Donald Moss has won the Dogtown Dish’s 6th District City Council Poll in convincing fashion. In fact, he won two thirds of the votes. That’s pretty impressive for a newcomer to the Richmond political scene.
I recently sat down with Donald for coffee in order to get to know him. We had not met before, so this was our first interaction. What I see in Donald Moss is a highly energetic, young man who wants to see the Richmond political scene change for the better. He jumps right to the point. No unnecessary pleasantries, just business.
The million dollar question is whether Donald Moss can translate his strong poll results into votes. Those who dismiss Mr. Moss, should stand up and take note. Mr. Moss is on a mission…and I get the impression he intends to give the incumbent, Ellen Robertson, quite a race.
As a follow up to our meeting, Donald agreed to answer similar questions I recently posed to Mayoral candidates Jack Berry and Levar Stoney. Here is what Donald had to say.
Where did you grow up?
I’m the product of children having children, my father was 20 and my mother was 18. After initially living on Franklin and 14th in Shockoe Bottom, my grandparents sued and won custody of me, rescuing me from an abusive childhood. We lived in Montpelier in Hanover County. When I was a kid I always stayed in the city with friends. I returned to the City to attend VCU in 2003 and have lived here ever since.
In what area of the City do you live?
My wife and our two dogs live in Southern Barton Heights in North Side. Best kept secret in the City.
In your career, what is your greatest accomplishment?
Bringing Comcast Cares to Byrd Park in 2013 when I worked in the CAO’s office. 300 volunteers and many thousands of dollars went into beautifying and renovating the park. It was an example of bringing in corporate dollars to save taxpayers money. No public funds were spent on the beautification drive.
Tell us why you believe you are qualified to be elected to City Council?
As a long time organizer and activist, I’ve proven that I’ll listen to every voice and work for consensus. As a die-hard Richmonder I’ve seen our successes and our failures. Recently, scandals and chasing shiny objects has left city council distracted from the basics.
I have experience working in both the legislative (General Assembly aide) and executive branch (City Hall). I know what it will take to get things done and deliver for the citizens of the 6th District.
I am the only candidate in the 6th who has shown a willingness to do the hard work of constituent relations and legislative research. From knocking on doors, I’ve heard the people of the 6th District complain about an unaccountable, indifferent, and disrespectful city council and city government.
Throughout this campaign I’ve been out cutting grass and picking up litter from Highland Park to Hillside Court. I won’t stop as your next city council member.
What is your priority list for the City if you are elected to City Council?
1. Unjam the backlog of vacant and tax delinquent properties that are blighting our neighborhoods. We need to create a Land Bank and auction blighted properties to developers and nonprofits. We need to fill in the holes in our neighborhoods and we need to start now.
2. Undertake a complete audit of every city department to learn where we are efficient and where we aren’t. Any investment in personnel or equipment should be based on outcomes and efficiencies; we don’t need to throw money at problems.
3. Increase Richmond police and fire department pay. Right now we need to hire 45 more officers to meet minimums for our police force. It’s unconscionable that our sworn officers are working double shifts or struggling to pay their mortgage while working full time for our city.
4. Create a monthly citizen’s roundtable in Northside, Fairfield/Whitcomb, Manchester, and Hillside to stay in touch with the good people of the 6th and make sure their needs are being heard and met. It’s been a long time since anyone went into the District and found out what folks need. Out on the doors, I’ve heard from citizens that they’re tired of having to struggle to reach their representatives and city government.
The City has been criticized for its use of tax dollars for private development projects such as the Redskins Training Facility, Stone Brewing, etc. Do you feel these projects were in the City’s best interest as they are structured? What do you feel the role of the City should be for economic development activities?
I’m torn – I’m glad Stone is here, but the more details of the deal come out, it looks like the deal was pretty bad.
The Redskins deal is a complete train wreck – the city council voted to take $10 million dollars from Richmond Public Schools and give it to a billion-dollar sports team. I have faith that we can continue to be an attractive place for businesses to come – but that doesn’t mean stealing from public schools, taxpayers, or taking from one business to give away to another.
It seems like all of the recent economic development projects were not in the best interest of the city. We need to establish a much higher standard for EDA-based deals for over a million dollars to protect taxpayers.
As for economic development activities, we can increase that attractiveness by making it easier to start a business. We can improve the CARE credit (workforce housing) and historic tax credit programs to continue construction and rehabilitation development.
The Economic Development Authority has been widely criticized as a non-transparent entity that does business on behalf of the City but avoids the same rules and protections that normally apply to official City business. Do you believe the Economic Development Authority should continue to exist? Should it be eliminated? Should it be changed?
The EDA should be modified. Specifically, we need to decouple Community Development and Economic Development. Their interests don’t overlap, and are often conflicting.
