Wednesday, September 03, 2008

(I think) I'm Voting for Dwight Jones for Mayor

Why isn't anyone talking about the Mayoral election? Sure. There have been articles about candidate forums here and there, but let's not kid ourselves. Richmond is not engaged in this election. Why is that? Few key issues come to mind besides the one that unites them all: Couldn't be worse than Wilder. Months ago, a list of tough questions were compiled on a community blog. I chimed in there. What ever happened to those? These candidates are giving superficial pitches, and we're the ones who are going to pay for it if we can't discern a clear direction for our city among this slate of candidates.

But first, lets rewind for a moment:
  • The debacle that was Wilder's "strong" mayor tenure shows us the destructive potential of the position that we created in our haste. That's right, Wilder's behavior was practically predictable considering the white horse that we gave him to ride in on. "At-Large Mayor" was regressive change for change's sake; Richmond at it's most Ukrop/RTD driven and racially divided. How so many could be so wrong (on both sides) is puzzling, to say the least. Refresh your memory: Here's an incendiary assessment I wrote on a sort of community blog back in 2003, before Richmond had community blogs. You probably never saw it, because the RTD feigned interest in running the piece, since they hadn't published a critical word on the At-Large Mayor straight through the referendum. When Ross McKenzie axed it, I posted it on our local Independent Media Center where a citizen journalism was taking root, but not thriving.
Okay, enough I told ya so's. My point is that we need someone in the Mayor position who will COLLABORATE and reach out to the most marginalized sectors of our city, instead of parading their alleged mandate all over the other elected officials and citizen groups. We should have learned this under Wilder and Bush, if you ask me. I'm crossing my fingers that Dwight Jone's General Assembly experience will help us find regional solutions to some of Richmond's problems and his pastor position will translate into a social mission to address the widespread poverty that holds Richmond back.

With such a painful mistake in our recent past, it's no wonder that Richmond's head is still in the sand. At Church Hill People's News, 122 votes were collected and Dwight Jones came out ahead of Grey by two. But there were 23 "I dunno" votes and I think there's more where they came from. The debate that followed called for a poll that required a ranking, to avoid spoilers, because a few candidates might split the vote and prevent a clear winner. I would contend that what we've got on this slate is a ranking OF spoilers. But here goes anyhow:

Ranking from least embarrassing to virtual self-flagellation:
  1. Dwight Jones (community connections, but is he a social justice big talker?)
  2. Paul Goldman (definitely all talk and darned good at it, thanks for giving us Wilder)
  3. Lawrence Williams (political nobody)
  4. Bill Pantele (giddy and greedy, salivating at the prospect of schmoozing developers)
  5. Robert Grey (opportunistic corporate power broker and Wilder lackey)

Notice that I've got the unqualified goofus in the middle position. He's the neutral point between probably benevolent and probably sinister. So, thank you Lawrence for providing that clarifying framework. Can you tell that I'm really not thrilled with my options here? Okay, I'm not the only one who's non-plussed at this point. John Sarvay said as much, but much more responsibly and comprehensively. Hat tip to the B&M. But, Sarvay's take is a long read, so I say B&M or get off the pot. Let's light a fire under these wanna be leaders!

Whether you're with the press or simply willing to press an issue, it's now or never. If these people can't define the leadership we can expect from them, then let's help differentiate them ourselves. Somehow, this town's political juices need to get flowing and I think it's up to the people to lead the way with our own opinions, caramelized and otherwise.

I'll probably chime in with some of my pro/cons on each candidate if a discussion gets going. I know I didn't touch on everybody's pet issues, not even my own. So, stay tuned for that. Or speak up and draw it out.


  1. Yeah, Goldman can talk, but I would challenge your notion of 'all talk'. This is the guy who got Wilder elected as Governor and Mayor. More importantly, this is the guy who has enabled you to vote for Mayor in the first place. This is also the guy who came up with the City of Future funding plan, which in original form, put schools first. This is the guy who keeps injecting ideas into the debate while the other candidates are largely silent. This is the guy who is runing as a 'green mayor', putting environmental priorities on the table. This is the guy who is stating that schools should become before downtown art centers and baseball stadiums. Is he perfect?, no, but I strongly suggest he deserves a better look.

