Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mayor Jones and RT-D Wallowing in Denial

Yesterday, in spite of all the missed deadlines and squirrelly moves, etc., in a STYLE Weekly interview Mayor Dwight Jones said he doesn’t believe his administration could have done a better job with handling the stadium matter.

Was that supposed to be a joke?

Today, while encouraging the mayor to go on wallowing in denial, this Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial suggests that the “calm reason” of City Hall was overwhelmed by the “passion” of an uninformed rabble -- an angry mob with no alternative plans. Then the editorial magically turns a slavery museum project into a civil rights memorial. Then it says a civil rights memorial can’t go it alone -- it needs a stadium.

Another joke?

In any event, it’s not been the job of the opponents of the mayor’s so-called “revitalization” plan to invent alternative proposals. The many opponents to the mayor’s scheme have had a list of reasons for being against baseball-in-the-Bottom. They don’t all agree on what should be on the list. The “opposition,” as the RT-D’s editorial board calls it, is made up of ordinary Richmonders who haven’t raised a bunch of money, hired consultants, bought politicians, etc.

All the opposition has been able to do is say, “No.”

This spring the chorus saying, “No” grew larger each week, which made the sound increasingly louder. That was more due to the number of voices speaking than it was to their passion. After the student “walkout” demonstration at City Hall, on Apr. 28, many more people chimed in.

Fortunately, Charles Samuels and Jon Baliles couldn’t ignore the sound any longer, so they wisely made a populist choice to help slay the dragon.


No, it was mostly the dire needs of our public schools, together with Shockoe Bottom’s unique history, that finished off Shockoe Stadium ... if it’s really dead.

1989's Fan District Goddess

Twenty-five years ago, this week, the Goddess of Democracy was erected in Tiananmen Square. Made of chicken wire, papier mâché and plaster, it was built by art students. It symbolized their call for democratic reforms in China. The protest in Tiananmen Square had begun in mid-April; tension was mounting.

Subsequently, on June 4, 1989, following orders, the People’s Liberation Army put an end to the demonstration. Mayhem ensued. Although reports varied widely, hundreds, if not thousands, were killed. The Goddess of Democracy was destroyed during the routing of the protesters that had remained to the end, in defiance. As the drama played out on television, via satellite, the events shocked the world.

As their art student counterparts in China had been murdered in the shadow of their 33-foot-tall sculpture, in Richmond a group of VCU-affiliated artists heard the call of inspiration to stand with those who had fallen. They decided to build a replica of the lost Goddess.

The impromptu team of the willing and able worked around the clock for the next couple of days to give form to their tribute to the courage of those who had perished for the sake of freedom of expression. While the project was not sponsored by the school, wisely, VCU did nothing to discourage the gesture.

The Fan District's Goddess of Democracy (pictured above and below) stood the same height and was made of the same basic materials as the one in China had been. Facing Main Street, it stood as a memorial for about a month in front of the student center. CNN had a report on it, as did many other news agencies. Its image was on front pages of newspapers all over the world.

The little placards on sticks that surrounded the sculpture were added a few days after the Goddess was completed. While it was easily one of the coolest things ever to happen in the Fan District, art-wise, but to my knowledge, nobody made a penny out of it. It was constructed and maintained entirely by volunteers.

It was also a wonderful illustration of how traditional right and left, liberal and conservative, characterizations of all things political don’t always do justice to the truth of a situation. Was the stubborn and heavy-handed Chinese government standing to the right, or to the left, of the upstart students calling for reform? When communists are the conservatives clinging to the old way, how does that play out on a spectrum of left-to-right thinking?

In 1990 I published a piece in SLANT to commemorate the first anniversary of the building of VCU's Goddess. In the article I inserted the text of a handbill that I had found posted at the site of the memorial the year before:
"On May 13, 1989, Beijing University students began an occupation of Tiananmen Square to call for democratic reforms and an end to official corruption. The ensuing peaceful and often festive protest drew world attention and gained support from the citizens and workers of Beijing. On Sunday, June 4, at 3:30 [a.m.] Chinese time, troops of the 27th Division of the People’s Liberation Army entered the square with orders to disperse the students. At approximately 6 a.m. these same troops attacked the protestors with automatic weapons, tanks, and bayonets. According to government estimates only 300 students were killed, but local medical estimates put the death toll between 500 and 1,000.

"The brutal suppression of unarmed students by a powerful totalitarian government has moved the world’s conscience. Many of the Tiananmen victims were art students who aspired to same basic freedoms which we enjoy daily. As American artists we cannot overlook, and we must never forget, the suffering and sacrifice of our brothers and sisters in Beijing. Their peaceful struggle was a cry for human rights everywhere, and their symbol, the Goddess of Democracy, was the highest artistic tribute they could pay to humanity’s noblest ideal -- freedom."

