Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Superintendent Selection Process Redux

After my posting yesterday, I received an e-mail from a member of the School Board stating,

Since the seating of the new board, we had 2 public meetings where we talked about the search process. Because no one from the media attended the first, we made sure to do the attached presentation at our meeting last Monday to try to shed light on the process.

The attached PowerPoint presentation contained this outline of the search process starting in May of 2008.

• May 2008
– Search committee appointed
– School board conducted public forums, sent out public surveys to determine attributes sought in next superintendent
• June 2008
– School board members presented public forum findings to search committee
– School board hired search firm through RFP process
• August/September 2008
– Search firm conducted interviews with individual school board and search firm members
– Search firm developed leadership profile and “Characteristics Desired in the Superintendent of Schools” based on 200 community, 9 school board, and 14 search committee responses
– National posting of vacancy
– School Board approved the job description
• September – December 2008
– Search firm continued to receive applicants and to actively recruit promising candidates.
• December 2008
– Search committee met with each new school board member and Mayor Jones to review the status of the process
– Search firm presented resumes of 20 candidates to search committee
– Search committee narrowed candidates to 12
– Search firm interviewed 12 and narrowed to 5
• January 2009
– Search committee interviewed 5 candidates and narrowed to 3 preferred
– Search committee presented 3 candidates to school board and provided opportunity for board to review resumes of all 5 final candidates.
– Board elected to interview the previously identified 3 candidates

The presentation also contained explanations of the rolls of the board, search committee and outside search firm in the selection process.

This maven lauds the School Board for publicizing the stages of the search process. I retract my statement that the process was “as far removed from government in the sunshine as one can imagine.” And, hopefully, I was wrong in thinking that the election had not brought change.

I must say, however, that making this presentation only days before the board revealed its choice for our new superintendent does not make up for the six months that the citizens of Richmond were kept in the dark. Had the board and its search committee been open throughout the process it is unlikely that some of my neighbors would have been suspicious of the validity of the whole search. I certainly hope that in the future the board will continue to choose open rather than closed processes (even if the laws of the Commonwealth provide an excuse to meet in closed sessions).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Government In The Dark

For those of you who thought you were voting for change in November, you need to rethink. Richmond still has both a City Council and a School Board that think they may carry out their functions in secret. Today the board appointed Dr. Yvonne Brandon as our new School Superintendent in a process that was as far removed from government in the sunshine as one can imagine. All we know is that there was a search team (whose members were subject to a confidentiality agreement) that hired a contractor to find candidates. The contractor produced the names of five candidates. The School Board reduced that to three finalists. Then they chose Dr. Brandon. We have no idea who the other candidates were. We don’t know the process the board went through to make its decision. We were simply told that they decided.

Why should we be concerned about this? During the summer when I was campaigning I met several people who told me they felt that the search for superintendent was a sham; that it was merely a cover for the appointment of Dr. Brandon, which was already a done deal. I checked with people on the search committee who told me that there was in fact a genuine search. But there are still people in Richmond who do not trust the School Board’s process, even with a new majority. The board has some work to do in convincing Richmond residents that they are to be trusted.

Then there is the City Council and the vacant 7th District seat. As you know, former delegate Dwight Jones resigned his seat in the House of Delegates when he was elected mayor. City Council 7th District member Delores McQuinn ran and was elected to the vacant House of Delegates seat. She then resigned from the City Council. Under our City Charter the council is authorized to fill the vacant seat by appointment until the next regular election. Several citizens have filed applications to be appointed to the vacancy. According to the chatter on Church Hill People’s News the selection of Ms. McQuinn’s successor will be done in the dark. According to a statement by a policy advisor for the City Council, “The interviews, as well as any further discussion and consideration of candidates will all be held in Closed Session." Only council members Chris Hilbert and Charles Samuels thought it was wrong to make this significant decision in secret.

Why should we be concerned with this? In the last few weeks there has been a great deal of talk that the selection of Ms.McQuinn’s successor is a done deal. The talk suggests that Dwight Jones approved Ms. McQuinn as his successor and that Ms. McQuinn has approved her successor who will be rubber stamped by the City Council. As in the case of the School Board, a decision by City Council to make its decision in closed session will only fuel this type of talk.

