RICHMOND, Va. – “What’s Ken Johnson doing now?” asked a story during the last Mayor race in Style Weekly.
Richmond City Councilman Bruce Tyler had accidentally uncovered $200,000 for Johnson ‘buried in the parks and recreation budget,” according to the story.
“Quite frankly, it was hidden on purpose,” he claimed, calling the $200,000 “nothing more to me than a payout.”
Mr. Johnson, who then helped help defeat Tyler for re-election later that year, disagreed.
He said the public money had been needed to help underwrite his now defunct “Friday’s at Sunset” concert series.
When asked by the reporter what he would do next, Mr. Johnson said:
“You’ll see some stuff soon.”
Last week we found out, if you believe one of my confidential sources.
Johnson apparently popped up at a secretive confab with other top Shockoe Stadium backers not long ago. These heavy hitters were developing both a new Jones’ Shockoe Stadium proposal and a political strategy to sell it to a City Council majority.
The source claimed Mr. Johnson told the group he could speak for the Mayor.
“No way Ken speaks for the Mayor on this,” I said.
“Paul, you are out of touch bro, Ken is one of the top political strategy guys in the area,” I was told.
I meant no disrespect to Ken. He owns a public relations/marketing company with unique connections to Richmond. He is a lobbyist and political donor who has given or received many tens of thousands of dollars in recent years.
When I worked for Mayor Wilder and was trying to figure out the secret deals behind the 2005 proposed Shockoe Stadium, I was told Johnson was the “man to see” if you wanted to know about the whole “minority business enterprise” operation in city government.
The use of guaranteed contracts and set asides in Richmond had long been under a cloud, having once been the subject of a heated United States Supreme Court case in 1989.
My financial analysis exposed the proposal’s fatal flaws long before needing to go there.
Politics has always been overly dominated by wheelers and dealers, yet my source did pique my interest.
Ken Johnson, the master political strategy guy for Mayor Jones and his pro-stadium posse? That’s heavy stuff.
If the Mayor comes back pushing Council to pass a new Shockoe Stadium boondoggle, he is “all in” politically, as are they. Right now, he can move on and people will let it go. Otherwise, the fight will likely define his political image for all-time.
Ken has no expertise on baseball stadiums, apartment complexes, hotels, heritage sites, EDA bond financing, and the like.
But PR experience is not high stakes political combat.
Ken’s PR strategy to date has therefore predictably enraged Central Media Market voters, not just Richmond residents. This market contains 25 percent of voters in a statewide race.
If the Mayor and his posse try a Slamma Jamma, it will define not only the 2016 Mayor’s race but possibly the 2017 statewide race for Governor in this key market.
Ken Johnson is smart, savvy and well-connected as the RTD article rightly points out. But he ain’t no political strategy guy.
Moreover, it struck me as highly unusual for a private citizen to speak for a top elected official at such a meeting.
Still, the Jones Shockoe Stadium proposal is the biggest no-bid, backroom deal in the city’s history.
So it is likely now an “all hands on deck” thing as they say in the Navy.
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.