Monday, November 27, 2006

Don't Discourage Responsible Developers

The lead editorial in today’s Richmond Times Dispatch, titled “Charettes”, demonstrates the TD’s inability to understand that land developers have responsibilities other than making money. For those of you, like the Maven, who have never heard the word before, charettes are community meetings held to get public input concerning a specific project. The TD sees charettes as a form of market research that can increase the profits of investors. The TD also sees them as good public relations, giving neighbors of the proposed development the feeling that they have some influence in the final project.

However, the TD objects to charettes if they, in fact, allow neighbors of the project to have any say in the development. In the TD’s words, charettes are a problem if they give the impression that those affected by the project “ought to have as much of a role in making the final determination as investors. But, while developers are wise to welcome input from anyone who is interested, the final decision belongs to those who have put their good money down.”

The TD’s “the public be damned” attitude is very fitting for the late nineteenth century. It is the kind of attitude that when applied to land development creates all the nightmares that our friends in Northern Virginia are living now. After spending ten or more hours each week just getting to and from work, I am sure the Virginians up north are so happy that developers were never required to be responsible to the community.

Let me put this in terms that the TD understands—dollars. The taxpayers of Virginia will inevitably have to pay billions of dollars to fix the transportation mess that uncontrolled development has caused in Northern Virginia. Further, if we have uncontrolled development in Henrico and Chesterfield counties, the taxpayers will have to put down more money to fix those problems.

Unfortunately our less-than-great metropolitan daily is too blinded by dollar signs to recognize that developers can, and should be, responsible to the community in which they choose to build. Kudos to the developers of Three Acre Farm for their desire to be responsible developers and good neighbors.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Let’s Talk about the Democratic Party of Virginia

The Maven rarely admits that there is something he doesn’t know. Mavens are supposed to be all-knowing experts. So saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” is particularly embarrassing. Besides, it’s bad for business. Who wants to use a maven that doesn’t know? Despite the risk, I have to admit that I have no idea what the Democratic Party of Virginia does.

I know it has a website. I know it has a staff. It even has a platform, adopted in 1995. But what does it do?

The first paragraph of its platform, entitled “Statement of Common Purpose”, says,

"We exist as a party to elect Democratic leaders of character, integrity, ability and vision at all levels of government in Virginia."

This is an admirable mission statement, but what does it have to do with reality? I’ve been watching, and I don’t think the Democratic Party of Virginia elects anybody!

But Maven, didn’t the Democrats elect Jim Webb to the Senate this year?

I’m not blind (yet). I know Webb won the election. But the Democratic Party of Virginia did not elect him. Webb had his own campaign organization, composed of professional political marketers and volunteers. It raised the money, it decided on strategy, it ran the TV ads (except for those from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee), it staged rallies, it canvassed voters, in short, it won the election. The only party involvement in the campaign that I saw was a “paid for by the Democratic Party of Virginia” on a Webb lawn sign.

But, what about the Democratic Representatives that were reelected to the Congress?

I’m sorry. They too were reelected by their own campaign committees, not by the Democratic Party.

But, what about last year? The Democrats elected Tim Kaine as Governor.

Wrong again! Governor Kaine was elected by his own campaign committee.

But, Maven, if the Democratic Party of Virginia doesn’t elect candidates, what does it do?

Please don’t answer a question with a question!

Let me tell you about political parties. I grew up politically a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (Brooklyn, N.Y.). In New York, we had a Democratic Party that was organized from the bottom up. In every precinct there was a precinct captain who lived there. When he or she came to your door asking you to vote for Democratic candidates, it was one neighbor asking another neighbor for a favor. The basic organizing unit for the party was the state assembly district. Each assemblyperson was responsible for getting out the vote for all party candidates in every election. We didn’t have candidates with their own campaign committees; every candidate relied on the party to get him/her elected. Even in assembly districts in which the incumbent was not a Democrat (I prefer not to use the “R” word), the local political club ran the campaign. The party campaigned for slates. The name of every candidate from governor down to alderman or sheriff was contained on every piece of campaign literature distributed.

But, Maven, you’re not suggesting we do things that way in Virginia, are you? It would never work.

Maybe you are right. But think of a Democratic Party that is organized from bottom to top in Virginia, from the delegate level up to the state-wide level. Think of a party that campaigns on behalf of all candidates, not letting a particular candidate lose because of poor name-recognition or lack of money. (It was outrageous that the party did not do more for Leslie Byrne last year.) Think of a party that can elect candidates not only at the state-wide level but in local elections all over the Commonwealth. Think of a party that never concedes an election but nominates and campaigns actively for candidates in every congressional district, in every state senate district, in every House of Delegates district, in every county supervisor district, in every city council district. Think of a party that operates full time to get its message to the people of Virginia. Think of a party that relies on the sweat of volunteers rather than the money of corporations and interest groups to get candidates elected.

Maven, wake up!

I must have been dreaming. What were we discussing? Oh yeah…

Does anybody know what the Democratic Party of Virginia does?

The New Teflon Kid

What do these three names have in common? Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay, Eric Cantor. They were all involved in raising millions of dollars for Republican members of Congress.

What do these three names not have in common? Jack Abramoff is going to jail. Tom Delay was forced to resign from the House of Representatives. Eric Cantor has been reelected to his fourth term in the House.

It makes you wonder what 64% of the voters in the 7th District of Virginia were thinking. Were they even thinking? Money and politics are so mixed in the electorate’s mind that they don’t seem to care any more.