The eight people elected to the council and the nine people elected to the school board in November need to understand that they cannot govern without having the trust of the citizens of Richmond. They will not have that trust unless they do their work in the sunshine where we can watch them. The decisions to do their work in secret were bad from them and for River City.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

So Help Me Dog

Okay, I’ll admit it. It probably is not as easy as it looks. For one thing, you gotta be careful to use the President Elect’s name rather than your own. It would not do for Barack Obama to start his oath with “I, John Roberts.” And then, there was the crowd. Mr. Justice Roberts is used to speaking before a few hundred people at the Supreme Court. Now he was facing more than a million. It could get one a bit nervous. Of course he could have read the oath rather than reciting it. Or, if he has difficulty reading in public, he could have printed it on a piece of paper and handed it to Mr. Obama to read. Perhaps it was the cold; perhaps it was the wind. Perhaps it wasn’t a mistake at all. Maybe it was Justice Roberts zinging one at the man for whom he mostly likely did not vote.

Was administering the oath to Mr. Obama the most important thing Justice Roberts has done so far in his career? Nope. Is it the most important thing he is going to do in the many years he will serve as Chief Justice of the United States? Nope. Is it the one mistake for which he will always be remembered? Yep. If this were a hundred years ago, in all likelihood no one would ever know of Justice Roberts’ gaff. Back then, only the people in attendance would have witnessed his mistake and only the few close enough would have even heard. But, poor Justice Roberts screwed up with hundreds of millions of people watching and listening. What’s worse, his blunder was recorded and will always be there to be viewed in generations to come.

Well, all’s well that ends well. President Obama is at the White House trying to get us out of W’s disaster. Justice Roberts is back at the Court just waiting for the opportunity to strike down Obama’s major legislation as unconstitutional.

Friday, January 09, 2009

How Guilty Should I Feel?

"What is good for General Motors is good for America" - GM Chairman and CEO, Charlie Wilson, 1955

Reader, the maveness and I make the last payment on our car number one this month. As is our usual practice when this happens, we are retiring car number two, moving car number one into the number two position and buying a new car number one. So, we have been looking at cars for a few weeks and finally decided to buy a Toyota. This is not a surprise because our current car number one is also a Toyota. What I do find interesting, especially with the economic plight facing our domestic car manufacturers, is that we didn’t consider buying an American car for more than about three seconds. We just assume that GM, Ford and Chrysler do not make a car that is better than the Japanese.

This is not the way it used to be. Our first car, nearly forty years ago, was a Chevy Nova. We liked it fine. When our family started growing, we replaced the Nova with a big Impala wagon. (I sure loved that car). We really didn’t think about buying foreign cars. Aside from simply assuming that American was best, we also had to deal with the fact that my father-in-law would have disowned us if we had bought Japanese and my mother would have gone ballistic if we bought German.

Then, at some point and for some reason, we bought a Ford Taurus. Both I and the maveness hated that car. It turned us off to Ford totally. When the maveness went back to work and we needed a second car we chose a Nissan (or were they still called Datsun back then?) After that it was Toyota and Subaru and Toyota and now Toyota again.

But that was before. Shouldn’t now be different? Didn’t the CEOs of GM, Ford and Chrysler fly into Washington to get their share of the mighty federal buck? Didn’t they promise us that if they didn’t get the money they would be floating belly up in the Detroit River in weeks? Don’t I owe it to all those Detroit executives to buy American so they can continue to live in the style to which they have become accustomed? Don’t I owe it to the members of the United Auto Workers who are really sweating their jobs? Don’t I owe it to the residents of the Detroit metro area who just went through the worst football season ever? If one or more of those “Big Three” goes under, the city could become a ghost town. So what if their cars aren’t as good as the Japanese; don’t I have some patriotic duty to buy them anyhow?

What is the appropriate atonement for the sin of buying Japanese? Should we be required to wear a big scarlet “J” on all our stuff? I mean, people will already know we have bought Japanese just by looking at those letters—T, O, Y, O, T, A—on the car. Should we get a bumper sticker that reads “We wanted to buy a Cadillac for $54,000 but the Devil made us get this cheap thing?”

