America’s cities are falling apart. Criminals are running rampant, and law-abiding citizens are often prevented from defending themselves. As Common Sense Society fellow Douglas Murray points out, it seems like politicians are more focused on defending the victimizers than the victims. Virginia’s capital city is no stranger to chaos — violent crime is on the rise, and sadly, it’s only one of the city’s worries. Richmond exists in a perpetual state of ruin. Its poor leadership and the population’s more radical segments that use municipal government’s levers to promote radical agendas are to blame.
My introduction to Richmond’s city government began in the first half of 2018 when I accepted the position of first district liaison for Councilman Andreas Addison. Having previously worked as a parliamentary staffer in the British Parliament, I was keen to make my home in one of the most historic and consequential cities in the United States. Any illusions I held about the city of Richmond, however, were shattered within weeks.
Let me preface what I am about to disclose by affirming that Richmond’s city government is staffed by many good people who work tirelessly to deliver city services despite constraints. And Richmonders themselves are beginning to stand up for their history and future through volunteer groups like The Virginia Council. But Richmond’s government is largely a farce.
Feckless City Councils
City Council meetings are a prime example. Many council members like to hear the sound of their own voices, if only to obscure their own intellectual shortcomings. Their failure to understand the problems taxpaying citizens face was revealed in the perverse pleasure some of them clearly showed in stoking civic tensions, particularly on cultural issues. The council and its audiences would revel in endless, tedious debate, discouraging many citizens from attending council meetings while routinely attracting radical activists who often pushed their own agendas to the forefront of council business. Some council members — like then-Vice President Cynthia Newbille — did an admirable job constraining the council’s worst tendencies, but the majority of the council routinely acquiesced.
As a council liaison, I was the first responder responsible for any issue brought to my councilman’s office. This routinely involved an inordinate amount of time calling, emailing, and visiting residents about issues relating to infrastructure failures. Anyone who has lived in Richmond knows that city roads are on par with the developing world. When the city finally commits to repairing a road or alley, crews have been known to pave over drainage culverts, fill in ditches (which has resulted in the flooding of residential property), or disavow any responsibility for public property.
My councilman’s office routinely attempted to “play nice” when addressing such issues with the mayor’s office, the chief administrative officer, and the heads of the Departments of Public Works and Public Utilities. His fear of offending the mayor and his employees resulted in a failure to aggressively attend to his constituents’ needs. And this “sensitivity” has cost Richmond’s citizens dearly.
Prioritizing Activists Over Taxpayers
We have all heard the rationale for why infrastructure is not dealt with promptly: insufficient funds. Despite pleading near constant insolvency, the city aggressively bleeds its residents for tax revenue. In one instance, a former resident complained that she had received collections notices for personal property taxes on her car even though she relocated outside Virginia, yet her call to the city’s revenue department earned her only dripping contempt. The department insisted that she had not notified them of the move and that the city would get what was due. Stories like hers are disturbingly common and reflect a culture of contempt toward taxpayers.
Leading city officials, including Mayor Stoney, continuously disregard citizen pleas for prompt responses to essential needs. When there are snowstorms (remember December 2018?), they fail to clear the streets. When residents near the James River routinely report gunfire, they ignore calls to investigate. They fail to enforce traffic laws. For context, in 2023 Richmond operated under a $2.7 billion budget. The city of Boise, Idaho, by contrast, operated at $661.8 million for 2023, despite being home to more than 10,000 more residents than the city of Richmond.
The city government pleads “lack of resources” for essential functions, but when matters relating to history and culture arise, they respond quickly — by surrendering to militant leftists.
Radical activists have nested in Richmond and are using city government to achieve their goals. Encouraged by the attention of City Council members at community meetings, university students and other outside agitators slander Richmond’s history, malign the state of Virginia, deface statues of prominent historical Virginians, and vandalize civic monuments and works of public art.
Even today, while political violence has subsided across much of the country, it’s alive and well in Richmond. Earlier this fall, Antifa targeted a conference held by The Virginia Council and Common Sense Society over one of the speakers, citizen journalist Andy Ngo. Antifa members harassed and threatened employee and guest safety at the private Commonwealth Club downtown, causing the club to cancel the event.
After organizers shifted the conference to the Marriott Westin in next door Henrico County, the threats poured in there. While the local hotel property owner wanted to stay the course, Marriott forced him to back out the morning of the event, citing Antifa’s violent calls. The Virginia Council stayed the course, eventually hosting the event in a Henrico County recreation center protected by uniformed and plain-clothed police, who promised attendees they’d keep them safe. “Don’t worry,” one officer said. “This isn’t Richmond.”
Tearing Down History, Failing Essential Functions
Way back in 2019, my office had noticed the way the political wind was blowing and attempted to placate our most radical constituents. To this end, my council member tasked me with looking at the history and originating legislation for Jefferson Davis Highway’s name, as a first step toward removing the names of “problematic” individuals who did not hold contemporary social sensibilities from public spaces. This request, made before 2020’s social unrest, was only a precursor of later events.
Reports from other council members’ offices began to emerge. The Jefferson Davis statue on Monument Avenue would have to be removed. I expressed my opinion to my council member that this decision was incorrect. The solution was not to tear down, but to build: Other monuments could be erected to represent historically underrepresented people. His response? New monuments were impractical.
As the radical agenda made its way through city government, I expressed my opinion to the mayor’s office. Those monuments should not be altered, their purpose was not to further racial division, and primary source documents support my opinion. This elicited an audible gasp from one of the mayor’s staffers. “I didn’t think you were like that,” she said. My commitment to historic preservation had become anathema.
And this was only one example of experiences that started to become commonplace. In another notable incident, I joked to a council liaison that I hoped to tour Hollywood Cemetery before the mob destroyed it. He reacted by accusing me of being a Trump voter and yelling that I was to blame for everything that had happened to the country.
Faced with persistent negligence by the city and its fundamental duties to its own citizens, I resigned my position after a year of employment. I could no longer idly participate in the charade masquerading as a city government. My only regret is that I resigned before 2020’s iconoclastic tantrum. Had I waited, perhaps my resignation could have drawn more attention to these issues.
The municipal government is failing the people of Richmond. It is unable to satisfy essential functions: public infrastructure, responsible spending, and public safety. The mayor and council have opted instead to bizarrely attempt to “Californicate” Virginia’s capital and erase its history.
Richmond has been and can once again become the American South’s capital and cultural center. But the heart of Virginia is hemorrhaging. Richmond’s leaders must not be allowed to continue in their culture of malfeasance, destroying Virginia’s history, culture, and uniqueness in the process. Virginians must continue to make their voices heard within and outside of formal government institutions — in actions, in speech, and at the ballot box.
Draw inspiration and hope from groups like The Virginia Council, who are taking personal responsibility to champion Virginia’s best traditions and promote true prosperity (despite local Antifa elements’ unsuccessful attempts to cancel them.) Stand up with courage against the mob. If Virginians lead, America will follow.