Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter on Monument Avenue: Parading and Petitioning



Script: On a beautiful afternoon I took a Flintstones model digital camera with me to shoot this footage at the Easter Parade on Monument Ave. Since I’m a member of the Citizens Referendum Group, I also took petitions with me, so I could gather more signatures. My aim is to stop the building of a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.   

Since the huge success of the Oscar-winning film, “12 Years a Slave,” Richmond's pre-Civil War slave jail history has suddenly become more interesting to a lot of people, here and elsewhere. No doubt, there are folks working at City Hall who wish that movie’s release could have been delayed a year or two.

Having grown up in Richmond, I’d like to know more about the slave market business that once thrived here. Likewise, I’d also like to learn how that aspect of local history was rather effectively covered up for so long. Let’s shine a fresh light on just how Virginia’s history books were cooked, back in the day. We need to take a hard look at how the truth about slavery and the Civil War was systematically processed into lies of denial, to be taught in our public schools.

Today, saying that building a stadium in Shockoe Bottom will really facilitate a scholarly investigation of the neighborhood’s history and archeology is just more denial talk.

Reality matters. What about those who say, too many of the baseball fans who go to The Diamond probably won’t go to the Bottom? What about those who say, with schoolhouse roofs caving in we shouldn‘t commit another nickel of public funds to spectator sports?

During the last 10 years of warmed over indecision about a baseball stadium, 27 different representatives have served on City Council. Over that time Council has heard from a parade of experts, boosters and activists.

Isn’t it time for ordinary citizens, the taxpayers! to be heard? Sign a petition in April … vote in November.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Too Many Secrets

The headlines for two seemingly unrelated news stories danced above the folds of America’s daily newspapers during 2013. One evoked the familiar haunts of a 50-year-old murder. The other revealed some details about overreaching surveillance having been conducted by the government. Our government.

Both stories brought to mind the countless troubles trying to keep too many secrets under wraps can set in motion. 

On Nov. 22, 2013 the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was observed. For the school children of 1963 that sucker punch was stunning in a way nothing has been since.

The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, better known as the Warren Commission, published its report on Sept. 24, 1964: Lee Harvey Oswald was found to have been a lone wolf assassin. Since he was put down by a self-styled executioner two days after Kennedy fell, the commission’s investigators never heard Oswald's testimony.

Much of how those investigators operated and too much of what they found was kept in the dark. Unfortunately, the cloaked-in-secrecy aftermath of the JFK assassination created a void that attracted speculation. Some aspects of the Warren Commission’s findings were puzzling. For instance, its famous “single bullet theory” had one projectile traveling circuitously, almost magically, through two victims.

In 1965 gunmen murdered Malcolm X in an auditorium in Manhattan. A sniper killed Martin Luther King as he stood on a motel balcony in Memphis in 1968. Two months after that Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel. Unfortunately, the official stories on those three shootings were widely disbelieved, too. Everything baby boomers have seen since this tumult has been tinted by the cynicism it spawned.

More scrutiny of how those assassination inquiries were conducted might have led to different conclusions. Moreover, even if casting more sunlight on those probes had yielded no significant changes in the bottom lines, millions of citizens would surely have felt more comfortable about the good faith of the processes.

It took revelations that spoke of bad faith to steer us away from blithely tolerating so much secrecy. Among them were: the My Lai Massacre horrors; the publishing of the Pentagon Papers; the Watergate Scandal hearings; the Iran-Contra Scandal hearings; the bogus justification for invading Iraq.

Over the years such revelations changed America. Perhaps led by the baby boomers we have become a people who expect their government to lie. We also expect to be subjected to a steady stream of lies every day from advertising for mammoth corporations -- companies that, like our government, routinely spy on us.

It’s no wonder that today there are those who see fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden as a hero. He revealed to many of them that the Patriot Act of the Bush administration's era wasn't so much about promoting patriotism. It was about spying. Some people who read the news regularly already knew that.  

Nonetheless, Snowden’s stunt put him on the celebrity map. By simultaneously leaking classified information about how far-flung our government’s surveillance has been and going on the lam, Snowden instantly became the darling of at least two large groups: 1. Government haters, in general. 2. Folks who like pouring pop culture into their tall glasses of politics, like a soft drink mixer.

To a third group, Snowden’s weak imitation of some previous brave whistleblowers has been at least as annoying as it has been edifying. Still, Snowden does deserve plenty of credit for launching new discussions of how much spying, by any entity, we the people should countenance.

Which, right away, leads straight to one galling conclusion: to some extent, spying is here to stay. If you use credit cards, cell phones and the Internet you're going to be tracked. Plus, the practice of security cameras and phone cameras recording images of everything is only going to increase.

So, rather than bellyaching about officials watching us, what we should be doing is demanding to watch the watchers. We should be calling for sunlight into the operation of governments at all levels. We should insist on knowing the sources of all the money flowing into elections and lawmaking. We should be able to see through corporate veils that hide malfeasance, too.