I can’t see a world without an EDA, but I’ll work to keep deals focused, under budget, and over delivered.
The City has a track record of selling City owned real estate to developers in a closed door process and often at below market rates, rather than simply auctioning City property off to the highest bidder with an accompanying development contract. This whole process as it currently stands seems like it is highly subject to abuse. If elected, would you be open to changing the city owned real estate disposition process and if so, how would it work?
I mentioned earlier the creation of a Land Bank to help end blight in our neighborhoods. Part of that Land Bank would be strict rules on acceptable use of properties transferred to for-profit or nonprofit entities. Any transfers need to be transparent and originate from an intent of fair dealing with the public.
Mayor Jones just announced the need to dip into the City’s emergency fund, and proposed raising the meals tax, real estate tax, personal property tax, implementing a cigarette tax, etc. Are you supportive of any of these proposed tax increases? If so, which tax increases would you support?
From what we know now: No to dipping into the emergency fund, no to raising meals tax, real estate or personal property taxes, yes to creating a cigarette tax.
The first thing we need is more information. The city finance department is currently unable to even describe the depth of the hole we’re in. When we get the finance report done, city council will be able to understand what we need to do to solve this problem.
More generally, we all need to know we can’t tax our way out of our current mess. Our needs are too great. We must be better and wiser stewards of our current revenues before we go hunting for more.
First we need to fix the city finance department, five finance directors in four years in unacceptable and its no wonder the department doesn’t work.
Second, we need to go after taxes we aren’t currently collecting by hiring fulltime, in-house tax collectors who have the expectation of 100% reclamation.
Third, we need to remember that we need more revenue, not necessarily more taxes. Growing the economy will bring in more revenue than a few cents on a meals tax. We need to invest in creating jobs, bringing new businesses to the city, and most importantly, helping existing businesses that are already in the city expand.
Manchester has seen virtually no basic maintenance from the City in decades, let alone infrastructure improvements. However, private developers, business owners, artists, and residents are flocking to the area and investing in Manchester. Can you understand that Manchester stakeholders are frustrated and feel they are being ignored by the City?
Manchester is an excellent example of what has happened in other parts of Richmond – the neighborhood grew despite our local government – not because of it. Still, Richmonders have made it happen and made Manchester one of the most dynamic parts of the city.
As a student, as an activist, as a local government worker, as a non-profit director, and as a homeowner, I’m surprised every day that the people of Richmond haven’t surrounded city hall with pitchforks. My impetus to serve comes largely from my upbringing, but also in part from being tired of complaining!
The list of maintenance and infrastructure improvements needed in Manchester is daunting. What do you see as the top priorities for Manchester?
The Mayo Bridge, good lord, that is a mess!
Manchester, like the rest of the 6th, hasn’t had a dime spent on its streets or roads (outside of UCI downtown) in decades.
We’ve got to raise revenues, and we need to elect someone to Council seat who is going to fight to bring dollars to our district. Other districts get plenty of funding, and it’s high time we saw our share.
Downtown and Manchester are the happeningist places in the City, and they should be treated as the jewels they are.
My three priorities for infrastructure in Manchester: Roads and sidewalks, riverfront plan, streetlights.
It seems as if the City of Richmond’s Police Sector 112 is so geographically diverse being that it is spread across both sides of the River, that the lieutenant in charge is seemingly assigned an impossible task. Manchester seems to suffer as a result. Are you open to redrawing the police sector map, so Manchester can have a more focused police presence?
I would be, if RPD were all right with it. Lt. Brereton is doing a great job with what he has. If we staffed up appropriately, I could see a substation being placed in Manchester. It’s a conversation I look forward to having with RPD.
Do you see the Manchester side of the City Riverfront Plan being acted upon if you are elected?
With all possible haste.
I often refer to Manchester as a City within a City. It has incredible opportunity for increasing the tax base, jobs, and population growth for Richmond if the City would make it a priority and invest in it. If you are elected, would you be open to creating a Manchester czar, task force, or some form of official representation with the City to focus specifically on Manchester specific problems and opportunities?
You won’t need a Czar with me – I’ll be focused on our “City within a City.” Manchester is special. I see the best way forward is to increase community representation by creating a commission with some official powers. Models like that have worked in other parts of the city like the fan.
Anything else you would like to share?
I love Richmond more than I can put into words. This city has given me everything I have, and I ache when I see how poorly Richmond and her citizens are treated by our elected officials.
This is a grassroots campaign with grassroots support. This campaign’s not going to be financed by big developers, realtors, or big-dollar donations. Of my 150-plus backers, all but three or four gave less than $100. I’m in this race to represent the people, please give me a call on my cell to let me know what you think: 804-869-1279