RICHMOND, Va. – When I was running Doug Wilder’s campaigns that made history locally, statewide and nationally, one part of my strategy remained constant: we would always defend the rights of poor African-Americans no matter the political risk.
Back in the day, there was still enough white racism to defeat anyone daring to do it. So it was tempting, at times, to just take the “black vote” for granted and go “right” as they say in the political game.
There were many times when we could have looked the other way, and pretended certain problems didn’t exist. We never did that. We played smart, not blind. Wilder was a gutsy guy. Maybe too gutsy. It worked, although just barely. We got lucky really.
But it is what we did: When “push came to shove,” the Wilder campaigns played tough but we never forgot the truth. We knew Virginia was changing for the better: and we wanted to lead that change, because it was bipartisan really, conservative/moderate/liberal, Virginia was looking forward, not backward.
The people responded not because we were anything special: but because we had faith in the truth.
So I asked myself this morning once again: Why did Mayor Jones and his staff tolerate the abuse, the cruelty, the utter disrespect for Richmond that is now documented by his Administration’s handling of the scandal that is the Richmond Department of Social Services.
I wrote the Elected Mayor law for the Wilder-Bliley commission. I put up the money to get it passed, did more grunt work to do it than anyone in the city. So I am not writing today from the safety of the sidelines: I took the abuse, in the arena, the scars are real. So I can tell you FOR SURE that the Mayor, his CAO, his staff, knew enough about the potential problems in the Social Services Department to the extent that it would have required pro-active leadership….if they gave a damn.
That’s the hard truth, the question remaining to ask: Why didn’t they give enough of a damn to do what was necessary to protect these kids?
I have therefore gone back in my mind, reliving Wilder’s first historic campaign, thinking back to who was for us, and who was against in the African-American community: and then fast forwarded to whom was with me, and who was against me, when I was leading the fight to get the public to approve the Elected Mayor referendum a generation later.
Now I understand or at least it makes sense in putting all the ducks in a row. I could be wrong, have been before, so take it, leave it, your choice.
Mayor Jones and his folks are “top down” people. They believe power flows from the top, that there are the “elite” who run things and it is all “trickle down” from there for the poor.
This is a fairly typical view of politics.
As I like to say, scratch a politician: and he is green on the inside, whatever he or she may be on the outside.
If you are not part of their elite, then you get only what they give you. The elite of Richmond are not “power to the people” populists. They weren’t when they were British, they weren’t when they were white, and they aren’t when they are African-American.
Richmond is the same plantation, just with different owners.
It is part of “racism” that isn’t generally appreciated. “Racism” is not merely between groups but it is also intra-group. It not merely “skin” but caste, not in the Indian term but caste nonetheless.
That is to say: The African-American elite, led by the Mayor and others, is disconnected from the poor children of this city. They talk the talk, but it is all politics, there is no walk really.
This is always a risk for the elite. You remember only the history that fits your needs at the time.
Fact: Mayor Jones and his Administration created the Richmond Social Services Scandal – they brought in all the top guns – and this is why he has shown so little real outrage at the situation except when it seemed capable of hurting him politically.
Like it or not, it is a form of “racism” in my analysis.
That is a fact, whether you like it or not.
Jewish groups, Catholic groups, white, Latino, all groups suffer from a form of “intra-group” racism where the elite turn their nose down on those who have not “made it” as the saying goes.
But the term “elitism” doesn’t capture the truth in this situation. Only the term “racism” does, although I know it is loaded term.
But the truth hurts: and Dr. King advised to always speak it, as have religious leaders over time. Reverend Mayor Jones knows that: so if he wants to punish me for speaking the truth, so be it.
If you have not read ace RTD reporter Robert Zullo’s stuff on the scandal, or watched ace WTVR reporter Catie Beck’s stories on the scandal, then you should. I said as much at that the time ON AIR, and in my writings.
The Mayor and his people only moved quickly to stop the political bleeding. Until then, the poor children simply weren’t worth their time. They have developers, big business types, other members of the elite to care and feed. Like I say, same plantation, just different owners.
Elitism, then, in this kind of situation, becomes “racism” without you realizing it.
But do the math, do the facts: and be honest about who did what, who didn’t do what, and what they knew at the time of doing or not doing.
These poor kids were expendable, too much trouble if it meant getting tough with other members of your elite. But for Beck and Zullo, the Mayor does nothing, the City Council does nothing.
Black racism doomed these kids. You can pretend otherwise if you want to be politically correct. I have never cared to be. That’s why we have an Elected Mayor law and why the President said Wilder’s wins inspired him to think bigger thoughts.
It is time for Mayor Jones to “step up” and be the Elected Mayor of all the people. He let these poor kids down. His Administration tolerated the intolerable. He should praise Beck and Zullo, and preach on Sunday and ask forgiveness. The public will give it to him. He is a good man. It is time to end the plantation mentality in Richmond, These poor kids have been waiting hundreds of years for justice.
Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.