We can also try to outlaw some kinds of information gathering. Maybe that will work, but it’s more important to accept that privacy, in its old fashioned sense, is a horse that left the barn years ago. Wise up, rather than dwelling on protecting an individual's privacy -- secrets, again -- society's more important need is for openness where it counts most.

Truth is more important than privacy. Sunlight should be a big political issue of this election year, maybe the biggest. But it probably won't be, because the people financing political campaigns don't want it to be. 

Single Bullet Theory?

Great name for a band.

-- 30 --

Sept. 2, 2008: Saying Goodbye to the R-Braves

 Paul DiPasquale's "Connecticut"

Thinking about the brouhaha over the baseball stadium issue sometimes brings to mind memories of particular games. Six years ago I covered the last time the Richmond Braves played at The Diamond. Here’s what I wrote for Richmond.com:
Saying Goodbye

F.T. Rea
Richmond.com
Tuesday, September 02, 2008


On a warm sunlit Labor Day afternoon, before a nearly packed house (12,167 officially), the Richmond Braves put on a crowd-pleasing display, soundly defeating the visiting Norfolk Tides by a score of 9-3.

After the second out of the ninth was recorded the fans came to their feet in anticipation of the final out. Braves pitcher Brad Nelson walked Brandon Fahey. Then leftfielder Scott Thorman lost a routine popup in the sun and there were two on base. The last putout was made by R-Braves centerfielder Carl Loadenthal, who caught a fly ball off the bat of Luis Terrero.

With that last putout, 42 years (43 seasons) of Braves baseball on the Boulevard ended. Basically, the team’s owner, the Atlanta Braves, decided it would rather its Triple A farm club play its home games in Gwinnett County, a suburb of Atlanta.    

A sign of the change was in the press box, as a reporter for the Gwinnett Daily Post, Guy Curtwright, was covering the game.  

Leonard Alley, who was the official scorer for Braves games for 30 years (1977 to 2006) sat to my left. Alley’s familiar presence added to the sense of history that was in the air throughout the stadium. There were lots of reminders in the signage. Sitting to my right, Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Paul Woody recalled the last game played at Parker Field in 1984.

That night fans were allowed to grab souvenirs, because the grandstands were going to be demolished soon, anyway, to make way for what became the Diamond. Lots of people walked out of there carrying old wooden seats, signs and so forth, they had liberated. We laughed remembering the mood of that bizarre scene, which may have been somewhat wilder than the Braves management had imagined it would be.

After a few innings in the press box, I left to walk around the stadium to take in the sights from different angles. Behind home plate, next to the camera platform, a young woman wearing a No. 18 Ryan Klesko jersey walked by, which for one fan brought to mind the night at the Diamond 15 summers ago, when Klesko (who played for the R-Braves in 1992-93) won an extra-innings game with a home run.

"It was my birthday," said Jack Richardson.

Naturally, longtime fans were waxing nostalgic. Charlie Diradour said he’d been coming to Braves games since the late ‘60s. His favorite player, or moment?

"Seeing Chico Ruiz play baseball the way it’s supposed to be played," said Diradour, "at his age! That’s what Triple A baseball is all about. Players on their way up ... and, on their way down."

Ruiz was an extremely popular R-Brave who played here for what was most of his career (1973, 74, 76-84). While he wasn’t on hand for the occasion, several other popular former R-Braves were. Among them were: Ralph Garr (1969-70), David Justice (1988-90), Dale Murphy (1976-77), Tommy Greene (1988-90) and Johnny Grubb (1988). There were long lines to get their autographs.

There was a silent auction underway during the game. Autographed baseballs and jerseys drew bids from fans, with the proceeds going to Children’s Hospital. Murphy’s jersey beat Lopez’s $435 to $425.

After the game some of the former Braves players came onto the infield to unfurl a banner for the fans to see.

"Thanks for the memories," it said.

Many fans lingered as the shadows lengthened, clearly not wanting the day at the ballpark to end. Kids crowded up the fence just behind the Braves dugout, hoping to pick up souvenir bats or balls. A few of them were rewarded. Invited guests posed in groups on the field for pictures.

The Diamond’s giant sound system switched from its usual peppy pop music to "Auld Lang Syne."

The Governor’s Cup is the International League’s prize which goes to its champion. The R-Braves won it five times: 1978, 1986, 1989, 1994 and most recently in 2007.

Richmond’s two winners of the circuit’s Most Valuable Player award have been Tommie Aaron in 1967 and Brett Butler in 1981. Winners of the Rookie of the Year award were Dale Murphy in 1977, Glenn Hubbard in 1978, Brook Jacoby in 1982, Brad Komminsk in 1983 and Chipper Jones in 1993.

Winners of the Manager of the Year award were Eddie Haas in 1982 and ‘83; Grady Little won it in 1994.

How long the City of Richmond will go without a professional baseball team to call its own is anybody’s guess. At this point the regional cooperation it will take to make that happen seems out of the picture. Tomorrow the fiberglass Indian figure (a sculpture by Paul DiPasquale) that has peered over a concession stand roof for all of the Braves games at the Diamond will watch the franchise pack up its balls and bats, and fade into the sunset.