Also in that week's issue of SLANT were stories of a lighter nature. There was a piece about the then-bubbling NEA/Mapplethorpe controversy that had Sen. Jesse Helms flapping in the breeze. There was coverage of the Fan District Softball League -- the Bamboo Cafe led the Mars Division; Chetti’s led the Jupiter Division. Among that issue's advertisers were: 353-ROCK, Blab Television, the Brass Knocker, Brown Distributing, Bug Haus, Chetti’s, the Fan Market, Paradise Cafe, Price’s Market, Soble’s and South of the James.

The Goddess of Democracy on VCU’s campus in 1989 was the most successful piece of guerilla art I have seen in my travels.

-- My photos.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mayor Jones, What About Reality?

Today Mayor Dwight Jones has the gall to say he has no regrets. Instead of admitting to any mistakes, in an interview he stubbornly speaks about honor and respect.
STYLE Weekly: So you don't feel like -- I don't want to use the word bungled, but -- do you feel like you could have handled it better?

Jones: Absolutely not. In fact, I feel very good about the fact that we have a vision on the table for the city of Richmond. And that's my job -- to present a citywide vision.

Not unlike a stumbling alcoholic insisting he has no drinking problem, Jones’ inability to grasp reality is betraying him. Like a punch drunk, he doesn't seem to know he's losing the fight, badly. It's time to throw in the towel. Click here to read the entire oddball interview in STYLE Weekly.

Now Mayor Dwight Jones has withdrawn his so-called “revitalization” proposal. Rather than admit defeat, he apparently still hopes to resubmit it at some unspecified date in the future. Meanwhile, I have a question for Hizzoner about one of his moves that looks to me like it backfired:

What about the propriety of that LovingRVA ad campaign?

Hey, I’m not saying it was illegal for Mayor Jones' Shockoe Stadium team to order up a public relations campaign designed to grease the wheels of a bandwagon to create a windfall for private companies. Still, given where we stand now, that failed propaganda push looks bad.

Yes, I’ve read that the Alliance Group designed it and Venture Richmond was behind it. However, since Venture Richmond gets some good portion of its funding from the City of Richmond, now I hope City Council will ask for an investigation into how the LovingRVA public relations campaign came about. If Venture Richmond paid any part of the bill, doesn't that really mean John Q. Public's money was involved? And, I especially want the designers of the campaign to say exactly who it was aimed at convincing ... convincing of what?

Was its point to sell something to the general public? Members of City Council? Was it meant to provide cover for the lack of firmed up details? In any event, it now seems the tacky LovingRVA campaign was mostly a flop.

OK, I’m not saying anybody ought to go to jail for creating bad ads. Or, in Louis Salomonsky's case, back to jail. Nonetheless, wouldn’t it be better now for all concerned if Mayor Jones could assure Richmonders that private money -- in this case, meaning no money from Venture Richmond -- has been raised and used to cover the entire cost of the LovingRVA campaign?

In the digital age the echoes of bad advertising never really go away. So, we citizens would at least like to know we didn't have to pay for it.   

-- The art, which mocks the actual LovingRVA logo, was done by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Council Public Info Release

From: Steven R. Skinner 
Date: Tues., May 27, 2014 (1:11 p.m.)

The Honorable Charles R. Samuels, Councilman, Richmond City Council, Richmond North Central 2nd Voter District, and The Honorable Jonathan T. Baliles, Councilman, Richmond City Council, Richmond West End 1st Voter District, release the following joint statement regarding the Mayor’s proposed Shockoe Bottom Baseball Ordinance:
“We are disappointed that the Administration has decided in favor of yet another delay in providing details of their Shockoe ballpark plan. They introduced the latest version of their plan on May 12 with a requested public hearing date of May 27 and, to date, have not asked for a continuance. A special four hour mid-day meeting was requested only after 5:00 p.m. on Friday, without consulting Council members' schedules.

Council has followed regular procedure and bent over backwards to get more information through all of the hearings over the last six months. The plan has been vetted by multiple Richmond City Council Finance and Land Use Standing Committee meetings and Council as a whole has been continuously patient in allowing the Administration to miss deadlines that they themselves presented to Council.

Only after they were aware the vote might not go in their favor did they appeal for a special meeting. Council has never set a deadline for this plan and is simply following the Administration's date which was to have the public hearing, per their request, on Tuesday evening.

