RICHMOND, Va. – Does a group of ordinary citizens, without the backing of any power-broker or leading elected politician, have a chance of doing what had long been thought impossible?
Last week, I received yet another phone call asking me about the legal, mechanical and political issues involved in getting a citizen-generated referendum on the November ballot in Richmond regarding issues related to the proposed Shockoe Stadium.
I have been getting these calls for over a year now.
The call last week though was different. Let me explain.
All the prior calls had gone something like this:
CALLER: “Mr. Goldman….my name is [Fill in the blank]…”
ME: “Please, call Paul. My father is Mr. Goldman.”
CALLER: “Okay. Paul, aren’t you the guy who went around getting all the signatures to give us the Referendum on the Elected Mayor a few years ago? I remember signing your petition at [fill in the blank.]”
ME: “A lot of people got signatures, it takes a lot of teamwork. Former Governor Wilder and former Congressman Bliley asked me to lead the effort due to my bipartisan experience.”
CALLER: “But you wrote the Elected Mayor law, right?”
ME: “Former Governor Wilder asked me do it after the big law firm that had agreed to do it came back and said it was too difficult. But they were really saying the pressure to kill the commission proposal from on high had become too much for them to take. “
CALLER: “I didn’t know that.”
ME: “There is a lot the people don’t know about the real story.”
CALLER: “Paul, why can’t we just collect signatures over the Internet or write out our own petition, get it signed and get the referendum on the ballot?”
ME: “Because there are specific federal, state and local Richmond City Charter laws and provisions that must be followed. No exceptions, no shortcuts. ”
CALLER: “Can the City Council do it?”
ME: “There is a different Charter provision covering what Council can do and yet another covering referendums on city issued bonds.”
CALLER: “But the Council and Mayor are evading the law right? ”
ME: “I don’t know their mind set. But the original Shockoe Stadium proposal has been changed by them to help eliminate those provisions which might have led to a referendum. They say it is coincidence. ”
CALLER: “How many signatures does it take to get a referendum on the ballot?”
ME: “Roughly 9,800 valid signatures. All from Richmond only.”
Usually there is pause here before the voice comes back on the line.
CALLER: “It only takes 5000 statewide to get a candidate on the ballot for President for gosh sakes!”
ME: “It is high hurdle for sure, the equivalent of 400000 statewide!”
CALLER: “Have there ever been others besides the Elected Mayor referendum?”
After a few pleasantries, the caller hangs up. And that’s the end of it, they drop the idea.
BUT THE CALL LAST WEEK WAS DIFFERENT.
These are serious, concerned citizens who believe the public should get their right to vote on the matters at hand.
I am slated to meet with them over the weekend.
They want to hear it all Clint Eastwood style: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
They came to the right boy for that.
Doing it right, from start to finish, under all the pressure publicly and privately that will be brought to bear on them is going to take some leadership and some guts in this town.
None of them has ever done it before.
Having managed Doug Wilder’s campaigns to break the color line in Southern and American politics, he knew it wouldn’t bother me. But being called a lot of racial and other names isn’t fun.
These citizens have the talent to do it. But doing the right thing in Richmond has never been easy, and that’s triply true right now.
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.