RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond voters headed to the polls on Tuesday morning to not only select a new president, but also a mayor. Interviews with voters by VCU’s iPadJournos reporting project at polling stations in all nine city districts showed the expected tight race between front runners Joe Morrissey, Jack Berry, and Levar Stoney.
Pre-election polls showed Jack Berry as the favorite in Districts 1, 2 and 4, and Joe Morrissey in Districts 6, 7, 8, and 9.
Districts 3 and 5 were toss-ups and seen as the deciding ones in the race.
To win the mayoral election without a runoff in December, a candidate needs to win five districts outright. The other two remaining candidates in the race besides Berry, Morrissey, and Stoney are City Council President Michelle Mosby and architect Lawrence Williams.
Read in the following parts how voters made their decisions at the ballot box on Tuesday morning in the nine districts. Polling stations remain open until 7 p.m.
Polling station at Thomas Jefferson High School (District 1)
Most voters interviewed at the Thomas Jefferson High School polling station on West Grace Street in the 1st District were split between Jack Berry and Levar Stoney.
Some voters had hoped to vote for Jon Baliles, who dropped out last Wednesday and endorsed Stoney. Berry has long been expected to carry the district based on pre-election polls.
"I was debating between Jon and Levar, and so when Jon dropped out, Levar was the choice," voter Megan Rawlins said. "I think he brings a fresh perspective, and he has relationships across the street at the General Assembly and can leverage some additional dollars to the city."
Joe McCallany also decided to go with Stoney after Baliles dropped out, feeling that the Democratic Party’s support of Stoney could help him to accomplish his goals.
"I voted for Stoney because Baliles dropped out, and Stoney was kind of my backup pick the whole time," said McCallany. "He’s got the backing of the Democratic Party on the national level, so maybe they’ll be able to help him do something."
Chris Johnson, a retired chemist, felt that Jack Berry was the most qualified candidate for mayor because of his experience, an attribute he believed to be of great importance in the race. The fact that Jack Berry is not a politician was another reason he voted for him.
"I thought Jack Berry was the most qualified from his previous experience as far as improving things in the city," said Johnson. "There’s been a lot of problems at city council, the way the city’s been run, and we need somebody with experience, business experience down there, rather than just politicians running everything."
Stinson Mundy, an attorney who volunteered at the polling station, felt particularly passionate about Berry.
"I really believe in Jack," said Mundy. "I think that he has done great things for the city, and for the greater Richmond area throughout his time in public service, and both through Venture Richmond, and I really believe in his vision, and I think that he can come in and really move the city forward. We had some rough patches recently, but he’s been supporting us and cheering for us for a really long time, and now I want to see him in the mayor’s office."
Polling station at First Baptist Church (District 2)
Most voters interviewed at the First Baptist Church on North Boulevard in the 2nd District said they voted for Jack Berry, citing his experience in government and his commitment to the people of Richmond. Berry had been expected to carry this district as well, based on polls.
"I just think he’s the most fiscally competent,” said voter Brian Carr. “He’s been a manager of Hanover County before. He knows how to run a government. He’s the guy I trust the most to get Richmond in the right direction.”
Voters who supported Berry often also praised Levar Stoney, but said that Stoney’s younger age was a concern for them.
“I did vote for Berry, but I had some thoughts about Stoney,” said Mark Baron. “It was going to be either him or Levar. I think Levar might be a little green, and that made me a little nervous. If he was 10 years older and a little more experienced, I probably would’ve voted for him.”
According to Baron, Stoney is likely to be more tuned into issues affecting black Richmonders, which he said is vital to a political candidate in the city. Voters in the 2nd District also seemed to weigh Stoney’s promise against Berry’s experience in local government.
“I must say that I found Levar Stoney to be dynamic, and has a wonderful career ahead of him in politics,” said Christie Lance, an art teacher. “It was a hard decision, but I felt like Jack Berry had the experience for the City of Richmond to get some of the things straight that have gotten messed up in the past.”
While most voters ended up swinging for Berry at the polling station, some like VCU student Liset Gregory and local resident Connor Kidd saw Stoney’s focus on education reform in Richmond Public Schools to be the deciding factor in their votes.
"I think Stoney is concerned about the city,” Kidd said. “I think he will bring a level a change to to the city I didn’t see in the other candidates.”
But overall in the 2nd District, voters like Leon Shadawin said that Berry’s experience won the day.
“Jack Berry is clearly the better choice,” Shadawin said. “He’s got a lot of experience dealing with a lot of different and diverse peoples and has done a lot of good for the city. He’s the clear choice to my mind.”
