Carr a quiet force in politics

Published: June 11, 2009

By Michael Paul Williams

Betsy Carr might be described as the accidental politician.

She likely wouldn’t have landed on the Richmond School Board if then-5th District representative Stephen B. Johnson hadn’t been caught at Richmond International Airport with three marijuana joints in his luggage.

Carr was selected to fill Johnson’s term after his resignation in March 2006, and won election outright the following November. Two years later, she trounced opponent Otis Mallory.

It was a startling show of political muscle by a white candidate in a majority-black district. And now, after her win in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, Carr is well-positioned to become the 69th District representative in the House of Delegates.

She will face Republican Ernesto Sampson in November to represent a majority-black district that had been held by Democrat Franklin P. Hall for 33 years.

Carr has accomplished this with a bare minimum of words, fanfare and controversy.

“I don’t talk a lot,” she said yesterday at George Wythe High School’s graduation. “I just listen and respond and try to get people together to work and get things done. I think people appreciate that.”

Her rector at the church where she conducts community outreach certainly does.

“She is an inspiration to me and my ministry and my service and what I do, how I live,” said the Rev. D. Wallace Adams-Riley, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. “She is such a compassionate person, a faithful person, dedicated to social justice, to serving and caring for all God’s children.”

Not everyone is a fan.

“Miss Carr is to be congratulated for running an exceptional campaign,” said 5th District Councilman E. Martin Jewell. But he said Carr “is backed by corporate money that tells the whole story” of whose interests she is advancing — namely, the powerful business community.

Jewell backed Antione Green, the president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters, in the primary. He expressed disappointment that some prominent black politicians — Mayor Dwight C. Jones, state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III and state Sen. A. Donald McEachin — threw their weight behind corporate lawyer Carlos Brown.

Carr said Brown was the corporate community’s choice. “I think he outraised me and outspent me two times,” she said. During the filing period that ended May 27, Carr received $21,100 in itemized contributions and Brown $43,650, according to campaign finance reports.

The Rev. Benjamin P. Campbell of Richmond Hill knows Carr through their work with The Micah Initiative, a partnership between local faith communities and the Richmond Public Schools. He called her “a deeply concerned citizen who has done her homework in her own district . . . and has a significant track record working for public education in our city.

“She in no way represents a particular corporate interest, and her election is in no way based on money,” Campbell said. “Her support has always crossed racial lines, and her opposition has always crossed racial lines.”

Such is the makings of a political success story that defies convention. “This was not on my horizon,” said Carr, 62. But for this quiet force, the sky appears to be the limit.