We have kept open minds with everything this Administration proposes. However, after six months with a proposal that has far more questions than answers, as site control is still in doubt and it is already over budget, this plan is not ready. After all, we are talking about $80 million of public debt. In the meantime, we have schools, roads and other issues which require our local government’s attention. We extend the olive branch to the Mayor to work and find solutions to the issues that face our City. "

Satisfaction and Reality

In 2009 a handful of boosters/activists for baseball in the Bottom worked tirelessly to promote it with their comments under every article published online. They didn’t miss many blog posts, either. Mirage-like, they pretended to be many people. They routinely said the citizens who opposed their pet scheme were ignorant curmudgeons, geezers against fun, etc.

Nonetheless, they failed.

Five years later, the same sort of propagandists for privatizing profits -- while socializing risk! --  have been doing basically the same thing. Some are exactly the same characters. Again, they say they don’t want to hear about the failure of 6th St. Marketplace, etc. Again, they blow off the rather obvious truth that most Richmonders don't want Shockoe Stadium. Once again, they vehemently oppose holding a referendum, saying such an exercise in democracy would unleash anarchy, or worse.

While those busy boosters for Shockoe Stadium will go on bad-mouthing a referendum forever, any fair-minded person in touch with reality knows why. Furthermore, whether it’s initiated by five members of City Council, or a petition drive by citizens, a stadium referendum remains the only path to settling this longstanding debate in a satisfying way that will have staying power.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Agelasto, Baliles, Hilbert, Samuels and Trammell: Are you ready for a referendum?
With a pivotal vote scheduled next week, five of nine members have now announced their opposition to the mayor's plan for Shockoe Bottom.

In the last month, Richmond’s longstanding debate over where to build a new baseball stadium took a turn that can't have pleased Mayor Dwight Jones. Hunkered down around a war-room strategy table, he's probably not having much fun this weekend. Jones needs a new plan on Tuesday morning.

In spite of a slick ad campaign to sell the mayor's scheme, the sentiment against it has been gathering ever since it was announced six months ago. The work of many individuals and various groups has helped to facilitate that gathering. So, is Shockoe Stadium dead? 

Well, maybe it's dying. The bandwagon has clearly lost its momentum, but as Yogi Berra might advise, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

On Memorial Day it will have been four weeks since the student "walkout" demonstration at City Hall, on April 28. Yesterday’s news that two more members of City Council are planning to vote against proceeding with Mayor Jones’ so-called “revitalization” plan -- Charles Samuels and Jon Baliles put out a press release -- threw a big log on the fire that has been burning up support for the mayor’s convoluted development scheme for Shockoe Bottom.

The spark that lit that fire came from the action of some 200 public high school students, who walked out of their classes to peacefully protest City Hall’s skewed spending priorities. They carried signs to decry rundown conditions at school facilities. Some of the signs cited the stadium issue. Their demonstration should eventually been seen as the turning point of Richmond's decade-old baseball stadium brouhaha.

April 28: Mayor Jones talked to some of the students after the demonstration. He fell flat on his face. The students were too polite to laugh as much as they probably should have.

April 29: Preservation Virginia announced its Most Endangered Sites List for 2014, which included Shockoe Bottom.

May 1: News of an alternative stadium proposal broke. That night City Council voted 5-4 to strip away some $12.6 million from the budget for infrastructure changes for the mayor’s aforementioned plan.

May 5: The noise pouring out of the curious Rebkee vs. Venture Richmond feud was hard to decode. 

May 8: Former-Gov./Former-Mayor Doug Wilder stuck his thumb in Mayor Jones’ eye by announcing he wants to revive his much-traveled slavery museum concept and locate it a couple of blocks from where the mayor’s plan would have a similar museum.

May 21: Del. G. Manoli Loupassi made a move to put the kibosh to the mayor’s EDA-facilitated secret bidding process.

May 22: Del. Joe Morrissey announced he would drop some legal action on City Hall if the mayor tries to go ahead with that secret bidding thing.

May 23: Samuels and Baliles put out their joint press release announcing their decision to jump off the stalled Shockoe Stadium bandwagon. 

Good news notwithstanding, the petition drive of the Citizens Referendum Group should go on. As long as Council could still “revisit” the Shockoe Stadium issue, as Samuels and Baliles have suggested, there’s no reason to discontinue the effort to let the voters have a say in how future large developments will be handled.

So pursuing a referendum remains worthwhile. Those of us who staunchly oppose baseball in the Bottom may have just taken the lead in the game's score, but it’s too soon to celebrate a victory.

Perhaps members of City Council should now consider offering up their own referendum strategy. Wouldn’t an advisory referendum sponsored by members of City Council be a move worth considering? Council has the power to simply order up a referendum, if it so chooses. Reva Trammell has already said she favors a referendum.

