Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Remembering the Bogus Search for the Redskins Training Facility

Hail to that $50,000 contribution
Last year, when the deal that has brought the Washington Redskins’ preseason training camp to Richmond was being put together, I was being put off by the strange way it was happening. After a deal to build it in Richmond had been made, THEN you choose the site?

Over the summer months and into the fall, I thought the mysterious process of selecting a site for the Redskins was a sham and should have been challenged by the candidates running for City Council. Basically, now I’m saying that all along the delay -- ostensibly about a search -- was more about timing the announcement to force City Council to have to act without the proper time to study the plan.  

Unfortunately, the timid candidates all stood aside and let the mayor’s office have its way. Then, sure enough, when the deal's details were unveiled in October, City Council was told it had to OK the pact, pronto, or lose it.

Now, with all those old trees gone and the buildings all built, the Redskins camp is set to open tomorrow. While lessons should have been learned from how things got done, it’s too late to oppose what brought the Redskins to Richmond.

So, while I have my doubts about City Hall’s blue-sky predictions about how many tourists are really going to show up to watch football practices, every day, I hope the adventure is successful for Richmond in the long run. At this point, pushing sour grapes off the table, I can see no good reason in wishing for failure.

Last summer, hoping to goose the councilmanic candidates into making it a campaign issue, I wrote several pieces that questioned/mocked the site selection process as being a sham.  It didn’t work. Then, as the sitting Council was about to vote yes or no on the deal, I posted this piece, with links to some articles about the way the deal went down.

Now I laugh when I see local politicians claiming they opposed the Redskins deal from the start. Because, I know that if they did, they pretty much kept it a secret when it counted. And, I laugh when I remember that the Redskins donated $50,000 to Gov. Bob McDonnell's campaign effort in 2009.  

Nonetheless, as a lifelong Redskins fan, now I say, “Hail to the Redskins.” And, in parting, I ask this:

Given what we’ve learned about how he operates, are we going to let Mayor Dwight Jones shoehorn a baseball stadium into Shockoe Bottom?

-- Photo from the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Monday, July 22, 2013

Film Gems on YouTube

Of course I’d rather watch a brand new print of any movie than an old beat up print. Likewise, given the choice, I’d rather see that pristine print projected onto a large screen than watch it on a laptop. But if the choice is between seeing or not seeing a film, let’s say it’s old film noir I’ve read about but never seen, the laptop will do.

Enter YouTube.

Over the last few months I’ve watched a bunch of old movies on YouTube at no charge. Apparently, thousands of titles are available. Sometimes the look of the picture has been better than others. Some of the films are in the public domain, others may not be and they might not be available for long, due to rights issues.

Several of the gems I’ve watched recently have been pulled, so don’t wait to see one on the list you really want to see. It might be gone tomorrow.

In particular, I’ve been enjoying the black and white movies from the 1950s and early-‘60s. Of the movies in that category I’ve watched recently on YouTube, my favorite five today (with links that still work at this posting) are as follows:

“The Big Heat” (1953): B&W. Directed by Fritz Lang; Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, and Lee Marvin. Note: Ford is the cop who won’t be scared off of investigating the death of a colleague. Grahame is the gangster’s moll who gets caught in the middle. Marvin is the second-in-command in a crime syndicate who routinely terrorizes people, especially women, for his own amusement. Click here to watch it.

“The Hitch-Hiker” (1952): B&W. Directed by Ida Lupino; Cast: Edmund O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman. Note: Based on a true crime spree story that had been covered extensively in the press in 1950. For a woman to direct a lean and brutal movie like this one was a breakthrough in its time. Talman’s quirky portrayal as the psychotic murderer is memorable. Click here to watch it.

“Paris Blues” (1961): B&W. Directed by Martin Ritt; Cast: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Sidney Pointier, Louis Armstrong, Diahann Carroll. Note: Seeing the good looking stars of this story about Americans wrapped up in the jazz scene in Paris is well worth it. Some expatriates were way too cool for the processed rhythm and blues, country & western, and folk music that was dominating the pop charts in the USA. Click here to watch it.

“Patterns” (1956): B&W. Directed by Fielder Cook; Cast: Van Heflin, Everett Sloane, Ed Begley. Note: Written by Rod Serling, “Patterns” was first presented on the Kraft Television Theatre in 1955. A year later it was reworked as a feature film. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this story of dog-eat-dog immorality in the business world is how well it holds up. Click here to watch it.