I know, precious reader, that I should not be joking about these things. Our economy is tanking. Many thousands of Americans have lost their jobs. Many thousands more will probably lose theirs too. If GM or Ford or Chrysler go under, a whole lot more will become formally employed. That is tragic, not funny. But should I feel guilty that we did what we thought was in our best interest?

I know that many businesses in this country are badly hurt or even dying because of something they had no control over. But, I can’t help feeling that GM, Ford and Chrysler decision makers have a lot to do with how poorly their companies are doing. They’ve had decades to deal with the growing competition from Japan, Germany and, more recently, Korea. They have made many corporate decisions that might have helped them in the short run. Certainly, the executives have all been well compensated. But their short sightedness kept them from planning and developing the cars that would have kept them on top. While Toyota and Honda and Nissan and Kia and others were producing and selling cars that people wanted, GM and Ford and Chrysler were producing the vehicles they wanted to make and were spending tons on advertising to try to convince American drivers that these were the cars they should want.

There are certain corporations in this country that are so big and fill a niche that is so essential to our national economy that we are unwilling to allow them to be subject to the normal rules of a free market. So, in the last several months we have pumped billions of dollars of our money into these corporations to make sure they survive (even when their own stupid or greedy decisions caused their economic downfall). Although the sub-prime fiasco has caused many Americans to lose their homes, and a lot more, nobody thought they needed a bailout. “Losing your home? Tough, you never should have bought something you couldn’t afford.” But, did we ever say to any bank, “You guys screwed up now face the consequences.” No! They are too important.

The free market should be the one place in our society where “survival of the fittest” governs things. Instead, we have borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars from our grandchildren to rescue corporations that are unfit to survive. It makes little sense to this maven. But what can we do? Saving unfit corporations has become a tradition in the US of A. How many years has it been since Tom Paxton penned these words?

I am changing my name to Chrysler
I am headed for that great receiving line
So when they hand a million grand out
I'll be standing with my hand out
Yes sir I'll get mine.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Time To Shake Things Up 1

Recently I had an e-mail exchange with Jonathan Mallard, my fellow also-ran in the Fourth District school board race. Jonathan had asked me what I thought of his analysis of the Request for Procurement (RFP) for renovations to make Fox Elementary School compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. You can find Jonathan’s analysis at

Here is how I replied to Jonathan:

Unfortunately, RPS has developed a corporate culture of indifference. We have had mediocrity or even incompetence for so long that it has become the standard of performance. I have seen this before in the District of Columbia government and the Department of Defense.
Things will only change when either the superintendent or the school board demand competency. The attitude must come from the top. The school leadership needs to communicate to all RPS employees that mediocrity or incompetence will no longer be tolerated. Employees should be given a period of time to improve. If they do not, they should be replaced with other employees who are competent.

Maven, how can you say such things? You are being terribly unfair to all the RPS people who work really hard and are doing a good job. Besides, didn’t you lambast Keith West for saying similar things last year?

Vigilant reader, you are right. There are many many RPS employees who are doing an exemplary job. But, I was not talking about individual performance. I was talking about an attitude. It’s like the old saying “Close enough for government work.” Clearly there are lots of government employees who take their jobs very seriously and will not settle for “close enough.” On the other hand, there are enough of the other kind of employee to have given birth to the stereotype.

As to Keith West, I remember two posts I wrote about him. Just about a year ago, I did lambast him for his decision, after losing his challenge to George Braxton to be chair of the school board, to walk away from his responsibilities to the children of Richmond. Keith, It’s All About The Kids Then I wrote another piece responding to his Style Weekly revelation that he and his wife had decided not to send their children to RPS because of their fears they could not receive a decent education. We Have Nothing to Fear but . . .

In Style Weekly, Mr. West said:

Will your children learn the value of honesty and hard work? Is cheating really tolerated in some classes? Will they show and receive proper respect and courtesy? Will they learn to love learning? In some classrooms the answer is yes. In a few schools the answer is yes. But consistently across the entire school system, the answer is no.