Richmond finished its final season on the Boulevard with a 63-78 record.

Note:  Here's a short list of some of the standout players who have worn the uniform of the Richmond Braves: Tommy Aaron, Sandy Alomar, Steve Avery, Dusty Baker, Jim Beauchamp, Steve Bedrosian, Wilson Betemit, Jeff Blauser, Curt Blefary, Jim Breazeale, Tony Brizzolara, Brett Butler, Paul Byrd, Francisco Cabrera, Vinny Castilla, Bobby Cox, Mark DeRosa, Joey Devine, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Estrada, Darrell Evans, Ron Gant, Jesse Garcia, Ralph Garr, Marcus Giles, Tom Glavine, Tony Graffanino, Tommy Green, Johnny Grubb, Albert Hall, Wes Helms, Mike Hessman, Glenn Hubbard, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, David Justice, Ryan Klesko, Brad Komminsk, Javy Lopez, Adam LaRoche, Mark Lemke, Rick Mahler, Andy Marte, Kent Merker, Dale Murphy, Joe Niekro, Phil Niekro, Larry Owen, Gerald Perry, Chico Ruiz, Paul Runge, Harry Saferight, Jason Schmidt, Randall Simon, John Smoltz, Mark Wohlers, Brad Woodall, Tracy Woodson, Ned Yost and Paul Zuvella.

-- My photo. 

Unmuzling the Voters Is a Worthy Cause


In 2009 I covered the baseball stadium debate for Richmond.com. What I wrote in the way of analysis made no secret of my skepticism about the merits of the $783 million Highwoods Properties development plan, which included what it called Shockoe Center.

Five years ago I saw building a baseball in Shockoe Bottom as another build-it-and-they-will-come folly in the making. When the Highwoods plan was withdrawn from consideration that summer I was delighted. Thus, my opposition to building a baseball in the Bottom is nothing new. So much for disclosure.

Five months ago, when Mayor Dwight Jones' announcement revived the twice-killed idea of dropping a baseball stadium into that same neighborhood, it was disappointing. Although Jones once favored keeping professional baseball on the Boulevard, I won't try to explain his squirrelly change of mind.

However, my own thinking about the issue has evolved in the opposite direction. Since the critical and box office success of the Oscar-winning film, “12 Years a Slave” (2013), Richmond's slave jail history leading up to the Civil War has become more interesting to a lot of people, here and elsewhere. No doubt, there are folks at City Hall who wish that movie’s release could have been delayed a year or two.

Having grown up in Richmond, I’d like to better understand the slave market business that once thrived in this city. Accordingly, I’d also like to learn more about how that aspect of local history was rather effectively covered up for so long. Regarding the institution of slavery, it's time to shine a new light on how our history books were cooked, back in the day. A fresh look needs to be taken at how the truth was systematically processed into palatable lies -- denial.

For instance, in 1961 my seventh-grade history book, which was used in all of Virginia's public schools, had this to say at the end of Chapter 29:
Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those whom they worked. They were not so unhappy as some Northerners thought they were, nor were they so happy as some Southerners claimed. The Negroes had their problems and their troubles. But they were not worried by the furious arguments going on between Northerners and Southerners over what should be done with them. In fact, they paid little attention to those arguments.In 2014, to think building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom will really facilitate the scholarly investigation of that neighborhood’s history and archeology is just more denial.
Please do put me on the growing list of those who believe a world-class slavery museum in Shockoe Bottom, sans ballpark, will draw tourists from all over the world. Still, I don’t quarrel with those who oppose baseball in the Bottom for other reasons. Richmond residents who oppose building a new stadium anywhere, saying that with schoolhouse roofs caving in taxpayers ought not to spend another nickel on spectator sports, have a good point. Those who assert that a lot of Flying Squirrels fans aren't likely to go to the Bottom for games probably know more about local baseball fans than the mayor does.

So now I've become a member of an ad hoc group which advocates letting the voters weigh in. Although the Citizens Referendum Group has to collect a whopping 9,800 signatures on its referendum petitions, advocates for building Shockoe Stadium who stand opposed to our petition drive have a tough job on their hands, too. They have to convince voters that too much democracy can be a bad thing.

My personal reason for having taken up this cause stems, in part, from being asked to write a story about a benefit show in December for STYLE Weekly. Click here to read my review of the “Billy Ray Hatley Tribute Concert at the National.” After spending the afternoon backstage, watching the musicians and stage hands put the complicated show together, and then being there for the show to feel the vibe from the connection between those on stage and in the audience, I was knocked out.

The common desire to celebrate Hatley’s contributions as a musician/songwriter and to help out his family was uplifting. Filled with admiration for the effort it took to put that show together, I decided to act on something that I had been fretting about for months.