"Shake Hands With the Devil" (1959): B&W. Directed by Michael Anderson; Cast: James Cagney, Don Murray, Dana Wynter, Richard Harris. Note: This story about an American medical student (of Irish heritage) getting inadvertently involved with revolutionary politics is set in Dublin in 1921. The student, who is also an apolitical WWI veteran, gets dragged into the IRA’s bitter battle with the thuggish Black and Tans. Click here to watch it.

That's a Lot of Turkey

If you can pull yourself away from reading about the Zimmerman trial aftermath and the Uncle Jonnie’s Rolex scandal, I’ve got a story about the Virginia gubernatorial race. There was a 90-minute debate between the two major party hopefuls, Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe, on Saturday morning and something telling happened.

It was something that was rather surprising to me.

Yes, it’s still mid-July -- perhaps the peak of the silly season for politics -- but what happened on the tony Homestead's debate stage in Hot Springs may play out to make a difference in the outcome of the race. But first, here’s what happened at the debate before the Virginia Bar Association audience, if you only focus on what was said.

Essentially, both candidates stuck to their scripts, so there weren‘t many surprises in the content of what they said. No, the surprise for me was all in how they said it; the difference in the body language and demeanor of the two candidates was striking.

As far as what was said, here it is in a nutshell: The Republican candidate, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, repeatedly said that his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, is a Washington insider (read that as saying he's not a true Virginian). McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, repeatedly cast Cuccinelli as an ideologue who is backward on social issues (read that as saying he will keep new businesses from locating in Virginia).

In the first half of the Judy Woodruff-moderated debate Cuccinelli seemed in over his head. He appeared to be scared and unsure of himself. At the same time, McAuliffe hit the ground running, brimming over with confidence. He was well prepared and it showed.

Among the topics covered were:
  • Teachers’ pay.
  • A $1.4 billion tax cut proposed by Cuccinelli, about which he refuses to divulge any specifics.
  • Same-sex marriage
  • Abortion
  • McAuliffe’s car company failings
  • Transportation in Virginia
  • Gifts from Star Scientific
  • Should Gov. Bob McDonnell resign?
  • Health care/Obamacare
  • The Sequester’s impact on Virginia
  • Immigration Reform
Cuccinelli scored best on Obamacare and the Sequester. McAuliffe scored best on the social issues and transportation.

When Cuccinelli did manage to recover somewhat from his shaky start, in the debate’s last half-hour, he tried to affect his cock-of-the walk style. However, it seemed a little forced and he still looked self-conscious. Which all seemed to underline the notion that Cuccinelli’s style works much better when he’s working a highly partisan crowd, or being interviewed by sympathetic questioners.

McAuliffe chided Cuccinelli for accepting a trip to New York, paid for by Jonnie Williams, when the attorney general’s office was dragging its heels on a tax dispute between one of Williams' companies and the commonwealth. Cuccinelli said he was merely standing in for Gov. McDonnell, at the governor‘s request.

McAuliffe mentioned a $1,500 turkey dinner the AG presumably enjoyed, for which Williams picked up the check. Then the Democratic candidate chuckled, “That’s a lot of turkey!”  

Yes, it was surprising to me how much better McAuliffe performed in this first debate. He seemed likeable and quick on his feet. Up until today, I had been more than a little worried than Cuccinelli would be the more confident debater. Now I wonder if Cuccinelli ought to just avoid any future one-on-one debates.

McAuliffe's biggest stumble was caught by PolitiFact. McAuliffe said a report on connections between Uncle Jonnie and Cuccinelli, issued by Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring, said Cuccinelli should have been prosecuted. It did not.

Of course one debate shown on PBS in July won’t settle the contest. But with McAuliffe slightly ahead in the early polls and his strong performance on Saturday, momentum is now clearly on his side.

For his part, Cuccinelli tried to distance himself from McDonnell’s snowballing Uncle Jonnie problem, but it wasn’t convincing. When questioned about abortion Cuccinelli mostly ducked the opportunity to double-down on his anti-choice, anti-contraception positions of the past.

So, here’s why this first debate matters -- of course, it’s the money. Cuccinelli is probably going to have more trouble raising money now. Some of the GOP’s fat cats may already smell a loser. Smart Republicans may son decide to invest their time and money into holding onto the AG’s job and maintaining control of the House of Delegates.