  2. I am one of the ignorant people that has no idea what is going on in city politics. Thanks for restarting the dialog.

  3. Scott: Glad to hear some excitement about one of these candidates. Maybe that's what's really worrying me. The upside seems so minimal and dubious with every one of them. Am I jaded? Is that what years of power-jockeying and self-interest from our elected officials and corporate control freaks has done to Richmond voters? We've each picked one (for the time being). But I don't know if we're going to "get a better look" at any of these candidates unless they start looking better and do more to earn our votes.

  4. Anonymous4:36 PM

    Dwight Jones is a hat and a pair of pants. That's it. Yeah Goldman is looking like the talker but at least he's got ideas. Jones defaulted on a lease with us and never paid. He's all pomp and show. Don't be fooled by his gift of gab!!!

  5. Anon: Maybe I set the tone by shooting from the hip to begin with, but I'm not sure I should leave up anonymous claims about any candidate's business dealings. Own the accusation next time, please.

    I didn't say any of these folks were God's gift. You've got to have at least a little ego to aspire to high office to begin with. So, everyone can feel free to characterize the candidates as they perceive them. Maybe the ensuing debate will help us get a clearer picture.

    Admittedly, Jones is an unknown among many Richmond whites. But, at the grassroots level, he's got a reputation as an accessible leader when an ally in a position of power is needed. Goldman, on the other hand, helped to railroad the At-Large Mayor issue through by facilitating Ukrops/RTD authority behind the half-baked idea to clean house at City Hall (see my old article linked in the post). Now, we've just got a mess after all that.

    Although I agree with some of Goldman's current positions, he's proven insincere (in my experiences with him), and I think he's got a penchant for the sensational side of politics, not unlike his old partner in crime, Doug Wilder.

  6. I have no clue what is going on because every time I turn on the TV - a convention (currently republican) is all the news (nat. and local) is talking about. Can it be December already - I am tired of politics.....

  7. "railroad the At-Large Mayor issue"

    Wow, Jason, I think you are being incredibly unfair.
    The citizens of Richmond have wanted to elect its mayor for a long time. Goldman worked very hard to get the petition in order to get the referendum, despite the paternalistic General Assembly and local corporate hegemony.

    Can you honestly say you prefer the likes of Calvin Jamison being truly railroaded into office verses actually having a democratic vote? Can you honestly say you would rather deal with the same ol' Council theatrics verses having someone actually be accountable to the citizens of Richmond? Are you going to scare us with a race war comment like Henry Marsh did?

    You touched on IRV in part of post. I asked Goldman, Wilder, and others for it for Mayor at Large, but was ignored. I really wish it was in place now. Not only would I be able to rank my choices on a ballot, not only would it serve as an example for Presidential races, but because it would save Richmond from a costly runoff election. The district majority thing is going to lead to one without IRV, this election or in the future. As it is, its going to be a mess, but hey, democracy often is. I appreciate your post here. I hope more citizens start thinking more seriously about their responsibilities as voters.

  8. Scott: It may not be realistic for me to expect some hindsight on the At-Large Mayor issue. But I don't think many believe that it has brought accountability to City Hall, by any means. And, from my point of view, Dwight Jones seems like the candidate who would attempt to do the greatest good for the greatest number of Richmonders. But, again, it's not really clear, because the five campaigns aren't really educating the public on what sets them apart from each other.

    Where are the Pantele and Grey fans? Let's hear some more perspectives. We may have a run-off instead of IRV, but this is still feeling a bit like the California election that gave us the Governator. Do Richmonders know that they won't be rescued by a Hollywood actor before November?

  9. Pantele and Grey fans are like their candidates- mostly silent.

    quote Don Harrison of

    "At any time, the mayor and/or city council could introduce a motion requiring basic transparency. At any time, the $500,000 a year subsidy could be shared with the worthier arts endeavors, like First Friday Artwalk, or taken away entirely. Let's not even talk about the precedent the whole smelly deal sets. Should a public-private entity that has already wasted $10 million in public funds be given a blank check for the next two decades? Should $60+ million publicly-financed projects be allowed to go through without a single independent feasibility study? Without even one advertised public meeting? Should publicly-financed projects be required to share their financials with the taxpayers footing the bills?"

    These questions are not going to go away. As it stands, Center Stage will continue to be a drain on City coffers for decades to come. Katz, the previous director of the Carpenter Center, was able to keep things somewhat sustainable by booking pop acts in between the SOB (symphony, opera, ballet) dates. Now, the National or Toad's Place, or a half a dozen other venues are more likely to get those pop acts. Center Stage is doomed to be underused, under-booked, and under-financed with no return on investment.