As a co-founder of the Facebook group Referendum? Bring It On!, my pump had been primed by the discussions that followed the failed referendum attempt last summer by Charles Samuels, the Second District's representative on City Council. When I saw the slickLoving/RVA public relations campaign come out, I realized that without a hard pushback from propaganda-savvy people, the developers would win this time around.

After so many years of watching the parade go by and making my wisecracks as a commentator, I decided to cross the line and become an activist. For a worthy cause, I decided to take on the rather frustrating job of helping to assemble a group of people to put a referendum on the ballot.

A meeting was held later in December at Gallery 5. The concept continued to take form with posts by several people on the Facebook page. In February Reva Trammell called for a referendum at a Council meeting. Then Don Harrison asked me to appear on WRIR’s Open Source show to talk about a referendum. Paul Goldman called with an offer to write the language for a referendum and the suggestion of a meeting to discuss the project. Subsequently, there was a series of meetings at the Main Library during March.

At the third meeting Goldman handed out court-approved petition forms with two propositions on them. Members of the group left the confab determined to get the job done. As April began the CRG’s website went live. After a decade of hearing from boosters and experts and politicians, we are working to let the people speak. Join us, if you like.

Now, I'll close with two questions: Who’s against democracy and why?

Friday, April 11, 2014

City in Denial

When I wrote “City in Denial” for STYLE Weekly, in February of 2002 for Black History Month, I knew less than I do now about how much slave-trading went on in Richmond leading up to the Civil War. Here's an excerpt of what I wrote 12 years ago:
Now, every time a controversy that touches on race pops up the oh-so-familiar cries are heard: "Oh Gawd! Let's hope this business dies down before it makes the national news." Like a dysfunctional family in denial, we don't want the rest of the country to catch on that Richmond is still trapped in yesteryear's snare. Well, take it from me dear reader — they already know. Everybody knows. Even in other parts of Virginia they know Richmond is frozen in time when it comes to race.
After this piece was published I heard a lot of feedback from it, more good and bad, but I heard both. Click here to read the entire piece.

Having grown up in Richmond I know that it’s been only recently that it seemed anyone was much interested in the many slave jails that once existed in Shockoe Bottom. So, yes, I’d like to know more about what actually happened, and I’d also like to learn what I can about how that aspect of local history was covered up so effectively for so long.

It would do us all good to study how our history books were cooked by the people who had the power to do so, back in the day. We need to do more than brush aside the cobwebs of denial that still cling to our notions of history about the Civil War. We need to take a hard look at how the truth was systematically processed into palatable lies that were taught in our public schools.  

In 2014, to think building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom will really facilitate the scholarly investigation of that neighborhood’s history and archeology is just more denial. Dropping a sports arena into that part of Richmond, with its known and yet-to-be-uncovered history, isn’t about preserving or discovering. It’s about a few people making guaranteed money for themselves, by using money from all of the people.

Put me on the list of those who believe a world-class slavery museum in Shockoe Bottom, sans ballpark, will draw tourists from all over the world to Richmond. Maybe, for Richmond's brighter future, setting the record straight would be a good idea, too.   

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

CRG petitions at the Diamond

CitizensReferendum 1f BW

Untold thousands living in Richmond are against building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, especially if it involves using public finds. That’s been obvious for years. Is this the year City Hall will be compelled to face the reality that a majority of city voters oppose such a development?

Let’s find out.

The Citizens Referendum Group has through July 31 to collect some 9,800 signatures on its petitions to allow its two ballot items to be put before the voters on November 4. After a decade of hearing from boosters and experts and politicians, this is an effort to let the people speak.

Members of the CRG with petitions will be on the sidewalk at the Diamond on Thursday, April 10, before the Flying Squirrels 6:35 p.m. home opener.

Look for them.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

May 12, 2009: The Tipping Point for Shockoe Bottom Baseball

Note: This piece was published by Richmond.com on June 18, 2009.

*
The Tipping Point for Shockoe Bottom Baseball
by F.T. Rea

The air of inevitability that once hovered over the Highwoods Properties/Richmond Baseball Club plan to build a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom is gone.

The story of where professional baseball ought to be played in Richmond has taken many a turn over the last decade. Longtime Richmonders can’t remember another squabble quite like the one between supporters of building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom and those opposed it.

While of many of those among the opposition prefer their baseball on the Boulevard, still others see baseball itself as relatively unimportant to Richmond’s future, when compared to The City's infrastucture needs, schools, etc.
 
The Richmond Times-Dispatch ran an article on Monday about purple martins roosting in trees in Shockoe Bottom and online readers criticized/mocked the newspaper, “environmental whackos,” “anti-development crusaders,” former Mayor Doug Wilder, Mayor Dwight Jones and you-name-it.

Over the last eight months the comments space under most online newspaper and magazine articles about baseball in Richmond has included the same sort of over-the-top comments from partisan readers, who either boost or bash Shockoe Bottom or the Boulevard with practiced passion.

In the blogosphere it has been the same; if anything, the tone has been worse. That many of such comments were crafted under the cloak of anonymity hasn’t done much for the civility of the discussions.