Instead of arguing against letting the voters have their say, maybe Parker Agelasto, Baliles, Samuels, Chris Hilbert and Trammell should be crafting the language of a new referendum proposal, which would compete with the CRG’s two proposals. Hey, I'm certainly aware that some people in town think the wording of the existing proposals could be improved.

Once the Shockoe Stadium dragon is slayed, for good, Richmond’s government should pivot to focus on fixing public education. Smart politicians shouldn't forget the images of those students carrying protest signs. How to best build a museum that tells the story of Shockoe Bottom before the Civil War should be carefully planned. The plan should have nothing to do with a sports arena. 

The Flying Squirrels are doing fine where they are. Eventually, a good plan to build a stadium to replace The Diamond will surface. It will most likely call for building it in the same neighborhood. No doubt, the plan will include developing the area around it for mixed use.

Who knows? Once the wooden stake is driven into the heart of Shockoe Stadium, we may begin to hear talk about a combination of regional cooperation and private money to replace The Diamond.

The future is bright. Have a nice weekend.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Samuels and Baliles: 'Revisit'

What was another bad week for Mayor Dwight Jones ended on this particularly sour note.

This email came in this evening from Steven Skinner:
The Honorable Charles R. Samuels, Councilman, Richmond City Council, Richmond North Central 2nd Voter District, and The Honorable Jonathan T. Baliles, Councilman, Richmond City Council, Richmond West End 1st Voter District, today announce that that they will cast votes against the Mayor’s proposed Shockoe Bottom Baseball Ordinance when it comes to the Richmond City Council Formal Meeting for a vote on Tuesday, May 27, 2017.

The administration requested a public hearing date of May 27th when they introduced the latest version of the plan on May 12 and, to date, no one has asked for a continuance. The request for another briefing did not come until after 5:00 p.m. on a holiday weekend only three days before the scheduled vote.

"If the Administration wants to revisit this issue in the fall when they may have a complete plan, we would be happy to consider it along with other potential proposals," says Samuels. "But at this time, there is a growing consensus that this slow drip approach of information is not helpful to the City of Richmond. Instead, it is increasingly interfering with more urgent matters that Richmond City Council needs to resolve."

"This proposal is still, after seven months, fundamentally incomplete and continues to unravel with almost every presentation. We have kept open minds on this plan since before Thanksgiving, but the time has come for us to move on to more pressing matters," says Baliles. "We can always revisit this or any other plan at a later date.”

For more information, please contact:

The Honorable Charles R. Samuels, Councilman, Richmond City Council North Central 2nd Voter District, at 804.646.6532 or by email, at


The Honorable Jonathan T. Baliles, Councilman, Richmond City Council, Richmond West End 1st Voter District, at 804.646.5349 (tel), or (email)

Looks to me like this pair of wily politicians want to see how the referendum petition drive will go before they vote on the mayor's plan. The deadline for gathering signatures to get the Citizens Referendum Group's proposals on the ballot in November is July 31, 2014. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Morrissey on Shockoe Scheme: 'Mockery'

As we approach the tipping point for the baseball park issue, it seems more players want a piece of the credit for slaying Shockoe Stadium. Doug Wilder did his part. Yesterday Del. Manoli Loupassi weighed in.

Today, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Del. Joe Morrissey, is now threatening City Hall with legal action.  
[Morrissey] added that if council passes an ordinance “allowing the iconic slave history site in Shockoe Bottom to be adversely affected by an illegal no-bid process, then the firm of Morrissey & Goldman will sue in Richmond City Circuit Court to protect not only the African-American historic site but additionally, to block this illegal raid on taxpayer’s dollars by City Hall and City Council.” 

Click here to read the entire article.

Click here to read another article on the same topic at 

Mayor Dwight Jones' push to build a stadium in Shockoe Bottom is running out of steam. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Cheaters

Note: This 1916 photograph of my grandfather, Frank W. Owen (1893-1968), was shot when he was in the Richmond Light Infantry Blues. He was stationed in Brownsville, Texas, as part of a contingent called up and assigned to protect the border. Mexican revolutionary/bandit Pancho Villa had been crossing over to raid small towns ... or so it was said. The next year the Richmond Blues were thrown into WWI in France. 

The story below is about my grandfather. It's set in the summer of 1959. I wrote it 24 years ago for SLANT. A version of it was later published in STYLE Weekly in 2000.

The Cheaters
by F.T. Rea
Having devoted countless hours to competitive sports and games of all sorts, nothing in that realm is quite as galling to this grizzled scribbler as the cheater’s averted eye of denial, or the practiced tones of his shameless spiel.
In the middle of a pick-up basketball game, or a friendly Frisbee-golf round, too often, my barbed outspokenness over what I have perceived as deliberate cheating has ruffled feathers. Alas, it's my nature. I can't help it any more than a watchful blue jay can resist dive-bombing an alley cat.

