Chris Hilbert

District 3 candidate (incumbent)

Overall participation: 71%

Question 1:
List five initiatives that you believe are more important than finding a new baseball team for the City of Richmond.

Continuing to Reduce Crime (Community Policing)
Improving our School System (Through improving our middle schools)
Blight Reduction (Getting legislation through General Assembly to hold property owners accountable)
Economic Development of our Neighborhoods (Increase CARE money)
Adequately fund our infrastruture improvements (Establish a storm water utility)

I could name 15 others. The replacement of the team is low on my priority list.

Question 2:
What are two qualities that people who know you well might say make you suited for the office you seek?

I am passionate about the real issues facing our city. The issues of crime, education and community building are not just campaign rhetoric; they are very much a part of who I am.

Because an immediate family member of mine was murdered, I want safer streets for us all. I know the pain that this trauma inflicts upon the entire community. I want to not only be there for the community in a crisis, but am working on crime fighting issues such as adding 100 new police officers since I have been on council. It also means working on prevention programs, protecting our youth from the harsh realities of our streets by promoting positive activities in which they can participate.

Also, by being the first person in my family to graduate from college, I know what a difference it has made in my life. I went to an underperforming high school and know that I had to work that much harder when I went to college. I want those same opportunities for the children of Richmond, but without the obstacles that I faced.

Finally, I have spent the last 10 years of my professional career in community development lending. That is lending in low and moderate income neighborhoods, to developers of affordable housing and businesses that serve and/or employee low and moderate income individuals. Serving on city council provides me an opportunity to have an even greater impact in these areas.

Therefore, I believe that my life experiences uniquely qualify me for the most important issues facing our city: crime, education and building strong communities.

Persistent Independence:
When I came to council in 2005, I was ready to work with the Administration in a collaborative fashion on the important issues facing our city. I wanted to elevate the discussion. However, we quickly became entangled with issues over budget procedures and other technicalities. Nonetheless, I stayed true to my pledge to conduct myself in a fashion that would reflect positively upon the city. I did not engage in name-calling or other divisive language, yet I persisted in maintaining a sense of decorum even though I disagreed with others. I spoke out when I saw something that I believe was wrong, regardless of who was involved. My loyalties will always lie with the people of our district and the citizens of the city. They are the ones who sent me to city hall to represent their interests. It is certainly important to have good working relationships with people and I believe that I have laid that foundation at city hall. However, I do this in the context of knowing that I work for the residents of our district and the citizens of Richmond.

Question 3:
What are your thoughts on the relationship between the current mayor and city council? Outline a model for how you’d like to see the mayor and city council work together in the future.

Obviously, the current relationship between council and mayor is strained. Given that I took an oath to uphold the law, I have an obligation to stand up when I believe that the charter of the city is being violated. I cannot and will not sacrifice my integrity for the sake of “peace” at city hall. However, I refuse to respond in kind to those who have resorted to name calling. No one can expect that there will be agreement on all issue. However, citizens have a right to expect that their elected officials will handle the situation in a respectful manner and I believe that I have acted in that spirit. City Council and the Mayor have and will continue to work together on a lot of issues. For instance, the ordinance to purchase the building in the 2200 block of Chamberlayne Av. for the relocation of the 4th police precinct was patroned by Mayor Wilder, Ellen Robertson and myself. These items do not usually make the evening news because conflict is a more interesting story.

The model that I see for council-mayor relations would be that of mutual respect and cooperation via the sharing of information between the 2 branches of government. After all, we both work for the citizens. Should I be re-elected, I look forward to implementing this system with a new mayor.

Question 4:
If you support the proposed Downtown Master Plan and if you are elected, what specifically will you do to ensure the plan is implemented? If you oppose the proposed Downtown Master Plan and if you are elected, what steps will you take to correct, change, or modify the plan?