So, even though this is just July, Cuccinelli may already be in trouble. If he can’t raise enough money to saturate Virginia with commercials in the fall, AND he can’t best McAuliffe in debates, he’s probably going to lose in November by double digits. Like McDonnell is expected to do, he could end up hurting other Republicans in their own races.

For the first time this year, I see McAuliffe’s chances to overcome Cuccinelli’s advantage of his well-cultivated right-wing media darling image as being pretty good.

All in all, July 20, 2013, was a good day for Virginia Democrats -- especially for the most relentless of the Cooch Watch activists.


Update: To watch a recording of the debate click here.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Who'll give the Cooch a hand?

Virginia’s still-sitting attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has been using a ten-foot-pole to push away from some of his own more Tea Party-esque/extremist positions in the past. That’s not unusual. Candidates, both Republican and Democratic, tend to try to move to the center for a general election.

Then the Cooch got a “gift” from the GOP convention held in Richmond in May. It nominated Rev. E.W. Jackson to run as No.2 (Lt. Gov.) on the ticket with Cuccinelli. Jackson has said enough wa-ay crazy things to almost make Cuccinelli seem run-of-the-mill by comparison.

So out came another ten-foot-pole; Cuccinelli announced he will not be defending any of Jackson's statements or positions. Picture the busy-as-a-beaver Cooch with a pole in each hand push, push, pushing away.

Speaking of gifts, now comes the embarrassing list of gifts, loans, etc., Gov. Bob McDonnell has received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.

Oy vey.

As he must, Cuccinelli is now trying to distance himself from the still-sitting governor. Which might not be so easy, since the sitting AG has also been linked to the snowballing "Giftgate" scandal.

While the Republican Party may have a garage full of sturdy ten-foot-poles, it seems the beleaguered Cooch may need to grow a third hand.

-- Ken Cuccinelli image from 

RunBobRun meme gaining momentum

You start with P. Kevin Morley’s photograph of a giddy Gov. Bob McDonnell at the grand opening of the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center here in Richmond, which ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on July 8, 2013. Then you add some imaginative sarcasm and photoshop skills. Shake liberally and pour through a strainer.

What do you get?

A series of humorous images of the trotting, dancing, perhaps fleeing governor. In today’s Internet-driven parlance you get a new "meme" that is jumping from one Facebook page to the next as you read these words.

Launched by Barry Fitzgerald, the RunBobRun meme, as memes tend to do, has inspired other artists hop onto the bandwagon. From what I can tell, so far this is a Richmond-based phenomenon. Go here to see the series at Tumblr.

Given the “Giftgate” news that’s been leaking -- drip, drip, drip -- out about the list of gifts, loans, etc., McDonnell has received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, it’s no wonder the governor is on the run. 

Given the particularly tacky aura of this scandal, I’ll venture a guess that people close to the McDonnells, those who are well acquainted with their personal history, are not as surprised by these shocking revelations as some of us are.

Hey, should we believe that Bob and Maureen have suddenly become the sort who would happily accept a bunch of payments under the table?


Giddy-up, Bob, giddy-up!  

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Anti-referendum gang sticking to its guns

Last night, in what came as a surprise to no one, City Council voted 6-3 to reject the baseball stadium referendum concept that had been proposed by the Second District's representative, Charles Samuels.
Richmond City Council President Charles R. Samuels’ push to put a ballpark referendum before city voters this fall died a second death Monday night, though he won a minor victory in getting the public a chance to weigh in before the vote — an opportunity speakers used to voice strong opposition to putting a stadium in Shockoe Bottom.
Click here to read the article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

What about ignoring and paving over Shockoe Bottom's unique history to do with slavery? What about what actual baseball fans want today? What about the will of the people? 

It seems those concerns weren't as important as simply holding onto power.

As this frustrating exercise has reminded us, over the last couple of weeks, most elected politicians don’t much care for referendums. Often they have worked hard and spent a lot of somebody’s money to get elected, which means they want to hold fast to their power … think of dead Charlton Heston still clinging to his guns.

For instance, we’ve heard office holders asserting that we live in a representative democracy and they were elected to make the decisions; like parents they always know what‘s good for us kids.

Of course, in this case that convenient Father Knows Best assertion turns a blind eye on the decade this issue has flapped in the breeze. Unfortunately, the 27 people who’ve served on City Council over that 10-year period have been unable to do anything but keep kicking the old baseball down the road. 

Sometimes noisy activists and failed politicians who claim to want to push for progress and resolution on issues associated with a proposed referendum don’t like direct democracy, either. That was the case this time, as some of our most vocal locals didn’t really want to see the baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom issue resolved this way.

