RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond mayoral candidate Lawrence Williams sits at a picnic table in the backyard of his East End childhood home, a house now surrounded by public housing like Mosby Court.
When he was a child, Williams frequented a local barbershop with his father. That is where he met former Virginia governor and Richmond mayor Doug Wilder. At the time, Wilder was a lawyer, and Williams described him as a role model who inspired young men.
Public figures like Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King, Jr. allowed African Americans to take pride in themselves, a trait Williams said is now lacking in the community. He said he hoped to bring that pride back to everyone in Richmond with his third run for mayor.
“We don’t really have a positive role model that shapes our culture and I think we need that,” Williams said.
Robin Dickerson, a relative of Williams, said the candidate’s knowledge of Richmond could bring a positive change to the city. Dickerson hopes the next mayor will provide better leadership and improve the school system, a benefit to the city's younger generation.
Dickerson and Williams were both students in Richmond Public Schools during the period of integration. Williams described his public school education as a privilege. He attended Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and John Marshall High School, and then went on to the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture. He earned his master’s from Harvard University’s School of Design.
"We have seen how a good education, inside Richmond Public Schools, can make you go forward and move you forward to a professional job," Dickerson said. "We want kids to have that type of possibility."
Williams said the younger generation viewed communities living in “concentrations of poverty” as normal, but he wanted them to understand that it does not have to be a way of life.
"I was able to see both sides of our society, but now I look at it from a professional level," Williams said.
In his previous runs, Williams lost to Wilder in 2004 and then to current Mayor Dwight Jones four years later. This time, Williams doesn’t believe he has competition.
"Most of the other candidates really don’t have as much experience," Williams said. "How do you beat Doug Wilder? How do you beat Dwight Jones? Those were two hard, well-established politicians."
He added that citizens want a mayor who knows how to complete projects like building the baseball stadium, neighborhood planning, and building schools.
Reverend Herbert Ponder, of Mount Tabor Baptist Church, referred to Williams as a walking history book. Williams has been a member of the church for more than 27 years.
"He knows how the landscape has changed, how the communities have changed," Ponder said. "As an architect, he has a particular eye for not only where we are but where we can be."
Although Ponder is not a Richmond resident, he has offered Williams moral support during his last two runs for mayor.
"[Williams] seems to always be looking for a way that can benefit people in the development of persons and build capacity within community," Ponder said.
But in the most recent polls on the mayoral race, Williams has barely registered and was overshadowed by the front runners Joe Morrissey, Jack Berry, and Levar Stoney.
Looking at his standing in the polls, Williams said he believed Richmond voters have been influenced to vote for the candidate who is running the best campaign instead of who they believe to be the best option for mayor. He said he believed that the first poll released in August, which had him polling at one percent, did not accurately represent all voters and was conducted too early.
"In this election, we’re going to see if campaign marketing wins," he said.
Williams said he continued to run for city office, because he wanted to show the average citizen that they don’t need to have deep pockets to make a difference.
"I’ve done a lot of things, and so what is next for someone like me? I’ve got to always challenge myself,” he said. “If you don’t try something, you’ll look back on it and say ‘I wish I had done it.'"
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported this story. The class will profile each Richmond mayoral candidate in the coming days.