It’s kind of strange. The polls indicate that the Congress is the only institution in the United States with a lower approval rating than President George. Yet, even in this “historic” election, more than 80% of the House incumbents running for reelection won. It seems that the voters believe that everyone in Congress is worthless except for their own Representative.

So the new Teflon kid has dodged the K Street lobbying scandal, at least for now. We are stuck with him for another two years. Of course there is always the consolation that Eric won’t be Assistant Majority Whip in the next Congress.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Okay, It’s Over, But Who Won?

It’s three days after the election and I am still analyzing the results. All the other pundits say it was a great victory for the Dems and a disaster for President George and the GOP. Even the President called it a “thumping,” and, because he always accepts responsibilities for what goes wrong, he fired Don Rumsfeld.

I think what these paid analysts forget is that we kicked out the Brits. We do not have a parliamentary system in our country. Our citizens don’t vote for parties, they vote for individual candidates. Many of these candidates do not identify their party affiliation in their campaign literature. In many states candidates are not even identified by party on the ballot.

The media and the press have been reporting for weeks that a significant majority of the American electorate supported transferring control of the Congress from the Republicans to the Democrats. That’s a meaningless statistic. I don’t remember seeing on the ballot any place where I could vote to change control of the Congress. All I could do was vote for one of two candidates for the Senate and for one candidate or a write-in for the House (my representative, Bobby Scott, ran unopposed). At most, I could only vote to change the occupants of two seats. I am sure that, except for those who voted “early and often,” no voter in the United States was able to affect more than two seats.

So what we had on Tuesday were 468 separate elections—435 in the House and 33 in the Senate. Although the broadcast networks and all the cable networks reported as if it was a single election, it was not.

So, who won?

I’m looking at a list in the paper of the election results as reported by the Associated Press. It lists the 426 individuals who won (9 elections had not yet been decided.) There’s another list showing the 33 winners in the Senate elections. Although I haven’t counted, I can see from the list that the vast majority of incumbent Representatives running for reelection won. Same thing in the Senate—most of the incumbents who ran for reelection won.

So, who won? Mostly incumbents.

Let’s forget the rest of the country (just for today). Who won in the Commonwealth?

A large majority of the voters ignored my advice and approved the so-called "marriage amendment.". I think the entire Commonwealth will lose because of this vote. The proponents of the amendment need to be praised, however. They marketed the vote as a referendum on marriage. Not too many people are against marriage, at least in principle, so many voted for the amendment probably without even reading it. This was a clear case of appealing to voter’s emotions rather than to their reason. It worked.

As for the congressional elections, the Republicans won.

But Maven, don’t you know that Jim Webb beat Senator George?

Of course I know that Jim Webb, who used to be a Republican, beat Senator George, who is still a Republican. But Webb didn’t win because he ran as a Democrat. He won despite it.

I hear people saying that Virginia is now a purple state, rather than a red one. Well, I looked at the map of the election broken down by county in the paper Wednesday morning and it showed a huge sea of red, with a few blue islands. Now those islands do hold a whole lot of people, but the commonwealth still looks red to me. Besides, that map was based on the senatorial election. Let’s look at the representative elections.

Virginia has eleven members in the House of Representatives. Before the election, eight of those seats were held by Republicans and only three by Democrats. And after the election? Eight held by Republicans; three held by Democrats. Surprise! All that campaigning; all that money spent; all those nasty signs erected, and we get back the same eleven people!

But, Maven, what about last year? Didn’t the Democrats win?


Tim Kane, a Democrat was elected governor. That’s true. But, the other two state-wide offices were won by Republicans. And, the Republicans retained their control over both houses in the General Assembly.

So I’m afraid that Virginia is still a red state. A candidate running as a Democrat can be elected to state-wide office, if s/he runs a brilliant campaign. But s/he will have no coat-tails. The Republicans will win most of the other elections.

But, Maven, must this be a red state forever?

I’ll talk about that soon.

Signs (part 2)

I was driving around yesterday and I saw city workers harvesting the abundant crop of political signs. I will be glad to see the signs go, but I am not at all happy that the city chose not to enforce the anti-sign ordinance weeks or months ago. I presume that when a legislative body enacts a law, it intends for the law to be enforced. The ordinance, which is codified in Chapter 19 of the City Charter entitled “Nuisances and environmental control,” was enacted, I presume, to avoid the visual pollution in the city caused by everybody putting up signs all over the place.

The law declares all signs on public property to be nuisances, and provides that both the individual who erects the sign and the person or organization on whose behalf the sign is erected are guilty of violating the provision. The ordinance provides for a fine of between $10 and $25 for each sign posted, for each day that it is posted. It also states that if the city is forced to remove the signs it can collect the cost of removing the sign from the person or organization who posted it.

From the fact that the city did not enforce the ordinance with respect to political signs erected during the recent campaign, I must assume that the city government is flush with money. Why else would it deliberately refuse to assess fines or collect the cost of removal from the various campaign committees that planted all the signs? When the next budget cycle comes around, let’s all remember the thousands of dollars that the city did not collect this election year.

I’m Back

For those of you paying attention, the Maven has been silent for more than a week. It seems that my Muse, who puts these weird thoughts into my mind, took a vacation. I certainly don’t blame her. The level of nastiness prevailing during the week before the election must have really worn her out. I must confess that I wasn’t the picture of moderation and politeness in my ravings during the election season. But, I assume that you probably wouldn’t bother reading if I was all reason and no emotion.

Now, I intend to get back to saving the Commonwealth. (Please don’t ask “from what?”)