2015 UCI World Cycling Championships and the Stone Brewery deal. Baliles defended the deal saying he believed Stone would pay off in the long run, while still criticizing the administration for not supporting local business.
"This administration took Hardywood to task and tried to force them to pay back taxes which two years prior they had said you don't have to pay," said Baliles. "While the beer hall part of the Stone Brewing project should be done privately I believe the brewery part is a good deal for the City."
However, Morrissey felt the money and land given to Stone Brewing were akin to the 6th Street Marketplace and Redskins Training Camp deals.
"I think the City gave it away... Municipalities should not be in the business of private sector endeavors," said Morrissey.
Election Day is just over three weeks away, and a poll released over the weekend showed many registered voters in Richmond remain undecided.
Morrissey went into Monday night's debate leading the pack with 20 percent of likely voters saying he has their vote in a recent ChamberRVA survey, Morrissey was a Richmond city prosecutor in the 1990s and served as a Virginia state delegate.
Berry is gaining in the polls at 17 percent. He has worked in Hanover government, but he is best known for being the head of Venture Richmond, the group behind events like the Folk Festival and 2nd Street Festival. He also helped head the campaign re-brand Richmond as RVA.
Stoney is at 15 percent. He was the first African-American Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the youngest member of Governor Terry McAuliffe's administration, serving from 2014 through 2016. He also worked to restore voting rights to a record number of felons.
Baliles, who is polling at six percent, and Mosby, who is polling at four percent support, are both on City Council.
A recent survey found 93 percent of registered voters cited the city's schools are a top priority.
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