The reader might wonder about whether I'm overcompensating for dishonest aspects of myself, or if I could be dwelling on memories of feeling cheated out of something dear.

OK, fair enough, I don't deny any of that. Still, truth be told, it mostly goes back to a particular afternoon's mischief gone wrong.


A blue-collar architect with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway for decades, my maternal grandfather, Frank Wingo Owen was a natural entertainer. Blessed with a resonant baritone/bass voice, he began singing professionally in his teens and continued performing, as a soloist and with barbershop quartets, into his mid-60s.

Shortly after his retirement, at 65, the lifelong grip on good health he had enjoyed failed; an infection he picked up during a routine hernia surgery at a VA hospital nearly killed him. It left him with no sense of touch in his extremities. Once he got some of his strength back, he found comfort in returning to his role as umpire of the baseball games played in his yard by the neighborhood's boys. He couldn't stand up behind home plate, anymore, but he did alright sitting in the shade of the plum tree, some 25 feet away.

This was the summer he taught me, along with a few of my friends, the fundamentals of poker. To learn the game we didn’t play for real money. Each player got so many poker chips. If his chips ran out, he became a spectator.

The poker professor said he’d never let us beat him, claiming he owed it to the game itself to win if he could, which he always did. Woven throughout his lessons on betting strategy were stories about poker hands and football games from his cavalry days, serving with the Richmond Blues during World War I.

As likely as not, the stories he told would end up underlining points he saw as standards: He challenged us to expose the true coward at the heart of every bully. "Punch him in the nose," he'd chuckle, "and even if you get whipped he'll never bother you again." In team sports, the success of the team trumped all else. Moreover, withholding one’s best effort in any game, no matter the score, was beyond the pale.

Such lazy afternoons came and went so easily that summer there was no way then, at 11, I could have appreciated how precious they would seem looking back on them.

On the other hand, there were occasions he would make it tough on me. Especially when he spotted a boy breaking the yard's rules or playing dirty. It was more than a little embarrassing when he would wave his cane and bellow his rulings. For flagrant violations, or protesting his call too much, he barred the guilty boy from the yard for a day or two.

F. W. Owen’s hard-edged opinions about fair play, and looking directly in the eye at whatever comes along, were not particularly modern. Nor were they always easy for know-it-all adolescent boys to swallow.

Predictably, the day came when a plot was hatched. We decided to see if artful subterfuge could beat him at poker just once. The conspirators practiced in secret for hours, passing cards under the table with bare feet and developing signals. It was accepted that we would not get away with it for long, but to pull it off for a few hands would be pure fun.

Following baseball, with the post-game watermelon consumed, I fetched the cards and chips. Then the four card sharks moved in to put the caper in play.

To our amazement, the plan went off smoothly. After hands of what we saw as sly tricks we went blatant, expecting/needing to get caught, so we could gloat over having tricked the great master. Later, as he told the boys' favorite story -- the one about a Spanish women who bit him on the arm at a train station in France -- one-eyed jacks tucked between dirty toes were being passed under the table.

Then the joy began to drain out of the adventure rapidly. With semi-secret gestures I called the ruse off. A couple of hands were played with no shenanigans but he ran out of chips, anyway.

Head bowed, he sighed, “Today I can’t win for loosing; you boys are just too good for me.” Utterly dependent on his cane for balance he slowly walked into the shadows toward the back porch. It was agonizing.

The game was over; we were no longer pranksters. We were cheaters.

As he carefully negotiated the steps, my last chance to save the day came and went without a syllable out of me to set the record straight. It was hard to believe that he hadn’t seen what we were doing, but my guilt burned so deeply I didn't wonder enough about that, then.


My grandfather didn’t play poker with us again. He went on umpiring, and telling his salty stories afterwards over watermelon. We tried playing poker the same way without him, but it didn’t work; the value the chips had magically represented was gone. The boys had outgrown poker without real money on the line.

Although I thought about that afternoon's shame many times before he died nine years later, neither of us ever mentioned it. For my part, when I tried to bring it up, to clear the air, the words always stuck in my throat.

Eventually, I grew to become as intolerant of petty cheating as F.W. Owen was in his day, maybe even more so. And, as it was for him, the blue jay has always been my favorite bird.
-- 30 -- 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Referendum? Good Timin'

Oh, you need timin’
A tick, a tick, a tick, good timin’ 

-- Jimmy Jones

If one Richmond politician sticks his, or her, neck out, to become the most visible champion of the campaign to put the kibosh to Shockoe Stadium -- and the job gets done! – that savvy politician would have a good chance of becoming the frontrunner of Richmond’s 2016’s mayoral race.