I replied:

I guess I must be lucky, because in the schools in which I have been I have seen the children learning the value of honesty and hard work. I have seen no example of cheating, let alone cheating being tolerated. I have seen children showing each other and their teachers respect and courtesy. I have seen so many young faces glowing with the love of learning.

Mr. West then said:

In every job category from custodian to central-office administrator you will find sterling examples of effort and ability working alongside people who aren’t doing their jobs and shouldn’t be drawing a paycheck. You will find some teachers who are imbuing a love of literature in their students, and others writing evaluations with made-up words and nonexistent grammar. You will find some principals prowling the halls gently correcting the transgressions of their little ones, and others hiding in their offices.

My response was:

Again, I have not been in the schools in which the support staff does not earn their pay, where the teachers are unqualified, and where the principals hide. In the schools that I frequent, I have seen just the opposite.

In my post I acknowledge that as a school board member Mr. West had been in a lot more schools than I have. I was just saying that I had not seen the poor performance that he had seen.

Since that time I have been educated by many Richmond parents. I have a list of “horror stories” on my computer testifying to the instances in which Richmond Public Schools or its employees have not done well by particular students.

But, again dear reader, I am talking about an attitude, not individual performance. What I was saying to Jonathan was that because nobody at the top of Richmond Public School’s administration demands excellence there is a belief that what we are doing is good enough. I will go beyond that to say that the citizens of Richmond are also not demanding excellence from RPS and its staff. During the school board campaign I asked Antione Green (President of the Crusade for Voters), at one of our morning coffee meetings (at which neither of us consumed any coffee), why the residents of Richmond tolerate a school system that is not first class. I pointed out to him that in Fairfax County, where my kids were educated, there is no way that parents and other taxpayers would put up with what we put up with in Richmond. If Fairfax County schools performed the way RPS does every member of the school board would have been driven out of town dressed in tar and feathers.

The first thing we need is a new Superintendent of Schools who has not spent a considerable part of his or her career at RPS. I had and have a great deal of respect for former Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman and Interim Superintendent Yvonne Brandon. Unfortunately they both developed professionally within RPS and are too closely wedded to its corporate culture. They worked for too long side-by-side with the people they had to supervise when they became superintendent. Last summer when the School Board appointed Dr. Brandon as interim superintendent I knew that they were choosing someone who was well qualified to run our school system. But I was a little disappointed by Dr. Brandon’s announcement that she would carry on the programs and policies of Dr. Jewell-Sherman. I would have been a lot happier if she had said that she intended to make changes for the better.

I set out the talents we needed in our new superintendent last spring. The Next Superintendent Now I add the additional qualification that the person we choose should come from outside RPS. Only an outsider can bring us new ideas. Only an outsider can change the corporate culture of RPS. Only an outsider can come to the job without any “debts” owed to others in the system.

This year we have a new mayor. We have five new members of the school board. We need a new superintendent too. We need someone like Michelle L. Rhee.

Who, you may ask, is Rhee? Rhee is the Chancellor (when the school system is big enough that is what they call their superintendent) of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Depending on who you talk to, Rhee is either the great savior of D.C. Public Schools or a publicity-seeking, power-hungry, out-of-control administrator who doesn’t care who she hurts in carrying out her objectives. I think the jury is still out on whether she is either of the above or something in the middle. But, what I like most about Rhee is her attitude that the public schools in Washington are there to serve the needs of the children, not the desires of any adults or block of adults. This has made her very unpopular with the District’s teachers union. Just last week, Rhee announced her plan to remake Washington’s teacher’s corp. Ms. Rhee intends to remove a “significant share” of teachers (those who are not succeeding) and to retrain all the rest. Rhee Plans Shake-Up of Teaching Staff, Training.