I support the downtown master plan as proposed. It emphasizes our city’s greatest natural asset, the James River. Fourteen years ago, when I moved to Richmond, I was struck by how underutilitized the river was. While there has been some improvement, I believe that the master plan gives us a roadmap for greater access and use of the river. In addition, the plan changes the concept of our downtown streets from a place to simply expedite the flow of traffic in and out of the city to an environment that is more friendly to pedestrians and the economic development of downtown. Streetscapes will be planned in accordance with new urbanism design using the new zoning approved by council for mixed use developments which decrease our dependence on automobiles. Finally, the plan gives a format for addressing issues of development with the state government. While the region as a whole certainly benefits from Richmond being the capital city of Virginia, the city carries the bulk of the downside. Namely, the $4.6 billion of properties owned by the commonwealth that are exempt from real estate taxes, providing police and fire protection for state workers and facilities and the loss of control of the development of properties owned by the state government. The master plan gives a mechanism to address the later issue.

The process for gathering feedback from the public was inclusive and the Director of Community Development, Rachael Flynn and her staff are to be commended. The downtown master plan is very important for our city, region and state and should be implemented without delay. In addition, I look forward to the process of developing master plans for the other neighborhoods of our city where the majority of our citizens reside.

To implement the plan, the next council must be ready to appropriate money for the acquisition of any properties and approve any necessary changes to traffic flow and zoning. There are and there will continue to be issues of disagreement on the final plan. However it should be noted that the plan can be adjusted for changing circumstances as needed in the future. Now is the time to approve the plan as proposed.

Question 5:
What do you consider to be Richmond’s greatest asset? What do you consider to be its greatest liability?

I believe that our greatest asset in Richmond is engaged people. Our city has faced trouble over the years such crime, declining neighborhoods, divisions along racial and economic lines, poverty, and underperforming schools. While good decisions by policymakers can help, and have helped, in all these areas, real progress has come about largely because of the hard work of individuals who are engaged in our community.

By engagement, I’m talking about the teacher who puts in extra time to make a change in the life of a student. I see volunteers who mentor at-risk children, providing strong positive role models. I see activists in neighborhood associations who spend countless hours working to make our neighborhoods more attractive, stronger, and safer. Citizens like Kim Lavach, who is wife and a mother of two young girls who participates in the PTA and her civic association, working to improve the lighting along Chamberlayne Av. or like Thomas James, who served on the Board of Neighborhood Housing Services for a number of years helping to revitalize the neighborhoods of Battery Park and Barton Heights. People like Martha Rollins, who founded Boaz and Ruth, make our community stronger and safer by providing job training to formerly incarcerated men and women, offering a future of employment and hope rather than a future of crime and despair. Engaged volunteers at churches work to provide meals and shelter to our most needy citizens. We are blessed with people like Gaither Beard, who has volunteered countless hours over the years coaching sports, creating positive alternatives for our youth.

It is engaged people like these examples that provide the strength and fabric of our community. Government can do more – and must do more – for our citizens, but the bedrock of our city is the hard work of engaged people who are doing the right thing in our community.

The flip side of our engaged citizens is the apathy that unfortunately exists in many quarters. In Richmond, all of us, whether we want to to admit it or not, will move forward – or backwards – together. The City of Richmond is the core and strength of our region. All parts of our city and communities within our city as being interrelated. Apathy about our city stands in the way of reaching our potential as a region. Our elected officials often haven’t done enough to communicate with and engage the citizens. If our citizens don’t feel that they have a voice in city government, they have much less incentive to be involved. As a member of City Council, I’ve attempted to bridge this gap in several ways, including holding monthly district town hall meetings to ask for regular significant input and involvement from citizens. More must be done and I see it as important to long-term goal to increase regional cooperation and increase the belief among our suburban neighbors that all of Richmond matters.

It hurts our city when many of the residents of the Richmond area essentially turn their backs, coming into the city just for work while ignoring the challenges that we must all face together. Crime anywhere in our city hurts our whole region. Problems in our schools limit our future potential. When people are apathetic about a problem because it is in a different part of town or doesn’t seem to affect their family, they are ignoring the fact that we are all one community.

I believe that Richmond is moving in the right direction. The biggest part of our progress comes from the engagement of our citizens and their willingness to work to move our city forward. If this culture of engagement can be spread to replace the apathy that exists in too many areas, our city with thrive and prosper.

Question 6:
If elected, how will you promote the use of public transportation by Richmond residents? What improvements would you make to the current system in order to do so?


Question 7:
The city, state, and nation are facing a severe economic crisis, and yet during elections we typically hear candidates promoting projects and ideas that will require additional financial support. What are some initiatives you think Richmond is going to have to put on the back burner as we weather these challenging times? Please explain why.