Polling station at Linwood Holton Elementary School (District 3)
At the polling station at Linwood Holton Elementary School on West Laburnum Avenue in the 3rd District, voters were mainly supporting Jack Berry and Levar Stoney for mayor. The 3rd District had been determined as one of two battleground districts based on pre-election polls.
Roy Cross, a retiree who works part-time, said he supported Berry. He said that Berry “seems like he’s got some good ideas for Richmond, and seems like a straight-away guy.”
Antenette Stokes, a behavioral specialist, cast her vote for Berry, because his plans for Richmond will reflect in her line of work.
“I think that he has always been very hands on in the city of Richmond,” Stokes said. “I see our kids and I see our families and we really need someone that’s hands on.” Stokes wants a candidate who will empower these families and “make them feel like they can do anything in this world … especially in our city.”
Andrew South, who works in sales, also cast his vote for Berry.
“I think at this point he’s got the experience we need to fix the city,” South said. “In my opinion, we need an administrator.”
Other Richmonders believed Stoney was the best choice. Denise Jones, a banker, said she felt good about what Stoney offered to the city. “I just liked his story and I liked what he stood for,” she said. “I think it was a good race. It had a lot of good candidates.”
For Brandi Hilliard, a travel assistant, Stoney’s focus on the community is what led her to vote for him. “He talked about a lot of issues that I’m concerned with, personally, and I think need to be focused on,” she said. “He also has a lot of drive to help people who need help in our community.”
Randy Evans, an IT professional, said after the mayoral forum at the Altria Theater, she found Jon Baliles to be the best choice for Richmond. But after Baliles dropped out of the race last week, he had to choose between Stoney and Berry.
“On balance, I thought Stoney would be better for the city,” he said. Evans called the Richmond mayoral race an “interesting microcosm in Richmond to the macrocosm of the national race.”
One thing voters agreed on at the polling station was their distaste for Joe Morrissey.
“The man seems to have exhibited no character, integrity, scruples, judgement - any of that stuff,” Cross said. Avery agreed, calling Morrissey an “embarrassment to the city.” South believed the city of Richmond has been cast in a negative light because of Morrissey’s past actions, and said, “I rather Richmond be in the news for being a quiet, well-run city.”
Polling station at Southampton Elementary School (District 4)
Jack Berry was the favorite candidate in the 4th District based on the pre-election polls. But voters interviewed at the polling station at Southampton Elementary School at Cheverly Road were divided on the candidates. Berry seemed to hold a slight edge over Joe Morrissey and Levar Stoney.
“I think Jack Berry has the experience and the dedication to the city of Richmond,” said Erin Strunk, a lawyer. “I think he’s going to do a wonderful job as mayor.”
Retiree Marty Carraway voted for Morrissey. He cited Morrissey’s fighting mentality and experience in courts as reasons he voted for him.
“I think he’s a fighter and I think he would protect people’s rights in Richmond as he’s done in the past,” Carraway said.
While retiree Kitty Hardt voted for Berry, she expressed little confidence in him winning the race, citing Joe Morrissey’s lead in the most recent polls.
“I’m not sure what kind of lead Morrissey has. We could end up not having a clear choice and having to go into a runoff,” she said
Jacob Powell, who works in real estate, voted for Levar Stoney.
He said Stoney did “a fantastic job with his campaign” and believes Stoney has “a really good shot of winning.”
Retiree Candy Young, a Berry supporter, said she was not familiar with a lot of the candidates on the ballot. “Joe Morrissey I know, and I pray that he does not win” she said.
Polling station at Randolph Community Center (District 5)
All of the voters interviewed on Tuesday morning outside the Randolph Community Center polling station at Grayland Avenue in the 5th District said they had voted for Levar Stoney or Jack Berry. The most important concern in this battleground district seemed to be education.
“I voted for Levar Stoney. I think that he’s a fresh perspective. I think he brings a lot of integrity and honesty,” said Caitlin Minnick, a stay-at-home mom. “I think there’s something really great about kind of an underdog story. He was on assisted lunches when he was a kid he was the first to graduate high school.”
Huzaifah Qureshi, a student at VCU, emphasized Stoney’s ties to the Democratic Party. “I’ve seen him at many Democratic rallies,” said Qureshi. “I’ve seen people talk about him a lot my friends who are democrats talk about him.”
“I voted for Levar Stoney. I thought he was a better choice than the other options,” said David Barritt, a recruiter. “It’s kind of a similar situation to our presidential election. We have a lot of poor choices. I’m just trying to go for the best of a bad situation.”
