Tim Kaine's Story is the Story of DMO
"If I'm good at anything in politics, it's because I started at the local level" – Tim Kaine speaking at the 2016 Democratic National Convention
Before Senator Kaine entered the DNC stage as an avuncular VP pick with a (believe me) great Donald Trump impression, he was a municipal official. Tim Kaine’s trajectory to the White House started with his service on the Richmond City Council. This month we’re doing a slightly different profile of a local official who went national. Meet Tim Kaine, who served both as a council member and as Mayor of Richmond, VA, and our DMO Alumni of the Month this August.
Tim Kaine's Richmond faced many of the same issues playing out at the national level today. The notable difference is that Kaine was able to implement solutions locally that now seem impossible at the federal level. As a council member, Tim Kaine advocated for Project Exile to fight gun violence. The program prosecuted firearm possession charges in federal court rather than state. Convictions carried a mandatory minimum sentence of five years, with ten years required for offenders who falsified information to obtain a firearm or made a straw purchase for a felon. While mandatory minimum sentencing has fallen out of favor, the project came at a time when gun deaths were skyrocketing and the community was demanding a response. Project Exile cut the homicide rate in Richmond by over 50%. Almost more shocking, it boasted support of both gun safety groups and the National Rifle Association. It’s a testament to the unique power of local officials like Kaine that they can broker such unlikely partnerships.
During an election year where Democrats voice their support for law enforcement while recognizing the systemic racial injustice perpetrated by the legal system, Tim Kaine can draw on the compromises he forged in local office. For instance, a proposed city mural of Robert E. Lee left some Richmond residents outraged at the recognition of the Confederate general. Others wanted the mural to include Lee in honor of the city’s history. Kaine listened to both sides, placing Lee in a less prominent position and including him in the context of Abraham Lincoln and Powhatan Beaty. Kaine made the distinction that even ugly history should not be swept under the rug as we move forward.
Another situation where Kaine found a reasonable compromise came when members of the Nation of Islam were selling their newspapers on roadside medians. It was a situation where the opposition could be portrayed as either public safety proponents, or racially motivated censors. Kaine found common ground, allowing members of the Nation to sell their papers from the sidewalk, but banning the sale from dangerous medians. As a final testament to his sincerity, then Mayor Kaine apologized on behalf of the city of Richmond for its history of slavery. Addressing America’s past and present racism requires these important first steps, and an enduring moral commitment to repairing the damage. Kaine’s work in municipal office displays an earnest desire to heal these wounds while refusing to downplay a shameful past.
Kaine’s success in Richmond would make any local official proud. He helped create 76,000 jobs during his time in office. Under his leadership, Forbes named Richmond one of the ten best cities to do business in. He saved taxpayers millions by arranging a sale-leaseback agreement to renovate the historic Maggie L Walker High, and went on to build four additional public schools. He created tax abatements for homeowners and tax incentives for businesses. Kaine expanded the bus system, and brought train service back to the city after a two decades-long absence. His work focused on improving education, infrastructure, and economic vitality, the basic qualities that make any city great.
Local elections matter. Tim Kaine won his first council race by just 97 votes. Those votes kicked off a career that brought Kaine from the city council to the mayor’s office, from the Lieutenant Governor’s seat to the Governor’s mansion, and from the US Senate to candidate for Vice President. Each step of the way, Kaine was able to draw on the experience he gained serving the people of Richmond. His political career is rooted in building coalitions and being held accountable for what he could accomplish. Kaine’s story is our story; a Democratic municipal official whose local grown talents led to success in wider office. As America continues to struggle with gun violence, racism, and a recovering economy, DMO is excited for the nation to learn what Richmond already knows about Tim Kaine. Local officials get the job done.
Are you a former municipal official? We need your experience here at DMO. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about joining our Alumni Council.