You see, a large Election Day turnout to reject baseball in the Bottom would have deprived them of squawking points they want to use to bash certain elected politicians. And, sometimes resolving an issue can put a feather in the wrong cap(s).

Speaking of feathers, we’ve seen examples of just that sort of pettiness with the Redskins training facility, as some who had little to say last year to criticize the process of making the ‘Skins sausage -- when the project’s fate was still up in the air -- began to relentlessly savage the building of the facility, once it was too late to stop it. They’re still at it and we can expect more of the same once the mayor's baseball stadium deal is announced and rubber stamped by City Council.

And, so it goes…

Monday, July 08, 2013

Richmond's baseball backstory

The Richmond Metropolitan Authority was created in 1966 by the General Assembly. Over the years since, on behalf of the City of Richmond, Chesterfield County and Henrico County, the RMA has built, owned and operated various facilities. They include roads, parking lots and The Diamond.

The RMA’s board consists of 11 members. Six of them are appointed by Richmond’s government. Chesterfield and Henrico each appoint two members. One member is appointed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Thus, any time they choose to do so,  Richmond’s members can outvote all the other members on the board combined.

Which means, as long as that remains the case, no one should expect the counties will participate in financing and building a new baseball stadium in the city. It also means that the well-intentioned calling for a regional advisory referendum, as RT-D columnist Michael Paul Williams does here, is indulging in a fantasy. 

Although the baseball stadium issue has many facets to it, this reality tells the reader plenty about why regional cooperation to build a new baseball stadium has been impossible over the last decade. The various plans to build a stadium anywhere in the city have rushed into this vacuum.

The most notorious of those plans have been efforts to shoehorn a baseball stadium into Shockoe Bottom by connecting it with larger developments. Yet, those efforts, in 2005 and 2009, both fell apart when the details about financing for those projects were scrutinized. In the process of examining those far-flung projects, it also became apparent to any fair-minded observer that Richmond’s citizenry was not at all in favor of baseball in the Bottom.

If anything, that opposition has grown as other plans for Shockoe Bottom’s future have surfaced. With so much recent emphasis on commemorating the Civil War, the history of that neighborhood as a center for the slave trade has been emphasized to the point that many are now calling for a museum dedicated to telling that story to be established in Shockoe Bottom. 

Although a few boosters for baseball in the Bottom would like Richmonders to see such a museum concept as compatible with a baseball stadium next door, it’s hard to find much in the way of widespread support for such a stretch. The one thing that has been consistent about the plans for baseball in the Bottom has been that boosters for the plans to build a minor league baseball park there have been quite willing to say almost anything to try to put their schemes over.

Which has only made the schemes seem more shaky.

In 2013 it seems the vacuum is about to bring to the surface yet another plan to move baseball away from what has been its home on North Boulevard since 1954.

No matter what happens in the next four months Richmond and its surrounding counties aren’t likely to solve all the problems that are preventing regional cooperation on a host of issues -- the most important of which is the baseball stadium problem.

That will take more time … maybe forever. But on November 5, 2013 -- Election Day -- the voters in Richmond could finally have a say in this story. If an advisory referendum is put on the ballot, allowing voters to say “yes” or “no” to the idea of moving baseball away from its traditional neighborhood, something can be accomplished.

The results of the referendum will tell the politicians in Richmond what the voters want and don’t want.

Ordinarily, elected representatives don’t like to hold referendums. They usually feel that after all they’ve done to get elected, it’s their job to make decisions. But this time the politicians and activists should step aside and allow democracy to work its magic. After all, since this decade-long debate over where to play ball began 27 different people have served on Richmond’s City Council.

Quite simply, those 27 people have not gotten the job done and there’s no reason to expect the nine on Council today will change that. Still, on its July 6 editorial page, the Richmond Times-Dispatch's editorial staff put it simply:
“We prefer a stadium on the Boulevard, which has proved its popularity as a site for professional baseball. A sports district with a Squirrels ballpark, a Redskins training camp and a VCU practice complex would enhance the Boulevard’s status as a gateway.”
Tonight Richmond's City Council could surprise us and vote to allow the referendum. The public can speak on the topic at 6 p.m. 