After all the news stories saying the purchase was close, closer, closest -- RBC, headed up by Bryan Bostic, came up short of money to purchase the Connecticut Defenders by the June 1 deadline the team’s owner had set. With the news of the collapse of Bostic’s effort to buy the Defenders the momentum for keeping baseball on the Boulevard has picked up.

We read that other teams are interested in moving to Richmond. A new plan to refurbish the 24-year-old Diamond has surfaced: Opening Day Partners says it can do the job for $28 million.

Somewhat ironically, this newest plan bears a noticeable resemblance to the $18.5 million agreement that would have given the old ballpark a makeover after the 2004 season was completed by the Richmond Braves. That plan had The City, the owners of  the R-Braves and the surrounding counties all participating in paying for the facility.

Now the Shockoe Center project, as designed by Highwoods Properties, is up in the air. Highwoods’ spokesman, Paul Kreckman, has said repeatedly that without the baseball stadium component his company will just walk away from the entire $783 million scheme it has presented for developing both Shockoe Bottom and the area just south of the Diamond. 

Kreckman reaffirmed that position on May 12 at the Richmond Times-Dispatch Public Square Forum, conducted by the newspaper’s publisher Tom Silvestri.

To the extent the Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium concept is truly fizzling, the tipping point may well have been the night of that RT-D forum. After the four invited speakers made their presentations, a two-to-one majority of the audience members who spoke weighed in against baseball in Shockoe Bottom. Applause indicated a split along the same line.

Although the politicians in attendance had little or nothing to say, they surely saw a roomful of voters. And, they certainly heard a laundry list of sensible reasons why NOT to shoehorn a baseball stadium into Shockoe Bottom.

In addition to being way outnumbered, as far as the attendance went, another part of what underlined the weakness of Highwoods/RBC position was how fairly the forum was conducted. Silvestri’s calm evenhandedness offered a sharp contrast to those individuals who said things that were off-the-wall, or perhaps less than forthright.

After all the hyperventilating in comments under baseball stories, the thinking that Richmond was evenly divided on whether to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom was revealed to be an illusion -- poof!

No doubt, that illusion had been fostered in some part by the aforementioned online comments, which allowed a handful of determined downtown baseball boosters to appear to be many more, in numbers, than they really were.

Everyone who bothered to attend the May 12th forum saw the plain truth in the bright lights -- one side of the debate had turned out a lot more warm bodies than the other. Over and over, they heard fellow citizens questioning the veracity of what Kreckman and Bostic were saying. The doubts became contagious. If any of Bostic's would-be investors were in the room that couldn't have helped his cause. 

If it had been a baseball game the score would have been something like Boulevard 9, Shockoe Bottom 2.

-- 30 --

Friday, April 04, 2014

Baseball Stadium Issue: Press Release from the CRG


Press release from the Citizens Referendum Group:
Date: April 3, 2014
To: All media
Re: Petition drive underway in Richmond
From: Citizens Referendum Group

An ad hoc group of Richmonders has started a petition drive to put the 10-year-old baseball stadium issue on the city’s election day ballot with two proposals. The group aims to see that before any groundbreaking occurs in Shockoe Bottom the rich history of the neighborhood is properly studied, and it wants to give voters more voice in large development projects.

On March 22, 2014, members of the Citizens Referendum Group met at the Main Branch of the City Library. Each of them left the meeting with copies of the group’s court-approved referendum petitions. Since then volunteers have been gathering signatures to allow its proposed items to appear on the ballot. The group’s goal is to get 9,800 valid signatures by July 31, 2014.

Paul Goldman, an attorney and a former chairman of the Democratic Party in Virginia, crafted the language on the petitions. However, the CRG is not affiliated with any political party or preexisting movement.

Proposition “A” would establish a commission to review proposed developments in Shockoe Bottom before they can be approved. Proposition “B” would make it easier to initiate a referendum prior to the issuance of bonds for sports stadium projects.

“It is a positive, uplifting approach to making sure we do the right thing by our solemn obligation to those forgotten by history, and to future generations,” Goldman wrote at WTVR.com (Mar. 24, 2014). “The referendums are based on making sure the history, the finances, the rights of the people are fully protected in a fair and honest process.”

On April 2, 2014, the CRG’s website was launched to provide the public with information about the group’s activities, its mission and the full text of the two ballot items. Click here to visit.

CRG Contacts:
Don Harrison: bethesda.24@gmail.com
John Moser: jmoser@moser-productions.com
Terry Rea: ftrea9@gmail.com

CRG's petitions

Click on the image to enlarge it. 
Download it, print it out and use as you wish.

If you see this sign in a shop window, please consider going inside and to sign the petitions.

Why?

There are several reasons for opposing the mayor’s revitalization plan with building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom as its centerpiece. The members of the new Citizens Referendum Group that is pushing to let the voters weigh in on election day don’t all agree on which is the most important reason. 