    If I am going to vote for any of you, I need to know what your standard of accountability is. Wilder got my vote last election cycle in part by saying he would hold this project accountable, then turned around and let it pass through with Grey/Pantele's help and urging. It was disgusting and irresponsible that this white elephant was pushed through while not a single new school was started last year, and the school ADA budget was cut. We all know how neighborhood projects were left lacking.

    Now I understand that the Center Stage may even still be popular among citizens who are ignorant or uncaring about the true financial costs and opportunity costs, but as elected leaders I expect you to lead, educate, and make independent decisions for the good of the City and ALL of its citizens.

    I would like to know if any of you, having been elected, will make a motion that requires the Center Stage project to become more transparent and accountable.

  10. Anonymous1:16 PM

    What would you like the candidates to do, call you personally? Robert Grey has a website with his policy positions including an email address if you want to talk to him personally. He also has been to every debate stating his positions. As for Wilders lackey, the definition of lackey is A liveried male servant; a footman. Both of which incorrectly describe his relationship to Wilder. Would you like him to disown his mentor, someone he grew up around, just because you don't like Wilder's current positions. I am one who remembers Virginia being ranked number 1 in fiscal management under a Governor Wilder. So I am not going to judge someone for 4 years of the 70 they have been on the planet. I know I am voting for Robert Grey. This is what I tell my children, if you don't have anything positive to say don't say anything at all. Instead of badmouthing Robert Grey why not speak positively of your candidate, whoever that may be.

  11. I'm one of the "Dunnos" on the Church Hill People News but I've narrowed it down to three candidates. I wish I knew who to vote for so I could proudly display a yard sign like I have done in years past but this go 'round I probably won't know until I'm in the booth.

  12. Looks like I'm going to have to dig out one of my 5-sided dice from my D&D days...

  13. Gray, maybe you illustrate my point. And you're not the only one. What is it about this slate of candidates (or political context) that inspires such apathy? I think the lack of passion/conviction is even evident in the candidates themselves. Has the office of Mayor been soiled so thoroughly? Is City Hall now cursed? Maybe L. Shirley Harvey needs to exorcise the demons one more time.

    As for Anon, I'm not sure why citizens shouldn't have critical opinions. Maybe my momma didn't raise me right. So, in the future, please notice "uncouth social action" in the preface of this site. Genteel, backroom politics perpetuates apathy in the public, and it needs to end.

  14. Anonymous12:01 AM

    Jason - I agree with Scott. The people begged for a direct elected Mayor twice. The first time it was killed by Marsh and Co. in the legislature and the only reason it got through the state legislature the second time it passed with 80% instead of 65% and the opponents - including Rev. Jones - knew that it would be suicide to oppose it. Speaking of Jones and your support of his ability to bring whatever together, can you please tell us one thing or cite one piece of significant legislation he has patroned and passed in his 14 years at the Capitol?

  15. Paul Goldman, is that you? Whoever the latest anon may be, I don't deny that you can poke holes in my voting rationale. Either these are not strong candidates, or their reputations are distant and uncompelling. I'll send an email to the Dwight Jones campaign and see if they want to answer your question. Candidates fighting it out for our vote is far preferable to bickering citizens who wind up disenfranchised by their leaders in the long run.

  16. There's a really helpful distilation of the Mayoral race right here:

    David Hicks' endorsement of Dwight Jones further entenches my vote. Really wish Hicks were on the ballot. But I'm not sure why Tramell and Graziano are the only council members to endorse (their in Pantele's corner).

  17. Anonymous2:01 PM

    Dwight Jones - forget it!! Anyone who previously had to do anything with the school board does not have my vote.

  18. Jones was on the School Board from 79-85. That's over twenty years ago. A long time to hold a grudge, don't you think?

  19. Anonymous1:39 PM

    He was appointed to the school board I believe. Now argues that disenfranchises the people.

  20. Anonymous11:00 PM

    For supporters of Jones, know that he is Reverend Jones. I'm not interested in having someone who has gotten their power from church donations as mayor. Also I have heard rumors, but haven't read anything to prove it, of his issues with women(I'd be more specific but rumors are rumors maybe someone knows more than I). He also tends to get his church folks to go to political events to make a lot of noise for him.

    Goldman may have a history with Wilder and may look a bit odd and have some wild ideas, but as far as I can tell he's the most people oriented and the most intelligent of the group a position I believe only Grey shares.


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