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Electing Richmond's Mayor:  The Qualities We Seek and Eight Women Who Possess Them
by Viola Osborne Baskerville and Claire Gastañaga. Richmond WOMAN, Vol. 1, Issue 5, Spring 2004, pp.12-14

Now that the Virginia General Assembly has approved a charter change allowing the City of Richmond to move forward with plans to elect our mayor in November, it is time to focus on the qualifications and skills desirable in the City’s elected Chief Executive Officer.

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins emphasizes that it is essential for any company seeking to move from good to great to start by having the “right people on the bus.”  The same is true for the City of Richmond. 

A change in the structure of Richmond’s city government alone will not resolve the problems and challenges we face.  What will allow Richmond to move from “good to great” is to use our power as citizens to choose the right individuals to lead us. In no other political office is it more critical for us to put the “right person on the bus” than in electing Richmond’s mayor.

What qualities will the “right person” possess?  First, the individual must have a passion for our city and must be unrelenting in his or her dedication to moving Richmond forward.  An example of a mayor who has led his city to new heights through such unrelenting dedication is seven-term mayor Joe Riley of Charleston, South Carolina. Washington Post columnist David Broder said, "...what has been achieved here under his leadership is extraordinary," adding "...it is mainly the way that Charleston treats the social problems that all old cities share that has made Riley's long reign so remarkable."  It is not Joe Riley’s precise vision for his city that we suggest as a model, but his passion, dedication, and perseverance in pursuing that vision.

Second, the “right person” must have unquestioned integrity.  Stephen Carter says integrity requires a person to stand up for what is right, to denounce what is wrong, and to take action in accordance with one’s beliefs. The old adage “actions speak louder than words” is more than just a saying; it takes on added significance when, as will be the case now in Richmond, citizens hold a single individual accountable for all aspects of city governance.

Third, the “right person” must be ready to ask others for assistance in defining the city’s future.  Richmond’s mayor must collaborate – not dictate – in developing, articulating, and implementing a vision for the City.  We are not electing a “king” or “queen,” we are electing a leader who understands what Robert Kelley calls “the power of followership.”  Most of what happens in an organization can be attributed to its followers. The city is no different from other organizations in this essential fact.  The ability to challenge and engage people from every district and from all walks of life will be essential to the success of both the new mayor and the city itself.

Fourth, the person must be competent and effective. The new mayor must have the skills and experience necessary to inspire confidence and trust. We are electing a person to a full-time job as Chief Executive Officer of the city.  This job will require thoughtful leadership, strong analytical skills, and the ability to think critically. Intellectual energy and curiosity will be needed to envision and implement creative approaches to both short and long term goals. The mayor must also have the ability to recruit and employ the “right people” in this effort.

Finally, the person we elect will need courage to confront sacred cows, historical realities, and urban myths in order to lead our city from “good to great.”  There will be many ready to criticize and more invested in the failure of the individual we elect or the new model of governance we have chosen.  The new mayor will need to listen actively to all, to understand the conversation and the context, to make decisions that are inclusive and achievable, and to move forward with resolution, regardless of detractors and critics.

Who will this person be?  Most of the potential candidates that we’ve heard discussed thus far are men.  Therefore, we’d like to suggest eight women we think could meet these job requirements, now or in the future, to be Richmond’s elected mayor:

Phyllis Cothran, retired CEO of Trigon/Blue Cross Blue Shield; member of the board of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services; former Chair of the Greater Richmond Partnership; recipient of the 1994 YWCA Outstanding Woman Award

Jean Cunningham, former member of the Virginia House of Delegates; retired Director of Human Resources for a subsidiary of Alcoa; member, Virginia Health Care Foundation Board, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and the Board of the Virginia Poverty Law Center; recipient of the 1987 YWCA Outstanding Woman Award

Jackie M. Jackson, current member of the Richmond City Council; former member Richmond School Board; network engineer at Capital One

Jennifer McClellan, corporate lawyer at Verizon; received the Young Lawyer of the Year Award from the Virginia State Bar 

Anne Whittemore, commercial litigator; former Chair of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond; former member of the boards of Fort James Corporation, the Greater Richmond Community Foundation and of Virginia Commonwealth University; recipient of the 1986 Outstanding Woman Award

Jacquelyn Stone, corporate lawyer at McGuire Woods; member of the State Council on Higher Education and board mmber of the Arts Council, Junior Achievement and the Science Museum; recipient of the 2000 YWCA Outstanding Woman Award; one of Richmond Magazine’s “100 Power Players”

Marilyn West, business owner and award-winning management consultant; chair or former chair of Bon Secours’ Health Care System Acute Care Board, Richmond Hospital Authority, and Leadership Metro Richmond; one of Richmond Magazine’s “100 Power Players”

Panny Rhodes, former member of the Virginia House of Delegates; engineer and educator; member of the Virginia Commission for National and Community Service and board of Youth Matters; founding trustee of VCU School of Engineering; recipient of the 1990 YWCA Outstanding Woman Award

Regardless of whether any of these women chooses to step forward to seek the office of mayor, we put their names forward because it is critical for Richmond women to see themselves as potential city leaders now or in the future – whether elected or appointed.  Too often, women take themselves out of the political process and define themselves as “unqualified” for either election or appointment to public office. Yet they have much to offer, and they often have resumes equal to or superior to those of the men who seek such offices.  It is time for us as women to step forward to take our rightful place as leaders in a democracy in which we are the majority.

We urge Richmond women to become engaged in the process of recruiting and electing Richmond’s first citywide mayor and the members of City Council who will be elected in 2004 as the new mayor’s partners in governing our city.  Register to vote if you have not already done so, and ensure that your business associates, employees, family members and friends are registered as well.  Become informed about the candidates and the issues. Finally, be sure to vote in November.  The future of your family, your neighborhood, your business, and your city are dependent upon who we choose to be “on the bus” leading the City of Richmond now and in the future.(end)

Viola Osborne Baskerville is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates who previously served as a member of Richmond’s City Council and as the City’s Vice Mayor.

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