Yes, some of those circulating petitions to get two positions on the November ballot in Richmond are passionate about wanting to properly investigate Shockoe Bottom’s history and protect that neighborhood from an outrageously inappropriate development. Then some see another build-it-and-they-will-come boondoggle in the making, and they want to stop it. Others stand against an impractical plan that enriches developers, while turning a blind eye on new troubles it would likely spawn and what baseball fans seem to prefer. Then there are plenty of folks who don’t want to see another nickel spent of John Q. Public’s money on sports, period.

Those who stand opposed to such a plebiscite have a tough job on their hands. They have to convince voters who’ve watched 27 different members of City Council dither with the stadium issue for a decade that too much democracy can be a bad thing.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Citizens Referendum Group


An ad hoc group of Richmonders has started a petition drive to put the 10-year-old baseball stadium issue on the city’s election day ballot with two proposals. The group aims to see that before any groundbreaking occurs in Shockoe Bottom the rich history of the neighborhood is properly studied, and it wants to give voters more voice in large development projects.

On March 22, 2014, members of the Citizens Referendum Group met at the Main Branch of the City Library. Each of them left the meeting with copies of the group’s court-approved referendum petitions. Since then volunteers have been gathering signatures to allow its proposed items to appear on the ballot. The group’s goal is to get 9,800 valid signatures by July 31, 2014.

Paul Goldman, an attorney and a former chairman of the Democratic Party in Virginia, crafted the language on the petitions. However, the CRG is not affiliated with any political party or preexisting movement.

On April 2, 2014, the CRG’s website was launched to provide the public with information about the group’s activities, its mission and the full text of the two ballot items. Click here to visit.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Playing Ball

An ad hoc group of Richmonders has started a petition drive to put the Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium issue squarely on the ballot for November’s elections. The Citizens Referendum Group aims to appeal to voters to support its effort to see that before any groundbreaking occurs, the rich history of the neighborhood is studied and protected.

Meanwhile, it is April 1st, so there‘s this:
At last, spring has sprung! On Thursday a new season will begin for Richmond's beloved baseball club, the Flying Squirrels. Can't you already hear the music swelling in the distance? It's a jazzy, a cappella version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The mellifluous Mayor Dwight Jones is singing lead, with the dulcet harmony of the Councilmanic Nine backing him up.
To read “Playing Ball” in STYLE Weekly, penned by F.T. Rea, click on this link.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Citizens Referendum Group

In Saturday’s issue of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Graham Moomaw writes about a new petition drive associated with the 10-year-old baseball stadium issue.
A group seeking a voter referendum related to Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ proposed Shockoe Bottom development plan has filed paperwork with the Richmond Circuit Court to begin collecting petition signatures, said former state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Goldman, who is spearheading the effort.
Click here to read the entire article. 

The name of the ad hoc group that Paul Goldman is working with is the Citizens Referendum Group. I am a member of the group, as well. At a meeting today Goldman handed out copies of the petition. A brief discussion of how to proceed ensued.

It should be noted that the group’s plan is to stay on a positive course, without attacking anybody. Sometimes honest people with good intentions disagree. However, while this group is made up of people who have varied interests and opinions, they stand united by a commonly held belief that addressing the baseball stadium issue through democracy in action is now the best course for Richmond.

Since this brouhaha is over 10 years old most people in Richmond who give a hoot about baseball, Shockoe Bottom, local political priorities, and related stadium issues, have already made up their minds. So, with its petition drive the job of the Citizens Referendum Group will not be that of a salesman. Instead, it will more like a farmer harvesting a ripened crop.

Plenty of signatures are out there; more than enough. They just need to be collected.

Then there’s this: A citizens referendum will get the struggling members of City Council off the hook much better than whatever might come out of another consultant’s study. The definitive results of a plebiscite in November, however it would turn out, would give the side that prevails a stamp of approval that shouldn’t be questioned. 

More news about this developing story will be posted here soon.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Post at Bearing Drift misses the mark

A story I wrote with an accompanying illustration has been used to make a point by a writer at Bearing Drift, a conservative blog. Since the writer, Shaun Kenney, got something wrong, I tried to leave a comment under his post. I wasn’t able to complete the task. Not sure why.

Here's what I wanted Kenney's readers to see:
While it’s a bit disconcerting to see my work used in this way, I can laugh it off. However, I do want to make something clear: When Shaun Kenney writes, “which clearly outlined a small black child watching the whirlwind approach,” that’s his view of the illustration. And, if what was intended by the artist (me) actually matters this time, Kenney missed the mark.

Art-wise, my intention with that 1991 political cartoon was to imitate the familiar 1904 illustration of the Tar-Baby by E.W. Kemble, as it appeared in the famous Uncle Remus folklore story, as written by Joel Chandler Harris. Moreover, it most certainly was not intended to be a depiction of “small black child” watching anything. Anyone who knows the Tar-Baby story should know better. Kemble drew a lump of tar wearing a hat and I followed suit.
Click here to see the 1991 political cartoon in question.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wising up

From the times have changed department: Some Richmonders need to wise up and stop clinging to old ways. In 2014 denial is standing in the way of pursuing prosperity.

