That property on Patterson where Shirley McClain’s and Warren Beatty’s father was a school administrator is being used in a clumsy bait and switch. You have to wonder if Shirley will one day return there to haunt the place. You don’t have to wonder if this deal will haunt Richmond.
The seven basic principles of (fiscal) magic:
- Palm – Hold the public trust in an apparently empty hand.
- Ditch – Secretly trade the public trust.
- Steal – Secretly obtain a fungible obligation.
- Load – Secretly move the obligation into a form that is popular.
- Switch – Secretly exchange one obligation for another.
- Simulation – Give the impression that something has happened that has not.
- Misdirection – Lead attention away from a secret move.
With Mayor Jones “acting” to represent the public interest, private interests unveiled a Redskins summer camp proposal that featured a “public-private partnership.” The mayor apparently unwittingly allowed his “advisors” to pretend they went with nothing in hand to the private sector seeking sponsors. There is actually no telling how many different objects were palmed during the pitch. Palm: But we now understand one of the hidden objects was a property on Patterson Avenue. Ditch, steal, and load: Quietly, Bon Secours sidled up, greased the palm and that property slid into theirs.
“How much of that would have happened regardless of the Redskins? Bon Secours has long expressed interest in the Westhampton site, and a 3-week training camp isn’t going to drive major expansions it wasn’t already planning.” – Style Weekly
Switch: Money that rightly would obtain a leasehold on that property has been recharacterized as a sponsorship for the Redskins summer camp facility. Simulation: Bon Secours plays the magnanimous benefactor of the city, getting a desired property at a discount while the city pretends the Redskins camp has been secured at little or no cost to the public despite shifting debt authority from schools and other public functions to bridge the $7.5 to $9 million gap between Bon Secours’ payments and construction of the facility. Misdirection: No less than Governor McDonnell, the man who shifted half the cost of the original Redskins incentive deal to local jurisdictions has returned to the scene of the crime. Because a fawning press and ineffective opposition have allowed him to maintain credibility with the people of Virginia despite his consistent obfuscations, McDonnell acts to sidetrack substantive discussion. He has never explained why the state should subsidize the summer camp facility by contributing state land on which it will be built in addition to the $6 million ransom already paid directly to the Redskins, including $2 million he obligated Loudon County to kick in. That is all before Richmond’s obligations.
What seems to be lost in the discussion is most of the math. A dazzling array of numbers has been thrown around like chaff. But, Style Weekly’s Steve Bass (as in not mainstream media) has done a more than respectable analysis of the deal as we know it. Remember that in addition to the $10 million construction obligation, there’s the $500,000 a year stipend the city will pay the Redskins. And that says nothing about the annual public safety expenses that will further tax city finances.
“For those who said it could not be done, sit back and take notice,” Jones boasted.
What exactly Mayor Jones thinks has happened and what has come to pass are two ships passing in the night. He should have come out swinging at McDonnell’s original deal. Instead, he seems to have been cowed into going along to get along. This is a haunting lesson about the influence of private interests on public policy. It is also a dramatic lesson about how shiny objects can distract the naive. What Mayor Jones appears to lack, apart from business savvy, is the introspection to learn the real lesson out of this: There is a big difference between what could be done and what should be done. But he is not alone in this boat. He need look no further than Virginia Beach for a fellow traveler.
What remains to be seen is whether the rest of Richmond’s City Council will acquiese to participation as unindicted co-conspirators in a deal that will most certainly haunt Richmond for years to come.