Tuesday, April 29, 2014

All of Open’s Alums Should Be Proud

In the ‘50s and ‘60s Massive Resistance and White Flight made the people building the ticky-tacky housing developments, shopping centers and roads into zillionaires. And, as we all know, politicians tend to follow where the money goes and what its holders dictate.

Then, in the ’70s, busing -- however well-intentioned -- exacerbated the exodus trend that was shriveling Richmond’s tax base. Somewhere along the line the people in power in Richmond obviously gave up on public education in the city. They developed a coping policy. After all, they were sending their kids to private schools, so what did it matter?

So what began as bigoted white parents wanting to avoid sending their children to school with black children changed over the years. It morphed into all sorts of parents wanting to avoid a demoralized public school system with diminishing resources and facilities that were falling apart. The suburbanites in the surrounding counties steadily saw the city, itself, as a lost cause and that attitude proved to be contagious.

Still, over the last four decades in Richmond, we’ve had plucky Open High as an elite public school option. For the most part it served smart kids with smart parents who hadn't given up on public education. That’s why it’s so noteworthy that the student march to City Hall to protest the deplorable conditions in some other public schools is a movement that apparently started at Open.

All of Open’s alums should be proud of what their present day counterparts have set in motion. Seeing these kids today standing up for all of Richmond's students is a sign of hope. The seeds for the march on Apr. 28, 2014 were planted in the early '70s. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Power-to-the-People Wheels Turning

Emily Knox and Seyla Hossaini offered advice to those with the eyes to see it. 
(Photo from RVA Magazine)  

Richmond has seen its share of student protests. But today’s walkout reminded me of one in particular. And, in my view, the protestors at City Hall have just gotten started with the pressure they will eventually put on the local government. Pressure to do right by public education.

Here’s what happened 54 years ago in Richmond when a student protest was underestimated by the establishment:

In February of 1960, a group of 34 young citizens -- many were students -- was busted for having the temerity to ask to be served food and drink at Thalhimers’ lunch counter ... while being black. When they were refused service they politely refused to leave. The group was charged with trespassing and arrested. Their protest was called a “sit-down strike” in the vernacular of the times.

In reaction to that incident a picket line was thrown up around Thalhimers. Carrying signs urging a boycott of the department store the marchers surrounded the building. This was the time of Massive Resistance and the odds seemed against the dauntless demonstrators. Months of tense stalemate followed, fortunately with no violence to speak of. Eventually, the store’s management caved in. It was costing them so much money to do what was on the wrong side of history, it finally became smart business to do the right thing.

As a result all of the downtown lunch counters 86ed their whites-only policy. Until then they had been happy for black customers to spend money anywhere else in their stores, but the restaurant sections were off limits. Change came to Richmond because some brave students saw to it.

When those students took their stand, by sitting down, their chance of success was widely seen as dim. Still, the accepted view turned out to have been wrong. Maybe today a lot of people who think the mayor's proposal for baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom is a done deal will turn out to have been wrong, too.

Today's student protestors are asking for Richmond's adults to honestly commit to doing better with public education. Recent revelations about deplorable conditions in Richmond school buildings have been attention-getting. Which makes the students' grievances about City Hall's spending priorities seem all the more legitimate and timely.

Obviously, one of the most obvious things these organizing students could do to further their cause would be to put Mayor Jones' political feet to the fire, to give up on his scheme to dump nine figures into building a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. So the anti-baseball in the Bottom forces appear to have just picked up a new ally -- one with stamina.

With the sudden new interest "12 Years a Slave" has brought to the table, every day more people want to see a proper study of Shockoe Bottom's history done. With an emboldened Citizens Referendum Group circulating petitions to give the voters a chance to say whether they want such a new stadium, how long before the City Council members who want to be reelected can see the handwriting on the wall?

Could this be the year Richmond finally changes direction and makes quality public education for all of its students its No. 1 priority? Hey, in the wake of their headline-making success today, I can almost hear the power-to-the-people wheels turning in those young protestors heads, planning their next move.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, Emily Knox is my granddaughter and I'm proud of what she and her colleagues are doing. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Beer With The Mayor

It's hard to believe it's been almost 14 years since I wrote "A Beer With The Mayor," about Tim Kaine, for Richmond.com. It was published on Fri., Sept. 29, 2000. At that time I was writing about politics on a regular basis for them.
As an observer of matters political, when I learned of Tim Kaine's interest in running for lieutenant governor, it got my attention. Having been favorably impressed with his performance as mayor of Richmond, I was curious about his plans. To get some answers, and to get a feel for Kaine as a player, I asked him to set aside some time to meet with me and spend a few minutes talking politics.

