By Brandon Jarvis

She announced last month that she is running for Mayor of Richmond, but Alexsis Rodgers says she had no prior intentions of running right now. 

“I did not plan to run for office this year.” said Rodgers in an interview with Virginia Scope, “I certainly have been working in progressive politics and organizing for years and thought one day I might run for office, but 2020 was not the plan.” 

Rodgers is the current state director of Care in Action, a non-profit advocacy group for domestic workers. Prior to that, she was the policy director to Ralph Northam during his term at Lt. Governor and she served as the Director of Communications at the Virginia League of Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. 

It was the reaction of the current administration to the ongoing protests across the city that inspired Rodgers to run. “The Mayor’s response to police violence and the protests in defense of Black lives was disappointing and frustrating and made it clear to me that we need to have new leadership in this city.”

Richmond’s current Mayor Levar Stoney has received criticism for allowing the police officers to crack down on protests. In early June, Stoney met with a large crowd of protesters to apologize after Richmond Police officers tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed a crowd of protestors on Monument Avenue.  

“I want to begin today by saying I’m sorry,” said Stoney from the steps of City Hall on June 2nd. “What happened yesterday at the Lee monument was a peaceful demonstration, a demonstration that I, as your mayor, had asked you to do, to be peaceful.”

Police officers threw tear gas into the crowd and chased people while spraying them with pepper spray. Stoney said that an investigation into the incident was going to happen and that people will be held accountable. That was over a month ago and we have yet to hear of any charges or disciplinary actions that have been taken. 

Members of the crowd at City Hall on June 2nd called Stoney a sellout, yelling that he is a Black man who supports a system that oppresses Black people. “I just want to say this, I am just as mad and upset about the things that happen to black people,” Stoney said in response. “I’ve been a black man for 39 years of my life, each and every day, it is in my DNA.”

Since that day, Richmond and Virginia State Police have continued to use chemicals against civilians as a form of crowd control and Richmond has at one point had three different men serve as Chief of Police in less than two weeks.

Yet the crowds of people continue to show up each night.  For more than a month, people across the country have taken to the streets to demand change and justice for victims of racism and police brutality. Rodgers called it a method of “power building and making the politicians pay attention.” She continued, “For years, organizers and activists have been calling for systemic change in our policing and criminal justice reform measures that have been resisted by our current leadership.” 

The people still showing up in the streets say they will not let this cause be ignored. “It is no surprise to me that activists have escalated their tactics,” said Rodgers. “They started by asking for a meeting, they started by attending council meetings and demanding change. For years the ‘approved-of methods’ of public policy and advocacy has not moved our elected officials and our leadership.” 

Rodgers believes that systemic change in Richmond will make the city safer. “Ater George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and others who were murdered, Richmond joined in solidarity with so many other areas to stand up and say we demand a change,” said Rodgers. “We demand a systemic change in order to make our community safe.” 

The Hanover native believes she is the best candidate for Virginia’s Capital City. “Richmond needs a leader who will listen to the people, who will put their interests first, and who will proactively push for progress,” said Rodgers who referenced her history with political work involving healthcare access and worker’s rights. “That is why I am running for Mayor. I have been organizing in the community and working on progressive policies. I have a track record of fighting for folks who have historically been marginalized by our government and excluded from our policymaking. When I am Mayor, I will put those folks first.”  

The words ‘systemic change’ scares political strategist. Even some Democrats like Governor Northam have shown opposition to new progressive ideas. “I have always had to build bridges and bring coalitions together in my work fighting for progress,” said Rodgers. 

She talked about her experience bringing two sides together while working on issues such as expanding Medicaid and wage protections for domestic workers. “We always had to center the interest and the experiences of working people and people of color, while reaching out and building consensus across a broad range of interest groups and voters.”

The winner of this election will be leading the city through the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic as the economy and community will need rebuilding.  “Moving forward we have to build trust with Black and Latinx communities who have been disproportionately impacted by Coronavirus,” said Rodgers. “We need to show up for these communities and provide access to widespread testing that is free and accessible.” 

Public school buildings were shut down in March as Governor Northam issued the order to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Since then, the debate over the method of schools reopening at the end of the summer has drawn a large divide. Parents and teachers are afraid of what might happen if schools fill up to full enrollment with the virus still spreading. On the contrary, there are Facebook groups with ten-of-thousands of members from Virginia that are lobbying for schools to reopen normally. 

The Governor’s office has indicated that the decisions will largely be left to the localities to figure out.

“When schools reopen, we have to make sure that it is done in an equitable way that does not further divide our education system across racial lines,” says Rodgers. “We know that alternative school days may be safer when it comes to physical proximity to other students. But, not everyone has the comfort and stability of a home on a regular basis, and not every teacher is going to feel comfortable and safe returning to the work environment.”

Rodgers told Virginia Scope that we have to listen to those people who will feel the effects of these decisions. “We have to be centering the interests and the concerns of working people and our students. We have to be genuinely listening to folks as they express very valid and real concerns about reopening safely.” 

Other challengers to Mayor Stoney include City Councilwoman Kim Gray, attorney Justin Griffin, and small business owner Tracey McLean.

With a social justice movement sweeping the city that is demanding progressive change, Rodgers’ candidacy has garnered some attention. She raised $35,000 dollars from 484 donations in the first 24-hours of her campaign. Rodgers raised $58,000 by the start of July, Gray has raised $43,000 and Griffin brought in $16,000, although $5,000 of that was a donation to himself. McLean raised less than $1,000. Stoney has only raised $5,000 in since April of this year, but still has $77,000 cash on hand.   

Money is a factor in elections but with a movement of resiliency and determination happening simultaneously with confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, it is hard to predict with any true bearing as to what will be the deciding factor for voters in Richmond this November. Rodgers just needs to convince enough voters that her progressive ideas make her the best candidate for the job. 

“I have a track record of achieving progress by bringing people into our progressive fight and I look forward to leading that charge as Mayor.”

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By vascope