I am not suggesting that we need such radical steps in Richmond. But, we need to rethink the way we train, evaluate and compensate our teachers. In one of my earliest opinions involving RPS, I said:

We must hold all teachers accountable for their students’ achievements. We must have a performance appraisal system that measures how effectively our teachers teach. We must do a regular evaluation of each teacher’s students to see how many are truly excelling. We must not accept as an explanation that “I used the same lessons last year and it worked with those students.” Although ultimately it is the student that learns, we must expect our teachers to prepare lessons that will enable each of their students to perform at their maximum capacity.
We must retrain all our teachers in new teaching methods. There have been many improvements in teaching methodology in recent years and we must make these developments available to all our teachers. We should not settle merely for teachers to be recertified periodically. We must insist that they constantly improve. Since many of our students are at risk because of their background, we must make sure that all our teachers know how to help these children.
Fix Our Schools, Now

Then, in October, in an attempt to inject some life into my school board campaign, I wrote:

I propose that we move RPS employees, including administrators and teachers, from a system in which pay increases are based on college degrees and longevity to one based on performance. Let me be clear, I do not propose that compensation be based on student SOL scores. As I have said several times here and in the questionnaire from the Richmond Education Association, there are far too many factors other than teacher performance that affect how well students do on SOLs. We need to develop a system in which we can measure how much progress students are making in a particular year (by comparing where they are in September to where they are in June). We also need to handicap that system so that teachers in schools with concentrated poverty can compete fairly with teachers in schools that are primarily middle class.
We need to start with a voluntary system for teachers already working for RPS. Teachers would be given the option of staying in a compensation system based on longevity and degrees or moving to the merit system in which pay raises are not guaranteed but can be significantly higher than on the longevity scale.
I expect that the Richmond Education Association will participate with the School Board in designing this new compensation system.
From Outside The Box

One of my campaign advisers urged me to postpone this type of suggestion until after the election. She feared it would cost me votes.

But, getting back to Chancellor Rhee, Richmond needs a superintendent who will put the needs of our children first. We need a superintendent who understands that nobody is “entitled” to be employed by RPS. We need a superintendent who is willing to really shake things up.

Politics And Money In The Old Dominion 1.5

Loyal reader, did you see the story in the Metro section of the Washington Post on New Year’s Day? It says that, although money can’t buy you love, it can buy you endorsements if you want to run for state or local office in Virginia. 1

It seems there’s a guy named Jon Bowerbank who wants to be the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth. He recently was endorsed by Delegate Lionell Spruill, Sr., as the best Democrat to take on incumbent Tim Bolling. What the endorsement announcement did not indicate was that Bowerbank had just hired Spruill as a political consultant. Of course, Bowerbank was not “buying” Spruill’s endorsement. Spruill has made it clear that his services are very valuable because he has contacts all over the state.

There must be something to Spruill’s assertion because Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran has also hired Spruill as a consultant to the tune of $7,500 per month. And, you guessed it, Spruill has endorsed Moran’s candidacy.

Getting back to Bowerbank. Four years ago he raised over $37,000 for the campaign of Leslie Byrne to be Lieutenant Governor. In his effort, Bowerbank contributed his own money and convinced his wife and stepson to also donate to Byrnes campaign. Also, by some coincidence, nearly a dozen of Bowerbank’s employees also contributed to Byrne’s campaign. This year, Byrne returned the favor by endorsing Bowerbank for the office she didn’t win. Of course there was no quid pro quo—Virginia is not Illinois. Byrne did acknowledge, however, that "When someone shows an interest in you, they show a loyalty to you, there is an inclination to return that."

Bowerbank also donated funds to Senator J. Chapman Peterson to help pay off part of his campaign debt from 2007. You’ll be pleased to know, loyal reader, that Peterson has endorsed Bowerbank’s candidacy. Was it purely a coincidence? No way! According to Peterson, "Was that a factor in my trying to help him? Of course it was. Obviously, when you make a contribution, it helps you get your foot in the door."

Don’t think for a moment that this is just a Democratic practice. Over the years, Republican Paul Jost has distributed more than $1 million to candidates around the Commonwealth. When he decided to run for a vacant House of Representatives seat last year, he was endorsed by the same people he contributed to. Was there anything wrong with this? Not according to Jost. "It is not a quid pro quo. I never gave money to someone and said, 'Hey, I will give you money if you endorse me.' But certainly life is about doing favors for people and them doing favors for you."