From here on, there’s going to be a lot more money in telling the whole truth about the Shockoe Bottom slave markets and the Civil War, than there will be in keeping history buried and perpetuating fantasies about the Lost Cause.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Picture Your Corporate Sponsorship Here

Of course, if Mayor Dwight Jones gets his way and a baseball stadium is built in Shockoe Bottom, the city will want to sell the naming rights to some entity with a deep pocket. Thinking about how wildly inappropriate that game could get reminded me of a piece I wrote for Richmond.com in 1999. It was one of several attempts I made in those days to have a little fun with what were current events.

Yes, there have been some changes since I wrote that wiseass piece in 1999. The Landmark Theatre is now the Altria Theatre. And, some remember it was called The Mosque for about 70 years. Yes, Altria used to be called Philip Morris, but that's another story, plainly for another day. Then again, how much really hasn't changed since 1999?

The original piece is posted below:   
Picture Your Corporate Sponsorship Here
F.T. Rea
Richmond.com
Mon., Nov. 22, 1999
Richmond City Manager Calvin D. Jamison is looking for a company to buy "naming rights" for The Coliseum. If he is successful, Richmond would be in step with many cities in the country that have taken on corporate sponsors for their arenas, ball fields, and other municipal facilities that lend themselves to such exploitation.

Of course, just because the opportunity is there doesn't mean it will happen. The City of Richmond has been waiting since 1995 for an entity to throw some bucks into the kitty for the right to put its name on the storied hall that is being temporarily called the Landmark Theater.

With the budget for the operation of the city growing every year, it's no wonder Jamison is looking for new ways to make ends meet. And since it costs Richmond six figures every year to subsidize The Coliseum, why shouldn't the City Manager listen to a company that wants to cough up seven figures to install their logo onto such a high-profile facility?

Apparently Circuit City is considering it. If the deal goes down, we might soon see the circus and annual basketball tournaments held at the Circuit City Coliseum. And why not?

We applaud Mr. Jamison's state-of-the-art thinking and wonder what other publicly owned properties might become cash cows for the city. Humbly, we submit the following suggestions:

Let's go for the gold: The monuments on Monument Avenue should take on corporate sponsors. Why wouldn't Colonial Downs go for the equestrian theme? Maybe the best horse for them would be J.E.B. Stuart's, since it seems to be in motion. Just slap that racetrack logo onto the horse's ass and listen for the sound of the gravy train.

Then there's Matthew Maury, "Pathfinder of the Seas," with that big globe. How about a travel agency for Maury? A quick look at The Yellow Pages suggests Cruises Unlimited as a possible sponsor.

Cha-ching!

Next, we go for another one of those perfect fits. Instead of The Coliseum, we steer Circuit City toward sponsoring City Hall. That way we could call it Circuit City Hall.

Along the same lines, we could focus on a little local trivia and sell the naming right of the Lee Bridge to Sara Lee; making it the Sara Lee Bridge. (Sara Lee's happens to have been the original name of Sally Bell's Kitchen on West Grace Street. Maybe the first hundred grand could go to pay off Sally Bell's disputed tax tab with the City.)

The 6th Street Marketplace has been a drain on Richmond's resources for a long time. Maybe we could change that by selling the naming rights to a company that fits its image. How about The Forest Lawn Cemetery and Crematorium?

The most visible pieces of city property may be its police cars since they are mobile. Why not sell display advertising space on the patrol cars, just like cabs and buses?

The cars could have a Richbrau logo on their sides. And an ad for fightin' Joe Morrissey on the back.

Everybody makes money.

There's no limit to what fortune could flow from this concept. There will always be yet another space for an ad that could bring in some dough. A few more ads can't hurt us any more than the zillion our pickled brains have already been exposed to.

Finally, when he's making public appearances, Mayor Tim Kaine could wear a special mayor's suit adapted after the fashion of a NASCAR driver. On his official get-up there would be logos for sponsoring companies. There's no way Ukrops, Ethyl, or CSX can pass up this opportunity.

Come to think of it, didn't Richmond already do much the same thing when it hired Calvin Jamison from Ethyl?

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Referendum update

Today’s meeting to share information and discuss the referendum strategy went well. We even shared a few laughs.

A group of some 20 Richmond citizens discussed a few different approaches, including my idea of simply outlawing a stadium in the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood. As one who is (almost) always happy to go with a better idea, now I’ve put that thought on the back burner.

Everyone had a chance to speak. The discussion was thoroughly civil and orderly. A range of reasons to want a referendum were talked about. But most of our time was spent on what we want to say on the petition(s) to put before a judge, so we can start gathering signatures.

The two approaches that gained the most favor, somewhat of a consensus, take different paths. One would say that anytime the city wants to build a large stadium, arena, etc., and use public funds, it will require that a referendum be held before final approval from Council. The other would address the bonds to pay for it, and call for a referendum to be held beforehand.

