RICHMOND, Va. – Mayor Jones extremely divisive racial and code-word comments, as reported in the Richmond Free Press yesterday, have totally poisoned the debate on his proposal to build a Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium.
“Speak truth to power” is the wise advice from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Speak Truth To Power” is also a John F. Kennedy family project.
Dr. King is the youngest man ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, arrested 20 times, assaulted on numerous occasions, assassinated in 1968.
Today, I speak the truth to Mayor Jones and his staff. If you can’t stand the truth, if Dr. King’s advice makes you uncomfortable, then read no furthermore.
The mayor’s attempt to define the Stadium debate in stark racially divisive terms UNDERMINES THE VERY REASON I led the petition drive – and put up the money – to get the Elected Mayor Charter Change on the 2003 referendum ballot.
But more on all this shortly.
Since I know the “character assassination” racial politics practiced by too many for too long in Richmond, I think it only fair to remind the Mayor and stadium backers of a few things before they decide to double-down.
Back in 2003, then-Delegate Jones and his political allies FOUGHT AGAINST my efforts to give Richmonders their right to elect their Mayor. I wrote the Elected Mayor law in my capacity on the Wilder-Bliley Commission.
But shortly thereafter, former Governor Wilder came to me with an even bigger problem, those who promised to put up the money to get the new law on the 2003 general election ballot [it had to be approved by referendum under the City Charter] were “in the wind” as we say.
He needed me to both do the grunt work to lead the petition drive and also front the roughly $20,000 needed to gather the required signatures [you pay signature gathers in our political world] to get on the ballot and then win the election contest in November. That he would ask me to lead this political campaign is no surprise to those who know the state’s politics.
Years before, I had been the campaign manager for his historic campaign, where he had to defeat both the Democratic and Republican political establishment to tear down the “No Blacks Need Apply” sign from the door to statewide office in Virginia.
No other white person would run his campaign. He could only afford $2,000 a month.
The polls said he didn’t have a chance.
Self-evidentially I wasn’t dissuaded, much less Doug Wilder.
Behind my back people called me all kinds of names: then, even after we won, the book “When Hell Froze Over” revealed people had actually said some of those hurtful things on the record for the author!
That’s the thing about people who see you in either black or white terms, whose politics are racially defined at the core even though they claim otherwise. But you need to have the character to stand-up to it, to believe that “speaking truth to power” will ultimately prevail.
Accordingly, in 2003, it didn’t surprise me when Delegate Jones and his political allies were ready to resort to nasty, racially-divisive politics to try and derail my effort to get the Elected Mayor reform on the ballot and approved by the people.
They later tried to block it in the General Assembly since under state law, all changes to the Richmond City Charter have to be approved by a super-majority of both the House of Delegates and the State Senate.
Let me remind Mr. Jones of what he and his said back in 2003. They accused me of trying roll back the gains made by African-Americans in Richmond on voting rights.
They said I was knowingly trying to roll back these gains and the election system created – the winning candidate had to carry five of the city’s nine council districts – made it unfair to any African-American candidate for Mayor.
He knew it to be totally bogus.
Look at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 mayoral campaign results. How does Mr. Jones explain that, including his own election?
Delegate Jones knew those charges made by his side were bogus both on facts and were intended to create racial division for the purposes of winning the referendum vote. The truth is this, prior to the Elected Mayor reform, African-Americans never had the right to directly elect their Mayor. The Elected Mayor reform didn’t take away any voting right, it gave a new right!
Their racial argument only succeeded among the elected politicians beholding the Jones-Marsh political axis. It passed with 80 percent support from the people, carrying all but seven precincts around the City.
Eventually, Delegate Jones decided to back the required state law change.
As for the racial stuff aimed at me, I laughed really. Years before, those opposed to Wilder on racial grounds called me one kind of name. Now, from completely the other side of the political spectrum, came similar types of charges only with a different label!
You can’t make this stuff up.
Fast forward to today.
The Elected Mayor’s office had been created to bring people together, to end the divide in Richmond, to have one person elected by everyone. My vision, the vision of the Wilder-Bliley Commission therefore, had to do with the Mayor being the lead voice for racial unity, not racial division.
But instead, Mayor Jones said the following as printed in the Free Press. I have highlighted and underlined his quoted words. Here are excerpts from the story entitled “Mayor slams council.”