Francine Barnes, a contract manager, was one of a small number of Jack Berry supporters at the polling station. She emphasized the important role that Berry’s experience working in Richmond played in her support for him.
“I just think his experience working in the public sector means he could bring business and opportunities to the city,” Barnes said. She added that the most important issue for her in this election was protecting citizen’s rights.
Thomas Hicks, a retired Vietnam veteran, said that Stoney’s ties to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe could be a plus for the city.
“I like Stoney, I know him personally, I think he’d be good for the city and plus we’d get a lot of support from the governor,” he said. Hicks added that he viewed Stoney as a middle-of-the-road candidate. “We don’t need another Dwight Jones. We don’t need a Joe Morrissey. So who do you got in between them?”
Polling station at the Main Library (District 6)
While the 6th District was favoring Joe Morrissey in pre-election polls, many voters interviewed at the polling station at the Richmond Public Library on East Franklin Street said they voted for Levar Stoney and Jack Berry.
Amanda Prince, a teacher, said she was confident in her vote for Stoney: “I feel like he’s a good voice for younger people and our schools, our school body, and for improving our schools and just the city in general to make it a safer place.”
Gov. McAuliffe and Stoney arrived at the library together around 7:30 a.m. to cast their votes and talked with voters as they waited in the long line.
For some voters, McAuliffe’s endorsement of Stoney made the their election choice an easy one.
“I respect the governor’s endorsement,” said Colin Puckett, a 23-year-old non-profit worker, in regards to Stoney. “He’s got a good history and I’ve met him in person. And I really like the guy. I really appreciate his focus on education and bettering Richmond public schools, which I think is really important platform.”
Jack Berry was the second most popular candidate among voters interviewed at the library.
Bernadette Jay, a 33-year-old voter who works in public relations, said she looked for a candidate whose agenda aligned with her own vision for Richmond.
“I think that Jack Berry is definitely someone who will get the job done to make sure our schools are accredited, and to make sure Richmond is a more progressive city,” she said.
“Even though he has not held an elected office before, he has been involved in Richmond for a very, very long time and seems to be well known,” said business owner John Heckel. “He was strongly endorsed by both the black and white community, which says a lot about Jack Berry.”
David Cox, an e-commerce worker, said he voted for Stoney, and leaned Democratic all the way down the ticket.“The election’s been crazy. The ones in Richmond’s been the most interesting, in my opinion, with the different candidates, their scandals and everything. I was originally Baliles, but he dropped out and endorsed Stoney, so he’s my vote,” said Cox.
“He’s claiming he’s a Democrat, but I think he’s got more ties to the Republican Party of Virginia and those don’t align with my views whatsoever. I don’t trust Morrissey as a human being at all, let alone mayor, so yeah,” said Cox about Berry and Morrissey.
Like Cox, Laneka Brown, a receptionist, also voted for Stoney and the rest of the Democratic ballot. “Well, I’m a Clinton supporter, Stoney, Democrat all the way down the ticket,” she said.
“I feel like he just represents someone like me and he’s in it for things not just for him. He’s going to look out for Richmond in general. He gives me that feeling. And, I mean, I feel like if Ann Holton endorses him, he should be a good guy,” said Brown.
Polling station at the Powhatan Recreation Center (District 7)
At the Powhatan Community Center on Northampton Street in the 7th District, Stoney supporters showed out in force early in the morning. The district was favored to be carried by Joe Morrissey in pre-election polls.
But many of the East End voters interviewed stressed Stoney’s focus on education as a major selling point for them. Hannah Winter, a 32-year-old software developer, said that she respects the enthusiasm that Stoney would bring as mayor.
“I think he could bring a lot of enthusiasm to the office and I think it could attract a lot of really smart people to the area, so hopefully he rallies some good, excited people around him,” said Winter.
Rachel Davies, a 28-year-old graduate student at VCU, said that Stoney’s past involvement with Gov. McAuliffe gives her confidence, specifically citing her support for McAuliffe’s effort to restore voting rights for ex-felons.
“I felt that looking over the candidates, he had a good record of supporting the real people of wherever he was representing,” said Davies. “I also thought it was important to defeat Joe Morrissey because of his record of unethical behavior.”
Jocelyn Reid also supported Stoney.
The non-profit organizer said that Stoney’s promise to fix the public school system resonated with her. Milan Marsh and Georgia Lippold, both high school students themselves, agreed that Stoney’s ties to the community and his focus on education were the factors that led them to decide on him as their preferred candidate.
“I know that one of his top priorities was to make education better, and since I’m a student that’s what I want,” said Marsh.