We will probably not be trying to dictate to City Hall where to build a stadium, or where not to build a stadium.

Hopefully, the two ways of allowing the voters to weigh in that the group settled upon today will allow for some who questioned other approaches to now support the referendum effort. As far as I’m concerned, the most important thing at this point is to let the people have some say-so. I'm for democracy.

And, I’m confident the voters of Richmond will enthusiastically support a way to put the kibosh to the notion of baseball in the Bottom, whatever path is used.


We're going to be gathering again soon to look over the legal lingo Paul Goldman is in the process of crafting. More news soon.

To follow the discussion in the meantime, go here.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Referendum info to be aired on WRIR

 

Instead of swallowing a deliberately misleading public relations campaign, let’s have the public weigh in. Instead of conducting another opinion poll, let’s get real. Moreover, the forces for the mayor’s revitalization plan “love” it that some people have the gotten the misconception that only a handful of activists are against their scheme.

With a citizens’ referendum on the ballot, not only is outlawing a stadium in Shockoe Bottom possible, it would offer youngsters in Richmond a splendid opportunity to see democracy in action.

Want more info? Tune in to a radio interview that will lay out the case for a referendum. It will air on WRIR 97.3 FM at 4 p.m. today. Open Source’s Don Harrison will be asking the questions. The answers, however enlightening or lame, will be coming from yours truly.

For those who’ve come to the issue recently, the information may provide some historical background. Knowing how we got here helps. For those who’ve been opposed to building a stadium in Shockoe Bottom for several years, perhaps what’s revealed about a new team dedicated to putting a citizens’ referendum on the ballot will provide some encouragement.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

LovingRVA is Mostly a Smokescreen

Some people who are firmly against the building of a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom have let themselves become convinced that if the voters are asked to settle the issue by way of a citizens' referendum that they might lose. The main reason for that fear appears to be the LovingRVA public relations campaign now being promoted by Venture Richmond.

What follows is my attempt to assuage those fears with a little bit of analysis and a smattering of anecdotal history. It starts with a two-part question.

Who is the LovingRVA campaign aimed it and what is its purpose?

My answer is: The target has three layers and winning over the general public is the third-most important of those layers. It is more about creating the illusion of a juggernaut bandwagon. Here’s what I mean:

Before my days at the Biograph Theatre I worked at WRNL. In those days, over 40 years ago, when I was learning how to put together an advertising campaign from a master ad salesman, Lee Jackoway, he taught me to define the target for the message before working much on the creative aspect of it. In my eagerness to write snappy copy, he told me I was putting the cart before the horse.

Jackoway, the radio station's general manager, said to consider the target on three levels: The message should be crafted to get the attention of the primary target. Then appealing to the secondary target should be considered. Finally, the third target would usually be the general public.

Example: If the new product is a supposedly healthy soft drink, then the campaign would be designed to launch it successfully. According to the client’s market study males and females, 12-to-17, should be the primary target. The secondary target might be their mothers, who do the family shopping. Then tertiary target would be everyone who might consume a tasty alternative soft drink.  

To appeal to the most important target the ads might suggest that the hippest kids already like the new product. To appeal to the secondary target the ads might tout health claims -- better than cola. Then, on the third level, to the general public, a soft sell would allude to the product’s refreshing, easy-to-like flavor.

The target for the LovingRVA campaign is City Council. Yes, just nine people. But they are the people who are supposed to decide whether to follow the mayor’s lead or not.

The secondary target is the local press. The point here is to provide the media with a narrative that says the city is evenly divided over a 10-year-old controversy. Evenly divided and in need of leadership. With prefabricated quotes and an avalanche of signs, coasters and doodads with LovingRVA logos, it makes the job of reporting easy for the busy people working on a deadline to file a story. No investigation needed.

Besides some of the biggest advertisers in town are already on the bandwagon for baseball in the Bottom. Which means a story that advances that same cause will probably be well received by station managers and publishers.

Promulgating the illusion that the Loving RVA campaign has won over thousands of Richmonders, folks who were sitting on the fence, helps with providing cover for the aforementioned nine people -- the decision makers. Jackoway always stressed that a good salesman should always make his pitch directly to the decision-maker.

Then, the spillover reaches the public at large. And, yes, the LovingRVA thing probably has hoisted some young city dwellers -- new to considering the issue -- onto the bandwagon for baseball on the Bottom. Still, most adults who have paid any attention to the brouhaha made up their minds well before the LovingRVA propaganda hit the street.

The results of the only scientific study of preference were published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in October of 2013. Among the results were these telling numbers: Richmonders preferred baseball on the Boulevard over the Bottom by 64 percent to 25 percent. My experience tells me the LovingRVA campaign has not done anything to change those numbers dramatically.

Of course, another thing the LovingRVA smokescreen is doing now, four months after those numbers were published, is to discourage people from working on using a referendum to decide this thing without depending on City Council.

That’s because the people pushing the mayor’s “revitalization” plan, with its baseball stadium component, know perfectly well they will lose if the people decide.