Click here to see the page for the Referendum? Bring It On! Facebook group.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Five Favorites: TV Characters

Heard a radio commentator explaining why the Lone Ranger was one of the most important, most iconic characters of the 20th century’s popular culture. Hmm …

Bob Denver as Maynard G. Krebs, TV's first beatnik

So, never having been much of a Lone Ranger fan, I started thinking about who I would put on a list, drawing from characters in literature, comic strips, movies, etc. Then my head exploded.

Therefore, instead of most important/iconic, I’m doing a five favorites list, like I usually do. The category is television characters (fiction only, people appearing as themselves don‘t count this time).

Here‘s the list my five favorite regularly appearing television characters (in alphabetical order):
  • Lt. Columbo (Columbo, 1968-78 on NBC)
  • Maynard G. Krebs (The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, 1959-63 on CBS)
  • Maggie O’Connell (Northern Exposure, 1990-95 on CBS)
  • Paladin (Have Gun Will Travel, 1957-63 on CBS)
  • George "Kingfish" Stevens (Amos & Andy, 1951-53 on CBS)
As always, in a different mood, the list would probably change tomorrow. This is today's favorite five. 

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Why be afraid of democracy?

On Independence Day, I’m celebrating my freedom of speech to call for a fresh dose of democracy here in Richmond. As of yesterday, I’m a member of the new Facebook group, Referendum? Bring It On!

This group is calling upon City Council to allow the people to speak. (Joining it is free and easy.)

When I say "the people," I mean Richmond's citizens, its taxpayers. The key is: Do those taxpayers want to prevent the City of Richmond from building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom?

Or not?

Hey, it's that simple.

Still, in a preliminary committee meeting on July 1, six members of City Council voted to muzzle the voters, to block the November referendum, which was a proposal by Second District Councilman Charles Samuels.

In my view, Samuels has offered Richmond a sensible new tool to settle what has been a thorny debate.

Yet, following the (July 1st) discussion of Samuels’ proposal, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch's report, the six who opposed it were hard pressed to come up with anything more than flimsy reasons for their blocking tactic. One of Samuels' colleagues opined that it would be too much like California to resort to a referendum to fix the 10-year-old problem.


Most Richmonders have known for years that Shockoe Bottom is absolutely the wrong neighborhood to pave over to build a baseball stadium. Most local baseball fans have known for years that their opinions haven't counted for much.

Aren't those the two biggest reasons why the boosters of baseball in the Bottom are afraid of democracy?


RT-D columnist Michael Paul Williams scolds City Council and calls for a citywide referendum on the baseball stadium issue.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Referendum? Bring it on!

A new open Facebook group page -- Referendum? Bring it on! -- has just been set up to focus on the local baseball stadium referendum issue and bring attention to it.

Although only Richmonders could vote in the proposed referendum, anyone can join this Facebook group. It's wide open. So this is a chance for everyone in the metro area to participate in this timely celebration of freedom of speech. To visit/join click here.

The group’s collective statement is as follows:
While our reasons vary, the members of this Facebook group stand united in our opposition to building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. After 10 years of studies, campaigns and debates concerning such a project, we now call upon Richmond’s City Council to allow the city’s voters to weigh in on the discussion by way of an advisory referendum on November 5, 2013. We are not afraid of democracy.
On Monday, July 8, City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to allow Richmond voters to have a say in this matter. So there's no time to lose in this attempt to rally around this call for direct democracy.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Referendum Wolf?

Last night the debate over whether to hold a baseball stadium referendum began. On Monday, July 8, Richmond City Council is scheduled to vote yes or no. What follows is from a new piece I've written today on this issue. 
In 2009, in doing research to write about the baseball stadium controversy, I discovered that in 2005 Richmond’s city council had opted to hold a referendum about the location of a new baseball stadium. Then, for some reason(s), the same group of people subsequently decided to forget about that method of finding out what the voters wanted.

Looking back on all the squabbling since 2005, plus losing the R-Braves in 2008, and so forth, and I have to think that if an advisory referendum had actually been held eight years ago, we would probably be in a different place today. That was a lost opportunity
 To read the rest of this piece at the Fan District Slant click here

Monday, July 01, 2013

Maynor coming to the Wizards

As a VCU Ram, 2005-09, Eric Maynor rewrote the record book.

Good news for Eric Maynor fans. According to CBS Sports, Maynor, who is a free agent, has made a deal that will have him playing his home games in DeeCee next season. After stops in Utah, Oklahoma City and Portland, this may prove to be the best opportunity for him to establish himself as a fixture.
The Washington Wizards reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with free agent backup PG Eric Maynor on Monday, according to the Washington Post and
-- My photos