And then there are the parallel attempts of Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe to spend their way to the Democratic nomination. Since 2006, Moran has donated nearly $300,000 to state and local candidates in the Commonwealth. Although McAuliffe, as the new candidate on the block, has not yet filed his first campaign finance statement, he has been spreading cash all over Virginia to help his candidacy grow. (The Post article said nothing of spending by the third Democratic candidate, Creigh Deeds, to win the nomination. However, Deeds most recent finance statements indicate that political donations only constitute about 1% of the money his campaign has spent).

So, loyal reader, what are we to make of this mix of money and politics in our beloved Commonwealth. Perhaps Republican Delegate David Albo of Fairfax put it best. He said he will never support a candidate unless that candidate has contributed to his own campaigns. As Albo put it, "You have to develop relationships, and contributions are the easiest way to do it."

Politics And Money In The Old Dominion 1.0

Last week I expressed my astonishment and misgivings about Seventh District Representative Eric Cantor raising $4.5 million in “campaign” contributions during the last election cycle. Fund-raising at this level is obviously for a lot more than just running for re-election. But money is not just a Republican thing. Just this week I was invited to a special reception for the Honorable Delores McQuinn, candidate for the 70th District House of Delegate seat formerly held by our new mayor Dwight Jones. The reception is scheduled for January 8; two days after Ms. McQuinn will have already been elected to the House. After all, she is running unopposed. Just so everybody understands that this is not just an opportunity to shake hands with the new Delegate, the invitation indicates the following range of “contributions:” Friend--$150.00; Patron--$250.00; Sponsor--$500.00; and Benefactor--$1,000.00.

Now, if Ms. McQuinn’s election were being contested and if this was two or three weeks ago, I would understand the need for this fund raiser. But, as this morning’s article in the Times-Dispatch indicates, Ms. McQuinn is not taking this election for granted. 1 According to TD reporter Olympia Meola, Ms. McQuinn’s campaign raised more than $36,000 in December, of which more than $27,000 was spent—all for an uncontested election. Now it appears that Ms. McQuinn needs even more money. Obviously, Ms McQuinn does not need the money to get elected. She will already be elected by the time of the fund-raiser. So, what is this money for? Well, for one, Ms. McQuinn will have to run for re-election next year. But, that’s ten months away. Why the need for a fundraiser now?

As is becoming more and more apparent to this maven, members of Congress and members of the General Assembly need a minimum amount of money in their campaign accounts just to garner any respect. Any senator, representative, senator or delegate has to have tens of thousands of dollars in the “war chest” at all times. Very little is going to be spent on getting re-elected. It will be spent, however, on buying influence within the national or state parties, or within the legislative body. Or it might be spent to put people in debt to you for favors in the future.

So, I urge you all, whether or not you are going to the reception, to send those checks into Ms. McQuinn. We can’t send her to Richmond (the capital, not the city) without a respectable amount of cash on hand. The voters of the 70th District, whether or not they bother voting tomorrow, are depending on you to make their delegate a force to be reckoned with.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Race-Based Politics? In Richmond?

In his January 1 TD column, Michael Paul Williams had this to say about Douglas Wilder’s mayorship:

“Wilder gets props for changing the arc of Richmond history by ushering in a new era of civic democracy. In doing so, he aided Richmond in its maturation beyond race-based politics.” 1

Like Mike Williams I would like to think that Richmond has gotten beyond race-based politics. But, being a little closer to the political process this fall, I am a bit less optimistic about things than Mike is. When I was canvassing voters for my own campaign I spoke with many voters. Some of those voters wanted to talk about the mayoral race. All of the African American voters that indicated their choice for mayor to me supported Dwight Jones. The Caucasian voters who spoke to me about their choice were not united in who they supported, but they all strongly opposed Dwight Jones. I know it’s not a reliable sample. Further, I don’t know (because I didn’t ask) why the white voters I spoke to opposed Delegate Jones. So, let’s look at some research I did for a piece that I started but never published back in October.

According to the 2000 Census, six of Richmond’s nine council districts have a majority black population. (“Black” and “white” are the terms used by the Census Bureau). The three other districts have black populations of 4% (First), 31% (Second) and 27% (Fourth). This census data is eight years old so things may have changed but I don’t think the changes are significant.