“On New Year’s Day, at the annual Emancipation Proclamation celebration the mayor tongue-lashed the majority-white City Council for failing to embrace his $200 million Shockoe Bottom plan. At the New Year’s event, Mayor Jones told the mostly black audience that the council members who are pushing back against his plan might not have the community’s best interests at heart. In his brief remarks, he told the audience that the city is ‘still 50 percent African-American,’ but there’s now a council majority ‘that doesn’t look like us.’ ‘It’s not about baseball,’ Mayor Jones said, in describing his Shockoe Bottom proposal.”
These are surely the most racially divisive and totally misleading words to be uttered by any Mayor since we began electing the Mayor in 2004.
Let’s speak truth to power.
FIRST: Mayor Jones and his retainers worked to defeat Marty Jewell in the 5th district council race. They had good reason since Marty made it clear he held the Mayor’s policies, as the political saying goes , “in maximum low regard.”
So I understand why the Jones forces backed Parker Alegasto, the new and highly talented 5th District Councilman.
HOWEVER: Marty is African-American, or to paraphrase the Mayor, he “looks like us.”
MEANING: The Mayor is now complaining that there is a white person representing the 5th district when the Mayor helped to get him there! Does the Mayor think I am an idiot, or that you are an idiot, or that all the commentators in Richmond are idiots?
TWO: His son Derik got elected to the School Board in the 8th district in 2012. So did Reva Trammell. Is the Mayor claiming certain voters were “good” people as long as they voted for his son, but “bad” people exhibiting racial motivation when they voted against his candidate for Council and instead choose Ms. Trammell? The voting statistics indicate many 8th district residents voted for both Derik and Riva. How does did that happen given Mr. Jones’ analysis?
THREE: As I showed yesterday, the resolution before the Council on the Mayor’s plan says they are going to use general obligation bonds. Now this has changed. On Monday, I will explain further what this means. I had intended to do it today, but the Mayor’s comments reported yesterday for the first time required that today’s column, pushing the other one to next week. My analysis will be like it was yesterday: based on the facts, the only color being green.
FOUR: Opposition to a Shockoe Bottom stadium didn’t suddenly begin because African-American Mayor Dwight Jones proposed such a plan. Similar stadium plans for the Bottom have been proposed twice before. When I worked for Mayor Wilder, he asked me to analyze the first such proposal. It turned out the proposal didn’t make financial sense.
The proposal promised a “free” stadium, much like the Mayor’s plan, claiming the cost would be covered by the new tax revenues generated from all the elements in the proposal. I proved they had “juiced” the numbers, and an honest analysis didn’t support the claims.
RACE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. The numbers were bogus. End of story.
FIVE: The second Shockoe Baseball plan likewise couldn’t stand honest analysis. It went nowhere. RACE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.
The Mayor has intentionally turned the discussion on his Shockoe plan into a racial one.
In so doing, he has totally compromised his own position and that of the Council. By claiming that a council majority “that does not look like us” may kill his “it’s not about baseball “ plan, he has poisoned the debate, indeed poisoned the politics of Richmond.
Moreover, he did it for purely selfish reasons because no such rhetoric, no such politics, can possibly be good when it is centered in the Mayor’s office of this city.
If white council members are somehow biased on racial grounds, and are willing to vote no against the interests of the African-American community, then what about white citizens who oppose the plan?
They talk to their Council representatives. They hold the key to a member of Council’s future in politics.
According to the Mayor, their whiteness is coloring their view, making them biased against other members of the community.
THIS IS NOT THE POLITICS OF UNITY, BUT DIVISION.
Race isn’t the reason so many oppose his proposal: AND THE MAYOR OF THIS CITY KNOWS IT. So do his allies in the business community and elsewhere.
But apparently, he would rather divide the city, ruin any reputation he can, chill any hope of an honest discussion, do whatever it takes to win at any cost.
This is not the reason some of us worked so hard to finally give Richmonders their right to elect their Mayor. With all due respect, Mr. Jones, who opposed the creation of the office, thus had a special obligation not to trash it, not to abuse the power to divide the city.
He thinks his proposal is the best for the City. I get that. But others honestly disagree based on proven facts and analysis.
Given the debate’s importance to the future of Richmond, the people deserved an honest one, not a racial one. The people deserved a decision on the merits, not one made by intimidating racial politics aimed at dividing the people and creating a toxic political environment for white council members.
The Mayor has put this city in a terrible bind. Moreover, it appears he may be telling one thing to some audiences, and quite another to other citizens.
Two-faced politics can’t give us a first-tier City.
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.