Wednesday, April 02, 2014

“Voting Rights” Attack: Has Paul Goldman Gone Too Far?


I met Paul Goldman in June of 2008 at the office of the City Registrar here in RVA. I was submitting my petitions to be on the ballot as a candidate for the School Board. Mr. Goldman was submitting petitions to be on the ballot as a candidate for mayor of our fair city. Neither of us was elected: I lost on Election Day; Mr. Goldman dropped out of the race and endorsed Dwight Jones for mayor. After that we were sort of Facebook friends for a while but via email rather than FB. Our contacts faded to virtually none over the years. 

Recently, CBS Channel 6 here in Richmond has engaged Mr. Goldman as sort of a political guru, in which roll he gives his comments on happenings both in the General Assembly and Richmond’s City Hall. Lately, Mr. Goldman has commented a great deal on the proposal by Mayor Dwight Jones to develop the Shockoe Bottom area of Richmond, including a new stadium for Richmond’s beloved Flying Squirrels. Mr. Goldman’s comments have been particularly aggressive toward what he refers to as the Jones-Marsh Democratic machine. (Jones is Mayor Dwight Jones; Marsh is state Senator Henry Marsh). Mr. Goldman has also gone beyond merely commenting by providing legal services to a group of Richmond citizens who oppose the Shockoe development plan; including helping them launch a petition campaign to force a referendum on the plan. 

I ought to add a few other facts about Mr. Goldman. In the past he has managed the campaigns of several candidates for high office in Virginia. He has also served as chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia. He also participated in drafting the current Charter of the City of Richmond. 

Although I have been critical on Facebook with regard to several of Mr. Goldman’s attacks on Mayor Jones and the Shockoe development plan, it was not until I read his current comment on the Channel 6 website that I decided I had to update this blog. 1 In this piece, Mr. Goldman accuses Mayor Jones, Senator Marsh and Democrats on Richmond’s City Council of deliberately depriving Richmond citizens of the right to vote on the Shockoe development plan. (With respect to Senator Marsh, this is a particularly nasty attack because Henry Marsh has devoted most of his life working to assure that all people regardless of ethnicity or economic status can exercise their right to vote.)  

In his latest piece, after pointing out the efforts of Virginia Democrats to block Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters, Mr. Goldman goes on the attack: 

This time, it is Mayor Jones and his Democratic allies denying VOTING RIGHTS to these very same WHITE residents and RACIAL MINORITIES in Richmond. 

The Richmond City Charter—supposedly guaranteed by Section 7B.05—intends to give Richmonders an absolute Voting Ability to tell the Mayor and City Council “NO WAY ARE YOU GOING TO WASTE HUNDREDS OF MILLION OF PUBLIC DOLLARS on a Shockoe Stadium” when we need this money for more pressing needs. 

The first part of Section 3.06.1 is intended to give citizens another Voting Rights option in such matters, but Richmond Democrats on City Council are ALSO DENYING THIS RIGHT TO THE PEOPLE OF RICHMOND.


(All of the capitalization is in Mr. Goldman’s original). 

Since Mr. Goldman is an attorney and because he is one of the principal drafters of the city charter that he refers to in the above language, I almost feel that I should simply assume that his interpretation is correct. However, because his charge that city Democrats are deliberately depriving citizens of the right to vote is so severe, I really need to give it a fact check. 

One section of the city charter that Mr. Goldman does not mention in his attack on Richmond Democrats is section 4.02. This section provides “All powers vested in the City shall be exercised by the Council except as otherwise provided in this Charter.” This section grants to City Council all governing powers in the City of Richmond, unless there is some other provision in the charter that moves that power elsewhere.  

So what about the people’s right to vote that Mr. Goldman claims is being denied? Well, first of all, the charter clearly states that it is the people of Richmond who elect both the mayor and the members of the City Council. Section 3.01, section 3.01.1. I know of no attempt by any Democrats in the city to deprive citizens of Richmond of this right to vote for mayor and members of the City Council. In fact I know that before the most recent municipal election Richmond Democrats worked hard to register as many voters as possible. 