The busy councilman/attorney was kind enough to agree to get together on what is familiar turf for me -- the Baja Bean at Friday happy hour.

Kaine and I sat down at a small table and the waitress took our order; a Rolling Rock for me and a Miller for the mayor. I was glad to see, as a good Democrat, he ordered a beer and not a Slice -- the soft drink he has been seen shilling for in local television commercials.

Once we got past the normal exchange of introductory folderol, I asked him why he wanted to be lieutenant governor. He pointed out that he hadn't officially announced his candidacy, but conceded he was looking hard at running. Then he cut to the chase: He admitted that his long-range sights are on the governor's chair.

He went on to say that for a number of reasons, the lieutenant governor's job seemed like the best move for him to make at this time.

Most of us would probably agree that in politics, little - if anything - is more important than timing.

In July, the sudden withdrawal of state Sen. Emily Couric of Charlottesville - the presumed Democrat nominee for lieutenant governor - threw the door open for Kaine, as well as two others who are reportedly testing the waters: Del. Jerrauld Jones of Norfolk and Del. Alan Diamonstein of Newport News.

Taking On The GOP

Essentially, Kaine indicates he also likes the looks of the part-time position of lieutenant governor because it would allow him to move on - he thinks eight years on City Council will be enough - and up, yet stay in Richmond. He puts value in being able to remain in his Richmond home, to spend time with his wife and three children, ages 5 through 10.

As far as his agenda is concerned, Kaine points to education as his chief interest and what would surely be at the center of any campaign of his for statewide office.

"Virginia is deeply underfunded in education, K through 12," says the mayor with the assurance of a man who can back up what he just said.

He explained that Virginia's Republicans - in order to strike the populist pose of tax-cutters - have shifted a greater portion of the burden of the cost for public education to the localities. They did this by cutting local taxes, such as the car tax, rather than income taxes. So while we are in a time of general prosperity, the cities and counties are hurting for revenue even as the Commonwealth remains flush.

Beyond education, Kaine is already on record as a supporter of tougher controls on access to handguns and other common-sense measures to restrict exotic weapons. As well, he intends to run against the death penalty. In his view, taking what I'd call a progressive stand on these issues will play better across the state than some would argue.

His Republican opponent, should Kaine secure his party's nomination, will likely characterize those positions as liberal. But Kaine doesn't flinch at the prospect. It is his reading that such positions on guns and the death penalty are consistent with mainstream thinking in Virginia today.

Running On Beliefs

Cheerfully, he told me it's his intention to run on what he believes. He hopes to win. If he loses, he'll be happy to go on to live the good life of a successful attorney and family man. I gathered that he wants to be governor one day, but he doesn't need to be governor at all costs.

"I like public service. And I think I'm good at it," Kaine says.

When time permits, he plans to stump for Chuck Robb. He'll put off any official announcement concerning his own running for office until after November's general election.

I do have one bit of free advice for Richmond's savvy and genial mayor: He should make that silly Slice commercial the last of its ilk. Although it may have seemed harmless when the prospect was pitched to him, as it appears on TV, the gesture comes off as bush league (not a whit of reference to anybody named Bush is intended), even if it's not inappropriate.

Maybe an eager police chief, even a small-market mayor, does it for a laugh. But in my view, it's not the sort of thing a Virginia governor does.

Or, maybe I'm being a stick in the mud.

Nonetheless, I suspect Tim Kaine has a bright future in politics. His grasp of the circumstances in which he is operating sounds sure. His natural confidence in his own view of the political landscape strikes me as refreshing. He comes off as a man who does his own thinking, and his sense of purpose seems genuine.

If Tim does get as far as the governor's mansion, I hope he'll still find the time to have a cold beer and talk politics at happy hour.

-- 30 --
-- My illustration (2004). 

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
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 stadium 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 slick Loving/RVA public relations campaign come out, I realized that without a hard push-back 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

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.