“I’m supporting Levar Stoney, I’m a student as well and it’s very convincing how he’s come from neighborhoods and really risen up,” said Lippold.
Dakota Martin voted for Stoney as well. The software engineer said that he feels some other candidates are carrying too much personal baggage for him to feel comfortable supporting them, and although Stoney was behind in the polls, he had to vote with his heart. “He’s the guy whose ideas are congruent with mine, and doesn’t have a lot of that baggage,” said Martin.
Charles Moore, a 64-year-old retired civil servant, said that he wasn’t discouraged by Stoney’s performance in the previous polls.
“600 person polls with 50-75 people per district can be deceiving. In other words, you can sort of roll under the radar,” said Moore. “I think a lot of the polls don’t really reflect the millennial voters, and I believe that Levar is secure in the voting block.”
Richard McKann, a 1140-WRVA radio host, said that while he respects Stoney, he feels Jack Berry is the man to stop Morrissey. The 44-year-old said that Stoney’s lack of experience decided his vote.
“I went with Jack Berry for this election,” said McKann. “What it came down to for me is experience, Levar seems like a terrific guy but a little bit more experience would be in his best interest for me, and I’m not going to vote for somebody with a criminal record.”
Polling station at Branch's Baptist Church (District 8)
Many of the voters interviewed at the polling station at Branch's Baptist Church on Broad Rock Boulevard in the 8th District said they supported Levar Stoney, citing his ties to the Democratic Party and his experience in government. Pre-election polls saw Joe Morrissey as a favorite in the district.
Rahsaad Bey, an attorney, said Stoney’s qualifications and ability to cooperate were important factors for him. Bey also emphasized that he felt Stoney would be less likely to make poor decisions than Mayor Dwight Jones.
“Honestly, I felt like he was one of the most qualified candidates and I felt like he would be able to make decisions without being compromised,” said Bey.
Dr. Ram Bhagat, a retired teacher, cited similar opinions also mentioning education as an important issue to him as a former educator.
“I support Levar Stoney because of his position on education and his commitment to making the community work together,” said Bhagat.
Stoney’s community involvement earned him a vote from Chanae Sanders, who works in quality assurance. She shared a story of meeting Stoney at a little league game.
“I met Levar about a month ago. He came out to my son’s little league football game, and I just loved his story and how he’s involved and wants to make everything better here in Richmond,” Sanders said.
However, not everyone at the polling location was voting for Stoney.
Katrina Blizzard, a billing specialist, said she voted for Michelle Mosby because of her involvement in the community.
“She showed up at the event we had for my best friend’s daughter, Rishae Jacobs, who we’re still looking for,” said Blizzard. “She showed her support, and that showed me that she comes out to the community and is passionate about the people who are there.”
One of the voters, juvenile probation officer Tiffany Barnes, said she was supporting Morrissey because of what she’d seen him do in court.
“I know, as he stated before, he is a fighter in court,” said Barnes. “I’ve seen him several times, and he does defend a lot of people.”
Polling station at J.L. Francis Elementary School (District 9)
Voters interviewed at the polling station at J.L. Francis Elementary School at Snead Road in the 9th District showed support for Michelle Mosby, Joe Morrissey, and Levar Stoney. Morrissey had been the favorite for this district in pre-election polling.
“I like the stamina of the young man,” said Joseph Timothy Lewis Jr, who voted for Morrissey. Lewis said that even with Morrissey's past controversies, he has forgiven Morrissey and thinks he is the best fit to be Richmond's next mayor.
Romonia Lewis said she is also aware of Morrissey’s past, but also showed him support at the ballot box.
“He’s just a fighter for the people,” said Lewis, “I mean, I know he’s got some baggage with him, but right now it’s too much mudslinging. So, I just went with the one who didn't do a lot of mudslinging.”
Even though many people voted for Morrissey at the polling station, just as many spoke out for Mosby and Stoney. Andante Wade said she voted for Mosby, because she can remember Mosby coming out and helping the community.
“She brings people together,” said Wade.
Marie Riley’s main voting concern for this mayoral election was the state of Richmond Public Schools. She said she voted for Stoney, because she believes that he will fix and take care of the public schools.
“I think he has more progressive ideas,” said Riley.
This story was reported by Jesse Adcock, Rodrigo Arriaza, Alexander Austin, Mary Lee Clark, Gina Corry, Pilar Curtis, Cydni Gordon, Tyler Hammel, Gabe Hauari, Amelia Heymann, Gregory Kremer, Amy Lee, James Miessler, Natalie Quinn, and Haley Winn. These student reporters are part of the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.