Timing is crucial. The tipping point of this game is approaching. Doug Wilder's jumping into the fray a week-and-a-half ago was a clue. Looks to me like he wants a large portion of what will be the credit for slaying Mayor Dwight Jones’ stadium dragon. To be able to brag that his latest slavery museum proposal drove a wooden stake into the heart of the Shockoe Stadium concept, Wilder couldn’t risk waiting much longer.

However, once we’re looking back on this third unsuccessful pass at baseball-in-the-Bottom, I suspect a lot of observers of local politics will say it was the student Walkout demonstration at City Hall, on April 28, 2014, together with the mayor's inept response, that really cooked Jones’ goose.

With public school still in session the time is at hand for the right ambitious politician to risk making a smart move. Coming out in favor of a referendum, by saying it is now the best response to questions the students' demonstration raised, will go over well.

The mayor's so-called “revitalization” plan doesn’t stand a chance of getting the voters approval in November, and Jones knows it, so he has to oppose the referendum -- which will be revealing in itself.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Zism

The "zism" was invented as a graphic design in 1983. In those days I was playing around with trying to do abstract cartoons. An early version of it appeared with a bunch of other simple gesture drawings on a cover of Throttle I did in 1984.

For whatever reasons, I liked drawing zisms for several years. To me it suggested threes: The past, present and future. Yes, no and maybe. Black, white and gray. Father, son and holy ghost, etc. I also thought of it as a cartoon representation of time moving. It was meant to look like a logo, but sort of a joke on that power style. A mock icon.

Anyway, the zism image was used more or less as a logo for the SLANT, especially in its early days. I still like how the old ones like these look, but I don't draw them anymore. Here's a field of them.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Stadium Boosters' Fear is Spawning Desperation

On the surface, the dogged boosters for baseball in the Bottom don’t seem to be embarrassed or dissuaded by the series of recent revelations about the squirrelly nature of the mayor’s so-called “revitalization” plan -- important details remain hidden; announced details keep changing. Nonetheless, fear is spawning desperation within the ranks of Mayor Dwight Jones’ ravenous co-conspirators, busy hired hands and passionate sycophants.

So the boosters try to appear unmoved by how obvious it has become that in spite of the LovingRVA propaganda splash during the winter, the vast majority of Richmonders still oppose the building of a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.

City Hall's team of cheerleaders seems quite aware that the referendum push from the Citizens Referendum Group is gathering momentum. They have to worry about its potential to snuff out their fantasies about a stadium surrounded by saloons. Their gnawing fear has some of them openly ridiculing the majority-rules concept upon which our entire system of government rests.

Hey, when you flinch to stiff-arm students carrying signs opposing the stadium plan, because it steals money from public education, your cause is not all that well served. Honest people know the kids are right. But when you’re actually willing to make democracy, itself, your enemy, you're going into a death spiral.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Time for Thinking Republicans to Get Real

You live in the suburbs of Richmond and you make $72,000-a-year in the information technology field. You’re 31 and single, but you’ve been sort of engaged for a year. Even though you voted for George W. Bush in 2004, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, let’s say you’re a smart guy.

Your father grew up as a Barry Goldwater fan and was a delegate to the national Republican conventions in 1988 and 1992. So, by habit, you’ve thought of yourself as a Republican for as long as you can remember. In great part, because you see 9/11 as the worst event in American history, you support a muscular foreign policy with a strong military to back it up. You’ve never questioned whether striving to make governments smaller and all taxes lower were important priorities.

Yet, you've got a problem with some political matters that's getting worse. Although you're personally against most abortions, you don’t see how anyone can justify forcing a woman to have a baby she doesn’t want, especially in cases of rape, etc. When Republicans oppose same-sex marriage it bothers you. When it comes to shutting down the government, or refusing to pay already approved-of debts -- supposedly, to fight the deficit -- you see it as irresponsible gamesmanship and a losing strategy. Birthers give you the willies. And, you’re more than a little uncomfortable with high-profile Republicans who deny man’s role in climate change.

Your problem is that in the last five years your political party has lurched toward the angry lunatic fringe. It has left you and many others in a time when it was still possible to be a realistic conservative with a conscience. And, speaking of time, now it’s time for you to break a bad habit and embrace reality.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Shockoe Tipping Point

Next year, when we look back on what events slayed the baseball in the Bottom dragon, it's likely we will see the tipping point as having been two weeks ago. Yes, after a decade of back and forth, it took voices from the future -- school children -- to reveal the truth about Mayor Dwight Jones' so-called "revitalization" plan.
On the morning of Monday, April 28, a student walkout demonstration focused the media spotlight on the city's skewed spending priorities — spending priorities that seem to be stealing money from the proper upkeep of public school facilities. And stealing to pay for the stadium deal in Shockoe Bottom, which has had too many secrets associated with it.  

