In a beautiful alignment of political symbolism, the Mayor of Richmond, Dwight W. Jones, celebrated the grand opening of the new Redskins training camp, which, Richmond citizens were assured, would bring them lots of moolah in the long run (no, really!) on the very same evening the Richmond City Council voted down a public referendum on the location of a baseball stadium. For a second time. This despite a cacophony of citizens and activist groups clamoring to be heard over the raucous roar of back room money.
Tip O’Neil once opined that all politics is local, and from the shenanigans at City Hall these last two Mondays, it appears he was onto something.
President of the Council, Charles Samuels, in an apparent effort at transparency floated the referendum idea. It was simple: let Richmonders decide where their new baseball stadium gets built, rather than say, developers carrying wads of cash. It’s not like Richmonders don’t have opinions, mind you. In fact, if you were there either Monday night, you would have gotten an earful of very strongly worded opinions, the vast majority of which sounded like this:
LET US HAVE A REFERENDUM ON THE STADIUM’S LOCATION!
Or they were saying, even more simply, something like this:
DO NOT BUILD A BASEBALL STADIUM IN SHOCKOE BOTTOM! IT’S HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT GROUND!
Which, of course, was the point of the referendum. Since Richmond had the illustrious honor of auctioning off slaves in the Bottom, the second-largest market for enslaved Africans in all of North America, to be exact, there are many from the local community a little keen on not having this particular historical tidbit covered up. Especially since its been ignored for the last 100+ years or so… Not hard to understand, really. It’s one reason –maybe the main reason –why all these Richmond citizens turned out in mass to make their voices heard.
The message couldn’t have been more clear or more lopsided. Everyone from African Ancestral Chamber to the Alliance for Progressive Values said essentially the same thing: let the people decide.
But Mayor Jones, fresh from the victory of the new Redskins Stadium project, has yet to put forward a real plan for replacing The Diamond, though certain city commentators (like Paul Goldman) have hinted that Jones is aiming to build in the Bottom. And Mayor Jones has a history of plopping done deals on the City Council’s desk for immediate approval if not sooner. Now, in fairness, he was coyly non-committal when asked the question directly for a television interview at Monday’s Redskins Training Camp grand opening, saying only… the plan is “still cooking.”
No doubt another reason Samuels thought it advisable to try this referendum thing.
In an exquisite display of political tone-deafness, or, let’s just call it deafness, the council voted down the idea. As the 4th District’s Kathy Graziano delicately phrased it, “referendums should be used sparingly…”
Because, you know, you might wear them out.
One council person said with a straight face that a referendum would mean council members were reneging on their decision-making duties, cruelly forcing Richmond citizens to pick up the slack.
I’m sure every Richmonder is relieved to have this hideous weight lifted from their shoulders.
Yet, another suggested that it was an overly complex matter and should not be left to commoners who just happened to be the, um, tax base for the city.
No matter that the referendum amounted to a sentence or two saying essentially, “The Stadium should stay on the Boulevard.” It apparently also eluded every council member that the referendum was not binding but an ADVISORY referendum, meaning the local commoners would merely be suggesting their preference as opposed to stipulating it in law.
I use the caps, of course, because otherwise the notion of ADVISORY might be overly complex.
Nevertheless, it was voted down, six to three Monday night. Alas, we poor blighted citizens were overworked, under learned, over stressed and — what was abundantly clear– over eager to have a say in exactly how our public funds get spent.
This petition is for those who would like to keep the stadium from being built in Shockoe Bottom.