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Mark Holmberg finds huge draw, some fun at Richmond mayoral forum

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Wednesday night's mayoral forum hosted by former governor Doug Wilder at Virginia Union University was a huge draw.

Not only did it attract 12 candidates, one more than advertised, the chapel was absolutely jam packed with more than 1,000 people.

We got to hear from a wide variety of candidates - a teacher, architects, activists, longtime Richmond players, politicians and leaders - all in a quick-take format firmly moderated by Wilder and his longtime educational partner, Dr. Bob Holsworth.

The chapel was absolutely jampacked with more than 1,000 people.

The chapel was absolutely jam packed with more than 1,000 people.

Some of the area's richest citizens came, along with some of the poorest, everyone seemingly engaged by the show on the stage.

And make no doubt, it was a show!

The famously frisky former state delegate Joe Morrissey, soon to marry his formerly teen-aged secretary, set of a loud, long round of laughter and howls when he said:

"What a lot of people don't know is I was also a high school teacher and a coach - (I) love engaging with the students."

Joe Morrissey

Joe Morrissey

And Wilder, acting like a mayoral candidate himself, verbally slugged it out with city councilman Chris Hilbert, the only contentious exchange of the two-hour forum.

There was one clear loser: current Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones.

Most of the candidates referenced (at least obliquely) his fiscal and leadership failures in terms of openness and integrity.

Nearly all pledged severe course corrections.

Mayoral forum candidates

Mayoral forum candidates

Former mayor and congressman Tom Bliley positively ripped into the Jones administration during his opening statements about the importance of this looming election.

Fiscal responsibility, schools, poverty, openness and economic development were the common themes, with the differences between the candidates showing more clearly as they described how they would lead.

Holsworth kept the action brisk, at the midpoint grilling candidates with a "lightning round" of questions that required a yes or no answer.

Four of the candidates answered yes when asked if they'd support tearing down the statues of Confederate generals on Monument Avenue.

"Bring a hammer," said candidate Chad Ingold, a Richmond Public School teacher.

Other candidates included:

Jon Baliles, Richmond City Council, District 1.
Jack Berry, director of Venture Richmond.
Michelle Mosby, president of city council.
Alan Schintzius, community advocate.
Rick Tatnall, Replenish Richmond.
Bruce Tyler, architect, former city councilman.
Lawrence Ellis Williams Sr., architect.

There are at least two other likely candidates who are expected to announce their bids in the next week or two.

It's unclear if Wilder and Holsworth are planning a follow up.

Clearly, the first outing was a success, but with such a large field of very diverse candidates, there's a lot more to learn about those who would be mayor.

"Lots of good speakers, lots of good ideas," said attendee Tom Kent. "The energy was was fantastic out there."

Former Richmond School Board chair Chandra Smith also found it to be an engaging evening.

"It was lot of fun, it was, to really see and hear that they do have a sense of humor and they understand that this is hard work.

"And yet," she added, "you got to be a little crazy to want to be mayor."