Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney declares candidacy for governor

The waiting is over for Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who declared on Monday that he is running to become Virginia’s next governor — and the second African American to hold the office — touting practical experience gained from almost seven years as mayor of the state capital city and his commitment to giving all people what he called “a fair shot at success.”

Stoney, 42, launched his candidacy with a video announcement that sets the stage for a Democratic primary showdown with U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, for the party gubernatorial nomination in 18 months.

Spanberger, 44, declared her candidacy in a similar fashion three weeks earlier, forgoing reelection to a fourth term in Congress for a bid to become the first woman to serve as governor.

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Whoever wins the nomination is likely to face a formidable Republican opponent, either Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, the first Black woman elected to statewide office in Virginia, or Attorney General Jason Miyares, the first Hispanic elected to statewide office in Virginia.

The 3½-minute video focuses on Stoney’s personal journey as the child of unwed parents who was raised by his working-class father and grandmother in York County.

It also cites his accomplishments as mayor that have less to do with big economic development projects that failed — such as a twice-rejected proposal for a casino resort or the failed Navy Hill redevelopment of downtown — than nuts-and-bolts improvements in the city’s finances, repair of roads and sidewalks, a reduction in poverty, and increased investments in schools and affordable housing.

“We brought down Confederate statues that don’t reflect our values and built up schools that do,” he said in a reference to the city’s removal of monuments to the Confederacy after nightly protests that erupted in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis and targeted the statues as symbols of entrenched racism.


Mayor Levar Stoney poses for a photo outside of Richmond City Hall on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023.

Stoney: State ‘looking for a governor who gets things done’

In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Sunday, Stoney said, “I just believe Virginians are looking for a governor who gets things done.”

A political protégé of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Stoney has made no secret of his interest in running for governor, which he first hinted to The Times-Dispatch in April and then confirmed by filing his statement of organization last week for the coming campaign.

But he said his candidacy was not a long-held ambition, but instead came from the executive experience he gained in two terms as the mayor of a city facing multiple challenges.

“I’ve grown in this job,” Stoney said in The Times-Dispatch interview in advance of his announcement.

“Did I have a front-row seat at watching a governor lead a state? Absolutely!” he said in reference to his role as Secretary of the Commonwealth under McAuliffe. “I also knew I needed experience first.”

Stoney will try to use that executive-level experience against Spanberger, a three-term congresswoman who has represented both the Richmond and Northern Virginia suburbs.

His political base has been Richmond’s Black voters, but he contends that his two mayoral victories with pluralities against multiple candidates shows his broader appeal.

“I have run tough races in the city,” he said. “That made me have to build a broad-based coalition.”

Stoney’s campaign launch also takes a shot at Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who defeated McAuliffe for governor in 2021 and was touted as a potential candidate for the presidency before Democrats won control of both chambers of the General Assembly in elections in November.

“Right now, families across Virginia are struggling, just like mine did,” Stoney says in the video. “Kids aren’t getting the education they deserve, just because they live in the wrong ZIP code.”

“And we have a governor who is more worried about his own agenda that yours and more focused on taking away people’s rights than lifting them up.”

Stoney is relying heavily on his personal story, which dominates his campaign video, “Hands.” The video is a tribute to his father, Marvin, who died in 2011 at age 49 after working multiple low-paying jobs, including janitor at a high school, to pay for his son’s education.

“My dad’s hands say it all,” he says at the beginning of the video. “They were so calloused, so tough. He worked so hard for us.”

“I remember him telling me, ‘I don’t want you to ever have hands like mine.’ Like all parents, he just wanted me to have it a little easier than he had.”‘

A contrast to his opponent 

Stoney, who remarried in February and now expects his first child, intends to use his upbringing to reach voters who have faced similar challenges.

“I grew up in a poor, working-class family,” he said Sunday. “I know what it feels like to struggle. I think a lot of Virginians relate to that.”

His campaign is also likely to contrast his story with that of Spanberger, who grew up in a middle-class family in the Richmond suburbs and went on to a career in law enforcement, first at the U.S. Postal Service and then at the CIA.

“We obviously have different backgrounds. We have different upbringings. … I respect her service,” he said.

Stoney also acknowledged that some Democrats have urged him to run instead for lieutenant governor, as then-state Sen. Doug Wilder did before becoming the nation’s first elected Black governor in 1990 and then-Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine did before becoming governor in 2006.

“For those who think I should run for another office, I think being mayor has given me the necessary experience to be an executive at the state level,” he said in the interview.

Michael Martz (804) 649-6964

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