Click here to read the entire piece, "The Ballpark Ballot," penned by yours truly for STYLE Weekly.

For another view of the issue click here to read “The Kimonos Are Opening in Richmond,” by Peter Galuszka at Bacon's Rebellion.

Here’s some truth, neat, no chaser: The Democrats who are supporting Mayor Jones’ plan, because he’s a Democrat, are showing us how loyalty to labels can lead to the betrayal of principles. Think about it: How can good Democrats support a plan that steals from public education to build something most Richmonders clearly don’t want? How can good Democrats be in favor of trivializing Shockoe Bottom’s history in the way Jones is advocating?

Isn’t socializing corporate risk more of a Republican tactic? 

Monday, May 05, 2014

Is Jones Losing His Grip on Baseball's Location?

Last week was tough on Mayor Dwight Jones. This week hasn't started out well, either. 

In “Rebkee to Richmond: Offered Stadium Plan as ‘Lifeline’” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports on a “sharply worded” letter from the potential developer of a stadium on the Boulevard. From the letter (signed by Robert W. Hargett and Kevin T. McFadden of Rebkee's Co.) to Mayor Jones and members of City Council:
The mayor has made it abundantly clear that he does not need or want an alternative in the event the land acquisition and developer contracts for the Shockoe Bottom project do not materialize.
Click here to read the entire article.

And, also today, there’s this piece, “Ballpark or Bust,” from STYLEWeekly:
During the weekend, Jones shot back with a promise to veto the change. But in the vote to cut the funding, councilmen with two key swing votes signaled that they’re leaning away from the Shockoe Bottom stadium plan. Making matters worse for Jones, his administration has struggled to finalize the terms of the stadium deal in the Bottom with private developers. Jones had said the agreement would be completed more than two months ago.
Click here to read that piece in its entirety.

Jones has been reduced to threatening to use his veto power to bully a City Council that seems to be developing a mind of its own. With this story from WTVR on top of the rest he seems to be losing his grip on how this is playing out.

For information about the referendum petition drive now ongoing by the Citizens Referendum Group click here.

May 9, 1970: Living in the Moment

Note from Rebus: On Thursday, April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon went on television to announce that he had authorized the invasion of Cambodia. During the Saturday morning nine days later Rea drove his baby blue 1956 Cadillac to the demonstration in Washington D.C. he describes in this story. To document what would play out that day Rea took his new Ricoh 35mm single lens reflex.

Without much in the way of a plan two friends rode the 100 miles with Rea. Thousands of their fellow baby boomers did much the same. For the moment, it was the only place to be. The outpouring came in response to attacks by authorities on anti-war protests that had followed Nixon's announcement. Four students had been shot to death on the Kent State campus; two more students were killed at Jackson State. On Saturday, May 9, the demonstrators' collective sense of outrage was focused on Nixon.


The blistering heat added to the growing sense in the air that anything could happen. Before the program of speakers and singers began, as the burgeoning crowd was being funneled into the grassy ellipse south of the White House — the designated demonstration area — the morning’s temperature had already reached the upper 90s.

The White House grounds and Lafayette Park were surrounded by DC transit system buses, parked snugly end-to-end. Cops in riot gear were stationed inside the bus-wall perimeter every few yards.

Estimates ranged widely but most reports characterized the size of the crowd at well over 100,000. In those days crowd-estimators frequently let their politics color their numbers, so there may have been 200,000 there. Home-made signs were everywhere, including a sprinkling of placards that denounced the mostly young war protesters. The smell of burning pot gave the gathering a Rock ‘n’ Roll festival feel, too.

Unlike the other large anti-war demonstrations of that era, which were planned for weeks in advance, if not months, this time it all fell together spontaneously. Many of them had never before marched in protest or support of war, or anything else, had felt moved to drop whatever they were doing, to set out for Washington, D.C. — to live in the moment.

As a convoy of olive drab military vehicles drove into the park area many in the crowd booed. When it turned out the uniformed troops were bringing in bottled water for the thirsty, the booing stopped. Dehydration was a problem that cloudless day.

After the last speaker’s presentation, the ever-present police stood by watching as thousands of citizens spilled out of the park area, to stretch a line of humanity all the way around the wall of buses. The idea in the air was that whether he liked it or not President Richard Nixon, who stayed hidden from view inside the White House, would at least hear the crowd’s anti-war chants.

