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If Richmond’s Mayor Cared About Schools


Bon Secours Downtown photo BonSecoursDowntown_zpsb4d7eadb.jpgThe stadium deal is a useful distraction. While the school system crumbles, Dwight Jones mumbles. The return on investment of his professional football venture is a closely guarded disappointment. Now he ties baseball to slavery. Where was he when Curt Flood made the only reasoned connection? It is shameful self-promotion.

When the Richmond Times Dispatch held one of its public square forums about the stadium proposal, Mayor Jones slid into the back of the room and refused the opportunity to explain why Richmond should invest millions in circus events in another scheme that will rob the deficient school system of funds sorely needed for not only current operations and maintenance funding but also investment in deteriorating infrastructure. It isn’t just schools, but they are most important. On this, the Mayor is mute.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…” – from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi

Jones’s argument that the Shockoe Bottom stadium is somehow tied to the funding for the preservation of what should be hallowed ground is oxymoronic. The ground was long ago violated when I-95 plowed through; enough. And now the Mayor wants to break ground without a care about the potential sanctity of the very location he’s ready to plow under. Somehow he’s argued privately that is only the concern of those who oppose the slavery museum. And Jones is desperately looking for evidence that supports his “vision.”

The footprint for a proposed baseball stadium between Franklin and Broad streets east of 18th Street would overlap the site where William Goodwin and Henry Templeman advertised in 1834 that they were “prepared to take slaves for safe-keeping” at a location adjoining the Seabrooks Warehouse, which stood at 17th and Grace streets. – Richmond Times Dispatch

But all this is a useful deflection of the angst of the electorate evident at the City Council meeting on Monday. Then again, it is the City Council that manages to help the Mayor avoid the stickier issues facing the administration. There haven’t been appropriate forums on Richmond social services or schools. And with the City Auditor tied up with other issues, there hasn’t been time to accurately report on the revenues (aka: return on investment) generated by the millions of dollars committed to subsidizing Dan Snyder’s team, whose namesakes were one of the few blessings new slaves were able to count (as in being able to say, “At least I’m not an Indian”).

Bon Secours Westhampton photo BonSecoursWesthampton_zps35def3d3.jpgAnd, by the way, where are all those jobs that deal was supposed to generate? While Bon Secours has managed to raise a flag (and little more) over the city property in the West End, I cannot find evidence of the promised East End project. And the intimation that the big-top facility downtown would double as a health clinic when the circus isn’t in town has turned out to be another pipe dream.

The bottom line seems to be that Mayor Jones is being herded by those whose interests are less concerned with the future of Richmond and more concerned with sucking the last few bond obligation funds that the city can muster before its true fiscal condition is apparent. He shows no evidence of knowing where he is being led. He does strike an impressive pose, though; useful as a blunt tool.

If there were a vision, there would be a coherent plan with buy-in from the electorate. It would be broader than a collection of entertainment venues. It would pay the respect to history that the Slave Trail merits. There would be at least second and third order economic benefits. None of that exists.

Let me suggest that another state capital found itself in a similar situation to Richmond’s a couple of decades ago. Oklahoma City had a deteriorating public school system and a decaying downtown industrial area. There they did the right thing and developed a proposal presented to the electorate that included a fiscally responsible temporary sales tax increase to fund the project (which included a modern baseball facility). The Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area Projects succeeded and raised the kind of money that is required to give Richmond a bright and vibrant future. The figures that Mayor Jones is working with are either a joke or a lie. And instead of earning interest on the funds such a plan would raise, he is promising to obligate another interest expense that will further bleed funding from much more important concerns like jails, social services and schools to mention a couple.

Richmond deserves much better. The electorate should focus its angst toward real concerns like schools rather than the distraction of a semi-pro baseball stadium.

And if Mayor Jones rests well at night, he is a sad, self-deluded man; useful, though he is as a strawman.


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