Hopewell Mayor Jasmine Gore wants to reinvigorate the civic spirit of Richmond’s southeastern neighbor by involving and inspiring its community.
Hands full of a stack of binders as she rushes out of the small, mid-century elevator of Hopewell’s Municipal Building, Mayor Jasmine Gore gives the immediate impression that she has a lot to do and little time to waste. At just 32, Gore is the youngest mayor ever appointed to lead the Wonder City.
The crisp paint and sleek decor of her newly renovated office embody the fresh approach that has earned her the nickname of the “Millennial Mayor.” The fact that this moniker was first coined in a snide Facebook post shows that not all Hopewell residents are excited about the city’s new leadership.
“Since I got elected, I’ve always had to fight to show I have something to contribute,” Gore said. “Some people don’t take me seriously because I’m the age of their children. It makes me question: ‘When does your hard work and track record speak for more than your age?’”
Gore’s history in Hopewell goes back to age fourteen when her military family relocated to the city for her father’s work at Fort Lee. She graduated from Hopewell High School in 2004 and went on to earn dual degrees in Political Science and Biology from VCU.
An internship with then-delegate Jennifer McClellan sparked her passion for public policy and inspired her to set her sights on elected office. Seeing little to keep young people in Hopewell, after graduation Gore returned to her hometown to help build a better future for her younger brother by volunteering on several of the city’s boards and authorities.
Her dedication and eye for detail began to earn her a reputation as a woman who does her homework, and in 2012 Gore ran as an underdog for a seat on the Hopewell City Council. Her choice to create a campaign website and pursue high-profile endorsements from VA NOW and the AFL-CIO helped set her apart from her more established opponents, who relied solely on retail politics. Gore turned her youth into her strength by appealing to voters’ desire for a fresh voice on the council.
With 38% of the vote, Gore defeated two other candidates to become the youngest woman ever elected to City Council, and the first black woman to represent Ward 4. She prides herself on the volunteer work and grassroots engagement that paved her way to the mayor’s office. “You’ve gotta start from the bottom and work your way up to have a perspective at all levels.”
After six years of service on City Council, including a stint as Vice Mayor, Gore’s fellow council members appointed her mayor in a 4-3 vote this February. She isn’t taking her new role lightly. “I’m in a unique position to connect to the community, and my age is an asset to help us improve and modernize,” she said. “We need to think outside the box and meet people where they are.”
Mayor Gore’s push for a new culture of participatory democracy may prove just as controversial as the “Big H” at the city’s entrance on Route 10. “That sculpture was discussed for years before it was put up, but people only talked about it once it was under construction, when it should’ve been known and debated far earlier,” said Gore. “The Big H is symbolic of the change that needs to come in our political culture.”
Gore’s first aim is to provide this new council with a clean slate to focus on Hopewell’s future by putting an end to the dual sagas plaguing the Wonder City’s improving image: the year-and-a-half long search for a new City Attorney, and the fraud case against the city’s Comprehensive Services Act (CSA) Coordinator.
Mayor Gore hopes an efficiency and technology review currently being conducted by VCU will give City Council a better understanding of residents’ needs and offer a clear set of steps to move the city forward. She has a few ideas herself as to how Hopewell can adapt in the 21st century. “We currently have no online forms in government,” she said. “We can’t have people scanning and faxing stuff in 2019.”
Last year, when the National League of Cities chose Hopewell to be one of twelve municipalities across the country to participate in its Cities of Opportunity program, Gore recognized it as a once in a lifetime chance to revitalize the city. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the mayor hopes to focus the program’s grant money and national expertise on four areas key to the city’s future success: health, housing, economic opportunity, and workforce development.
Beyond her policy proposals, Gore hopes her legacy as mayor will be one of a cultural change in Hopewell’s government, towards greater transparency and engagement. A converted storage room turned council office space should facilitate that change by finally allowing council members to host office hours and meet with constituents at the city’s Municipal Building.
“It used to be crickets when council did something,” she said. “But now that we’re seeing bits of progress, more people are getting involved.”
Top photo via Jasmine Gore/Facebook