FUN FACT: Two of our current City Council representatives are THE longest serving in the modern history of city government

Feb 29, 2024 | by

In 1977, Richmond elected it’s first City Council under the current nine district set up. The big deal in 1977 was whether or not it there was going to be Black majority and who the Council would select to be mayor.

In that historic first election after the annexation, Walter Kenney was chosen to represent the 6th District and held the seat until 1994.

Following Kenney’s years of civic service, a few of folks who helped set the Council’s reputation as a quagmire represented the 6th District. L. Shirley Harvey failed to pay five years of utility bills, rented out condemned property, and “also made news by leading a sunrise prayer service on City Hall’s observation deck, where she spoke in tongues and prayed against evil spirits.” A little bit later another 6th District Council representative Sa’ad El-Amin pled guilty to conspiracy to evade federal taxes and had to resign.

On the heals of these less than stellar examples of civic duty, Ellen Robertson won a special election on November 4, 2003, was sworn in on November 5 – and has held the 6th District seat steady straight on through.

Richmond in 2003 was very much the same city of the 1990s, marred by violent crime, disinvestment, and abandonment. The city population was still in decline. There were 94 murders that year – and 95 the next. The next year ANOTHER City Council representative would be indicted (and later convicted) for bribery, conspiracy, attempted bribery, taking a bribe, and lying to federal authorities. It was spicy times.

“When I first came on Council, downtown was a ghost city,” says Robertson, “and Manchester was abandoned, non functional industrial warehouses. Our infrastructure was failing. Schools, libraries, fire and police station were in danger of destruction. The economy was devastating.”

Jump to 2024 and the defining demographic characteristic of City Council is that it’s eight women and one man. Steady growing since 2008, Richmond has taken on a new set of issues. The tenor of City Council has changed as well – the only scandal in recent years has been a representative moving out of their district.

With Richmond in a very different place, Robertson takes the opportunity to call for more affordable housing. “We desperately need regional support to adequately meet the region’s needs of the poor. […] we need State and regional collaboration to add 40,000 units of affordable housing.”

Alongside Ellen Robertson, Reva Trammel in the 9th District has 21 years experience on City Council. She first held the office from July 1, 1998 to June 30, 2002, and has held the seat continuously since January 1, 2007. These two women’s careers in Richmond’s government span the most years of anyone since 1948 – and perhaps much farther back.

The list of City Council members only goes back to 1948. From 1918 through 1948, the mayor was elected and was responsible for most of the key appointments. Prior to that there were elected alderman from 1782-1918, of which I can find no records.

There were a few mayors who had lengthy runs before the position was term-limited. William C. Carrington held the office from 1876-1888, George Ainslie was mayor from 1912-1924, and John Fulmer Bright was in office from 1924-1940.

PHOTO Richmond City Council 2013

One thought on “FUN FACT: Two of our current City Council representatives are THE longest serving in the modern history of city government”

  1. It’s time for Robertson to go bye bye. She is just as corrupt as the rest of them. We need new leadership in the district and the city as a whole.

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