The demonstration flowed north, then west, from one block to the next. Long lenses peered down from the roofs of those distinctively squat DeeCee buildings. Fully-equipped soldiers were crammed into basements, visible in the doorways, awaiting further orders.

Many of them must have been scared they might be ordered to fire upon their fellow Americans. If they weren't afraid that could happen, who knows what they were thinking?

Hippies who had been wading in a fountain to cool off scaled a statue to get a better look. A few minutes later a cheer went up because a determined kid had managed to get on top of a bus to wave a Viet Cong flag. When the cops hauled the flag-waving disposable hero off, a commotion ensued, briefly ... only to fade into the larger commotion.  

Soon the scent of tear gas spiced the air...

The next day I was back in Richmond for yet another gathering of my generation. Staged in Monroe Park, Cool-Aid Sunday featured plenty of live music. Information booths and displays were set up by the Fan Free Clinic, Jewish Family Services, Rubicon (a dry-out clinic for drug-users), the local Voter Registrar’s office and Planned Parenthood.

Although it was not exactly a political rally the crowd assembled in Monroe Park, while much smaller, was rather similar in its overall look to the one the day before in Washington.

As I remember it, there were no reports about anyone being seriously injured at Saturday’s tense anti-war demonstration. Then, ironically, Wilmer Curtis Donivan Jr. -- a 17-year-old boy -- was killed on Sunday in the park in Richmond, when a four-tier cast iron fountain he had scaled suddenly toppled.

The photograph of Donivan falling to his death that ran on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the next day, May 11, 1970, is one I’ll never forget.

No doubt, the convergence of strong feelings from the extraordinary week that had preceded Cool-Aid Sunday had set the scene. Shortly before Donivan fell, I remember seeing him on the fountain, seemingly caught up in much the same spirit as the hippies climbing on statues the day before.

Without that week’s unique momentum Donivan may not have felt quite so moved to demonstrate his conquest of that old fountain. Witnesses said he was rocking it back and forth, just before it crumbled.

The way that Sunday afternoon’s be-in ended with tragedy was burned into the memory of hundreds of young Americans who had gathered outdoors, to celebrate being alive and free to pursue their happiness peacefully.

In those days the USA was becoming ever more bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. Every night on the televised news the death counts were announced -- numbers appeared next to little flags on the screen that represented the armed forces at war. It was a time in which living in the moment was killing off the young and unlucky … wherever they were.

This story is part of a series, "Biograph Times." Click here to see more. 
All rights reserved by the author.

Friday, May 02, 2014

The Mayor's Bad Week

The Richmond Times-Dispatch: “The administration of Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones said the City Council sent ‘the wrong message’ in its Thursday vote to strip funding from the city budget tied to the Shockoe Bottom stadium plan.”

Mayor Dwight Jones has had a bad week and it had little to do with all that rain.

On Monday morning local high school students walked out of their classes to converge on City Hall. Their well organized, orderly demonstration riveted our sometimes squirrelly attention spans to Richmond’s skewed spending priorities. The students carried signs decrying the woeful conditions of school facilities and protesting Mayor Jones’ plan to build a new baseball stadium for the Flying Squirrels in Shockoe Bottom.

When the students showed up at City Hall on Monday morning Jones should have sneaked out of the building. Armed with nothing but his bogus blather, Jones should not have faced those kids emboldened by their righteous cause. He looked bad, and it was only Monday.

On Thursday morning the Richmond Times-Dispatch broke the story of a developer’s plan to build a stadium on the Boulevard, perhaps relying on private funds more than public funds. First District representative Jon Baliles was quoted in the piece. Later on Thursday, he orchestrated a City Council vote to remove some of the funding from the proposed stadium in the Bottom scheme. 

Meanwhile, with his recent moves, it looks to me like Baliles, the son of a former governor, is positioning himself -- nicely -- to run for mayor of Richmond in 2016. On the heels of the what the kids did on Monday, his timing was impeccable. Opposing the scam of tying the stadium to a slavery museum needs a champion among the electeds.

Now Baliles can be it. For him, it looks it looks like a smart position, especially if he's interested in gaining power in town. That’s because a lot of people, both for and against the mayor‘s stadium plan, can smell the utter phoniness of insisting the stadium and museum must rise or fall together. Tying the slavery museum's fate to the fate of a baseball stadium was an absurd reach in the first place. This was the week that became much more obvious, even to casual observers.

With his response to Council's vote that suddenly pulled a rug out from under his so-called revitalization plan, Jones sounds like a schoolyard bully who’s suddenly gotten scared. Are the kids he used to beat up suddenly teaming up on him?

-- Photo from the Richmond Times-Dispatch