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 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
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.


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. 

Monday, March 03, 2014

Baseball-related congestion problem? Forget about it.

Regarding Richmond's baseball stadium kerfuffle, in the last couple of weeks there's been a lot of chatter about the bogus traffic study, or the lack of a traffic study. Self-styled experts have come out of the woodwork saying that without millions to change the roads in and out of Shockoe Bottom the congestion just before and after games at the new stadium would be a mess.

On the surface that makes sense. After all, the Flying Squirrels have been drawing 6,000-plus to games at the Diamond.

Well, I don’t doubt that City Hall is not being forthright about the potential for traffic and parking problems, as well as other things. But here’s another angle to consider:

Maybe Team Baseball in the Bottom isn’t so worried about traffic-related problems, because those on that team are privately expecting only 3,000 baseball fans will be attending the games at the new stadium. Or, if you listen to some disgruntled longtime fans in the suburbs, perhaps 2,000 would be a better guess. Hey, once the newness of the stadium wears off, if the Squirrels only average 1,500 fans for weeknight games, maybe the traffic problem won‘t be so bad.

There's hardly a guarantee the attendance for games will be as strong in a new location. In most business situations, location matters.

But since some of the well-heeled players who stand to cash in on building big in the Bottom and on the Boulevard will have already made their money by the time the umpire says "batter up," some of them may not care so much whether the Squirrels end up drawing large crowds in their new location.

Sarcasm about traffic trouble aside, if the opposition to baseball in the Bottom can’t coalesce to form a legal barricade to building Shockoe Stadium, the push for baseball in the Bottom, in all likelihood, is going to be successful. The traffic and parking problems will just have to sort themselves out.

OK, there are several excellent reasons to oppose putting a stadium in Shockoe Bottom. But if those opposed to it would rather argue about which reason is the best one that road paved with good intentions leads only to a dead end.

Unless some City Council members change their minds, the grumbling by baseball fans opposed to building a stadium in Shockoe Bottom will soon be just a quaint memory. Likewise, unless some Council members change their minds, those who want to protect Shockoe Bottom from a development that would do another injustice to its history will have to watch Jones’ published revitalization scheme go forth. The same goes for those who don’t want to see Richmond spend/risk any more money on professional sports facilities.

In my view, today it’s probably too late to depend strictly on a clever new PR campaign to cajole members of Council, to pry them away from supporting the so-called "revitalization" plan. The time for that sort of strategy was six months ago.

In Richmond citizens can bypass their government's say-so with a binding referendum. Don't believe me? Look it up.

Not an "advisory" referendum, as was discussed last summer, but a "binding" referendum. Binding is more difficult to make happen, but it can be done with a petition-signing campaign. Not an online petition, but on paper -- signatures in ink.

To end the push for moving baseball from the Boulevard to the Bottom, it will take much more than establishing another Facebook page or throwing up another cute web site. Forget about useless online petitions, too.

Sadly, because it would take a lot of work, pursuing the referendum option doesn’t seem to appeal to many of the well-meaning people who oppose baseball in the Bottom. The most visible of that scattered opposition seem happy to go on speculating about which members of Council might be secretly leaning their way.

They might as well be in a lifeboat. In the distance they can see land, but it would take a lot of rowing by cupped hands in the water to get there. Instead of pitching in, to get that vital job done, the group in the boat opts to yell at the shore, hoping someone will hear the noise and send them oars or maybe even a motor -- to make the trip easier.

It says here that members of Council who are already counting on big campaign donations and other favors from Team Baseball in the Bottom developers and their associates aren't listening. Worried about a baseball-related congestion problem a couple of years down the road?

Forget about it. There are worries to do with this brouhaha much more deserving of your immediate attention.