Now, let’s look at the election results. Dwight Jones received just under 40% of the votes cast for mayor in Richmond. He won a plurality of the votes in six of the nine council districts, enough to be elected. The three districts that Delegate Jones did not carry in the election were the First, Second and Fourth districts—the same three districts that had majority white populations in the 2000 Census. In the First District, the district that had less than 10% black population according to the census, Jones only won 9.8% of the vote and finished third behind Bill Pantele and Robert Grey. In the Second and Fourth districts, Jones won 23.1% and 25.9% of the vote respectively. In the six districts that he did win, Delegate Jones received 37.9% (Third), 42.6% (Fifth), 57.4% (Seventh), 61.3% (Sixth), 63.1% (Eighth) and 65.1% (Ninth).

I know that there are a whole lot of factors (other than race) that motivated voters on Election Day. But, to this maven, it appears that there was some correlation between the race of the voters and the candidates they favored for mayor on November 4. I know that on the City Council and the School Board race seems a less significant factor in determining who gets elected. However, unlike Mike Williams, I don’t think that race-based politics is a thing of the past in Richmond.

What does this mean for Mayor Dwight? He must work just a bit harder to demonstrate to those people in the districts that he did not win that he is their mayor too. In governing, he must address the needs of the city as a whole, rather than just the needs of the communities that supported him in the election. He also has to divorce himself from the attitude that was reported in the TD last week. According to that account, Senator Henry Marsh considers Mayor Dwight to be next in the line of Richmond’s black mayors. 2

Dwight Jones must not think of himself as a black mayor. He must think of himself as the mayor of Richmond who just happens to be African American. And, he must communicate that attitude to all the citizens of our fair city. He also must communicate his view that politics in Richmond is not a battle between whites and blacks over who controls the city. Only then will be begin to mature beyond race-based politics in River City.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Happy New Year Mister Mayor

In his January 1 piece TD columnist Michael Paul Williams pointed out the change that the end of Douglas Wilder’s term as mayor will have on the jobs of reporters and molders of public opinion here in Richmond. In Williams’ words:

“L. Douglas Wilder's departure from the mayor's suite in Richmond City Hall should leave local news gatherers in a state of mourning. Wilder's headline-seeking antics were the gift that kept on giving. Our new minister-mayor, Dwight Clinton Jones, reserves his fiery pronouncements for the pulpit. Jones the politician is as taciturn as Wilder is flamboyant.” 1

Of course, this maven has known for months that it will be harder to find things to write about with Mayor Doug leaving. Although Doug and his behavior provided much grist for my mill to grind last winter, since he announced that he would not run for re-election I only wrote about him once and that was to wish him good luck in the future.

Style Weekly, in its “Score 2008” on December 23, went so far as to declare Doug to be no longer relevant:

"We thought about writing a long perspective piece on the legacy of Mayor L. Douglas Wilder… but then we realized no one really cares anymore. It’s official: Wilder was such a complete bust that he merits only a couple of paragraphs.
* * *
No, it wasn’t a dream. Wilder did beat up lots of people and took credit for a whole bunch of things that don’t actually exist. But pinch yourself. It’s over now." 2

Here we are, only three days into the term of Dwight Jones as our mayor and things are radically different. When Mayor Doug took over (was it only four years ago) he came out punching by challenging sweet heart severance deals that had been given to certain city officials in the waning days of the old regime. It was clear that Doug was arriving at City Hall in a war mode. He was the knight that would fix everything in Richmond in short order.

As for Mayor Dwight—
· First, he writes an OpEd declaring education to be his highest priority;
· Second, he delivers a sermon in which he makes it clear that he cannot fix what is wrong with Richmond, that the citizens of our fair city must work hard during these tough times to make things better;
· Third, he tells the members of City Council that he will cooperate with them rather than trying to force them into submission. (In the mayor’s words:
"I offer to you the hand of cooperation and the hand of collaboration, and I offer to you an open door. If you receive that offer . . . I believe that we can do great things together. That's what the city is expecting." 3

Well, we haven’t even gotten to the first Monday of Dwight Jones’ term. But as of now I’m willing to say Happy New Year Mister Mayor.