This serial entrepreneur and history-making politician wants to lead Richmond, Virginia into a new chapter. (Credit: Michelle Mosby’s campaign)

Michelle Mosby’s approach to public service? Treat it like customer service.

This makes sense for Mosby, 55, of Richmond, Virginia – after all, she’s founded several people-centered startups over the years. She launched the nonprofit Help Me Help You Foundation in 2008 to assist the recently incarcerated with easing back into society, and continues to serve as its president to this day. (Virginia does boast one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation.) She is also the owner of Richmond’s International Hair Salon, which she opened in 2001 and still manages herself. And, since 2016, she has worked as a real estate agent in the region.

Now, she’s applying those years of customer-centric work to running for mayor of Richmond. 

She’s also bringing years of experience in civil service to the table – from 2012 to 2016, she sat on Richmond’s City Council, and made history by being named its first-ever Black woman president in 2015. “Within yourself, you feel some type of way – ‘Am I worthy? Is this the role I should be stepping into?’” she noted of the historic moment. 

But with the time and opportunities she got, “I was able to make some great things happen,” she says. Those achievements include the construction of new schools; investing in improvements to Richmond’s riverfront; and significant local transportation upgrades. 

Mosby, a Democrat, has four other competitors to go up against this Election Day. The current mayor, Levar Stoney, a Democrat, has reached his term limit and is presently pursuing a run for Virginia’s lieutenant governor. To bolster her campaign, she’s secured a slew of endorsements from a host of local and state political, community and religious leaders, as well as from organizations like Higher Heights, which supports progressive Black women running for office.

Mosby believes that “in [Richmond’s] next chapter, this city needs someone focused on her.” She adds that she has no aspirations for a higher office than mayor – this is the top of the ladder, rather than a springboard. She feels confident that “this is what Richmond needs and deserves – someone focused on its policies and initiatives and people.”

People-Centered Work

Mosby is a lifelong Virginian. She attended college in-state, too, at Virginia Union University and Norfolk State University, completing school in 1990. She then focused on local activism efforts and caring for her now-33-year-old daughter, Mesha, before jumping into startup life by opening her salon in 2001 in a bid to offer jobs to neighbors in need of work.

Mosby’s run for office came from that same community-minded place. After she attempted to meet with her city councilman to discuss recidivism rates – and found herself unable to schedule an appointment, despite numerous attempts – she decided to run for a spot on the governing body herself. She won her bid to become a Richmond city council representative in 2012 – taking 64% of the vote against a veteran politician. 

Her time in that office was a learning curve throughout, she says, especially in regards to handling a municipal budget – a whole other beast from the household one she’d managed previously, she says. But the budget is where things get done, she adds. So Mosby made it her responsibility to understand everything – a bid which paid off, as she and her team delivered annual budget surpluses and raised the city’s bond rating. Those results were no accident, Mosby says. “I was at every [budget] meeting,” she recalls.

When she left the council in 2016, she made her first bid for mayor of Richmond, but lost to current mayor Stoney. So, she pivoted back to the private sector, continuing her entrepreneurial and nonprofit work while maintaining the connections and partnerships she forged while in office. That sort of intention around relationships is the sort of spirit that “makes great things happen in communities,” she says – as well as the “things necessary for a great leader.”

Now, she’s vying again to be that leader in Richmond. In conversations with would-be constituents, pain points such as inadequate city services, diminished public safety and a dearth of affordable housing have been the leading concerns. Which is why a big goal for Mosby is to inspire “a cultural change in City Hall … as it relates to customer service and excellence.” She says seeking governmental assistance should be “a customer-friendly experience.”

She’s also dedicated to “bridging the gap between law enforcement and community.” She says the police department is a necessity, but also knows that they don’t always exercise sound judgment when they arrive on a scene – to say the least. “I could go down the list of what people of my color have experienced – those who have been killed by police officers.” Her aim, she adds, is to weed out the bad actors, while promoting relations between cops and citizens.

And, she’s also focused on protecting reproductive rights, by “making sure that I will always protect clinics” throughout the city.

But most of all, she wants the lives of her neighbors to have visibly, tangibly changed for the better under her leadership. “When my four years are over,” Mosby says, “I want the people of Richmond to be able to say, ‘Oh, we really have made a shift.’”