Well Mr. Goldman says that the city charter “intends” to grant to Richmonders an “absolute Voting Ability” to tell the mayor and city council that they cannot spend taxpayers’ dollars on a Shockhoe stadium. He says that this intent is “supposedly guaranteed by section 7B.05.” What is this absolute Voting Ability that Mr. Goldman talks about?  

Chapter 7B of the charter describes the city’s ability to borrow funds by issuing bonds, notes or other obligations. Section 7B.04 sets forth the procedure to be followed by City Council in passing ordinances authorizing the issuance of bonds. This procedure is the same as in passing other ordinances except that it requires six votes to pass such an ordinance. Subsection 7B.04(a) provides further that no ordinance authorizing bonds “shall take effect until the thirty-first day after publication of notice of its adoption…” 

Section 7B.05 of the charter provides that if, within thirty days after City Council has adopted an ordinance authorizing bonds, a petition containing the signatures of 10% of the city’s voters (Mr. Goldman has calculated the number as being 9800 voters) requesting that the ordinance be submitted to the voters of the city is filed with the clerk of the Richmond Circuit Court, then the ordinance shall be put on the ballot at an election called for such purpose. I assume that this must be the “absolute Voting Ability” that Mr. Goldman is referring to. 

But, section 7B.05 does not create a right in the people to decide whether city funds should be spent on a stadium or on other needs. Section 7B.05 is limited in its scope. It applies only after the City Council has adopted an ordinance authorizing the issuance of bonds. And it grants to the citizens the right to vote on the limited question of whether those bonds should be issued only if a petition with approximately 9800 signatures is filed within 30 days.  

So, how does Paul Goldman support his accusation that Mayor Jones and his Democratic allies are “denying VOTING RIGHTS to these very same WHITE residents and RACIAL MINORITIES in Richmond”? He points out that Mayor Jones has amended his development proposal so that not all of the city payments will be financed by bonds issued by the City. Instead, some of the costs will be financed through the city’s Economic Development Authority. Mr. Goldman insists that the mayor made this change only to deny citizens the right to vote on an ordinance authorizing the issuance of bonds. In Mr. Goldman’s own words: 

“Because doing it this way ELIMINATES THE PUBLIC’S RIGHT TO VOTE DOWN WASTEFUL STADIUM BONDS, since the right to vote doesn’t apply to EDA bonds since it is not covered by the Richmond City Charter.”

I am not sure how Mr. Goldman knows that Mayor Jones and his Democratic allies changed the financing for the proposed Shockoe development for the sole reason of avoiding a possible referendum. Perhaps Mr. Goldman understands Machiavellian thinking better than I do. There may be many reasons why EDA financing or funding from other sources make more sense than issuing bonds for the Shockoe project.  

Mr. Goldman also makes the accusation that Democratic members of the City Council are denying Richmonders “voting rights” under section 3.06.1 of the city charter. This accusation is even more unfounded than the accusation I just discussed. This section provides:
The Council shall have authority to order, by resolution directed to the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond, the submission to the qualified voters of the City for an advisory referendum thereon, any proposed ordinance or amendment to the City Charter.”
If City Council did decide to ask for an “advisory referendum”, the results of the referendum would be reported back to it for “such further action as it may deem advisable and in the best interests of the City.”  

What exactly is Mr. Goldman thinking? There are no “voting rights” here. This section merely provides City Council with the authority to ask the people what they think. The fact that the City Council has not chosen to exercise that authority does not deprive the citizens of Richmond of anything.  

I do not know why Mr. Goldman made these baseless charges against Mayor Jones, his Democratic allies (including Senator Marsh) and the Democratic members of the City Council (whom we can’t even identify because in Richmond Council members are elected in a non-partisan election). He chose to attack on the issue of voting rights (a particularly sensitive issue for Democrats) and he chose to use lots of capital letters. I assume he is very angry about something. Whatever the reason for his attack, Mr. Goldman owes apologies to Mayor Jones, Senator Marsh, members of the City Council, Richmond Democrats and all other citizens of the city.


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