RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — You might say Dwight Jones is the git-er-done mayor.
The new City Jail is taking firm shape in Shockoe Valley, more than 30 years after the old one needed replacing. Just up the hill, a new school is being built – the first in almost as long.
And now, some are giving Mayor Dwight Jones credit for pressuring out Richmond schools Superintendent Yvonne Brandon, a former ally he essentially called out publicly last year during his famous “celebrations of mediocrity” speech.
Brandon has led Richmond’s schools for the better part of five years. As she said during her Tuesday announcement that she was stepping down in June, it was “on average, one of the longer tenures for a superintendent in an urban environment. My departure will be bittersweet.” (She was the eighth RPS superintendent since 1985. Many of those departed on less-than-happy terms.)
Her popularity has slipped amidst scoring and spending scandals and poor student performance, despite the city spending more per student than almost any other jurisdiction in the state.
Two months ago, the mayor gave the boot to Richmond Police Chief Bryan Norwood, a quiet but well-liked leader, and replaced him with a retiree who admits he’ll be “the mayor’s chief.” The mayor’s office also took over RPD’s media relations for the first time.
“I think it’s pretty much a clean sweep,” said political strategist Paul Goldman, who helped write changes in the city charter to allow for a strong, elected mayor. “He got rid of the police chief, now he’s pushed out the schools chief. So, the mayor’s consolidating his grip on the city.”
The police department and the schools make up roughly $200 million of the city budget. They represent the two biggest-ticket items.
Also, early last year Dianne L. Gadow, the superintendent of Richmond’s Juvenile Detention Center, was let go.
In the fall of 2010, the much-admired director of Rec and Parks, J.R. Pope, was run off the job by the mayor.
He even gave his own Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Carolyn Graham, the boot.
These are all prerogatives of the strong-mayor form of government, Goldman explained – to shape the course of the city by shaping its leadership.
But the mayor isn’t supposed to control the schools superintendent or the elected School Board.
Former mayor and governor Doug Wilder tried – and famously failed – when he attempted to force the school board out of City Hall by literally moving them out. A Circuit Court judge moved them right back in again.
The power play is much more subtle with Mayor Jones. His former deputy chief of staff is now chairman of the School Board. His son was also elected to the board.
This past election, his main foes on City Council and the School Board were defeated in elections. The mayor has been quietly running the table, politically.
So has Richmond become a stronger place under our strong mayor?
I don’t think there’s any question about it. Just look around at the growth, the development, the excitement and the pride in RVA.
But the real question is, has our minister mayor become too strong?
That’s my take, please leave yours in the comment section below.