Today, I like Paul Goldman more than ever… but I will never understand him.
L. Douglas Wilder’s former policy analyst, a perennial office seeker, is certainly unpredictable. Just when you think you’ve got Paul pegged as an opportunist/dreamer/kingmaker/crank/visionary (take your pick), he adds a new wrinkle to your impression of him.
Today, in a blog post (with a headline that is only slightly less funny than “SaveRichmond.com Editor Up In Arms Over His Chicken Alfredo”), he takes me to the woodshed over Save Richmond’s recent letter to his friend, Mayor Dwight Jones.
Say what you want about Paul — he’s a loyal dude and protective of his political friends. His formerly-estranged pal Jones was being “attacked” by some whiner with a website and Goldman instinctively rode off to the rescue. (It should be noted that Paul and I are also friendly acquaintances — and none of this is personal.)
Paul’s knee-jerk defense of Mayor Jones is admirable stuff considering that the underlying viewpoint of today’s blog post— that Richmond needs a weak mayor who simply “goes along” with city council — runs counter to just about everything that Goldman has worked and argued for since he gathered the signatures that ultimately led to Richmond’s “strong mayor” initiative getting on the ballot. It is noteworthy that 80% of Richmond voters voted yes to that particular proposition, and it is also worth a reminder that our current mayor only just managed to squeak out a victory in last November’s election.
Most folks got the point of the satirical letter we wrote to Dwight Jones, and we have to assume that Paul did as well: Richmond’s new Mayor Jones is being anything but a strong mayor. He, in fact, seems to be taking us back to the days when “going along” and political patronage and sweetheart backroom deals were the business models of choice for City Hall.
Even if we factor in Doug Wilder’s rocky and imperious rule, is there anyone out there (Paul included) who is ready to make the argument that Richmond was better off under the old system?
Between 1999 and 2004, three council members were packed off to federal prison. They include Councilman and former Mayor Leonidas B. Young, who pleaded guilty to fraud, obstruction of justice and tax evasion in 1999; Councilman Sa’ad Al-Amin, who was found guilty of several felony tax-related charges; and Councilwoman Gwen C. Hedge-peth, who was found guilty by a federal jury of three bribery charges and one count of lying to the FBI, all felonies. Moreover, federal probes into city financing uncovered graft that resulted in convictions of three other city officials. In one case, an assistant in the city manager’s office managed to steal a million dollars from the city.
Is Paul advocating a return to those good ol’ days?
If not, I have to throw Goldman’s favorite rhetorical catchphrase back at him: Where’s the beef?
Today’s Paul Goldman wonders why details matter — and asks why calling out the council and mayor on their respective budgets is so important.
But, once, there was another Paul Goldman, who said this on the campaign trail last year:
“The failure of the Wilder-led Administration and the Pantele-led Council to be straight with the people of Richmond about their failed budget and financial policies is one thing: but the failure of the local media to understand the importance of these matters as to their impact on the next Mayor is quite another.”
“As I have been saying for months, Wilder’s led City Hall and Pantele’s led
City Council need to stop wasting money on the most expensive City Hall and City Council in the state, and start cutting their expenses and government expenses, big time.”
How odd that today’s Paul Goldman suggests that it is foolish for anyone to point out such things as city council’s $91,000 appropriation for a “Council Policy Analyst” or the increased funding for a private “Party Patrol” at the expense of police and firefighting services. Today’s Paul Goldman says it is improper to condemn the hundreds of thousands that the mayor earmarked for the Sixth Street Marketplace. Save Richmond’s letter to the mayor was actually a bit too kind — it didn’t even mention things like council’s proposal to fund another expensive study of Shockoe Bottom, a piece of bloat that would come at the same time the city would cut thousands of dollars from Parks and Recreation programs.
The Paul Goldman of Yesterday was a master at pointing out such details and speaking out on why they matter. If yesterday’s Paul Goldman were looking at these 2009-2010 budget proposals, what would he say?
Something like this?
“There is not going to be any such double or near-double digit increase to pay for the bloated and expanded permanent city government they have now created. For too long, instead of making the hard decisions needed to expand our job base and thus our revenue base, and rein in the most expensive city hall, city council and city school bureaucracy in the state, city elected leaders and their fiscal teams have been authorizing spending at a rate that the people of Richmond can not afford.”
And I can only assume that today’s Paul (can we call him the “Paul Goldman of Earth Two”?) wrote his post denouncing Save Richmond’s letter before Mayor Jones gave his “State of the City” speech on Thursday. Standing before the Richmond Chamber, Jones all but confirmed the gist of Save Richmond’s concerns. He even admitted that, um, he had no idea what the state of the city was.
“It’s hard to do when you’ve been in office just 134 days.”
In lieu of hard details, Jones instead painted himself as a “Richmond’s biggest cheerleader” and gave essentially the same booster stump speech he’s been giving to 4-H Clubs since he took office. You know the one — where cooperation is mentioned way more times than leadership.
And now people know why we asked about the balls.
Jones also told the assembled Business Community throng that the Downtown Master Plan was subject to “negotiation” — nevermind that the document has already been heavily vetted and watered down by both the city planning commission and city council. If you were looking for a sign on Thursday that our new mayor was going to press the issue of Echo Harbour, and advocate strongly in favor of Planning Director Rachel Flynn and the transparent public process that gave birth to the DMP, you searched in vain. Instead, we got statements like this:
“It’s a plan. A plan is a guide, and that means there will be some negotiation along the way… I want to find a balance between preservation and economic development.”
Cooperation or capitulation?
Either way you look at it, it is a step backward for the city. I’m glad to see that other folks out there, if not Paul, can clearly see what is happening:
This is the man who had a 45 person transition team start work in November?? It is May and he still doesn’t have a handle on the state of the city?? That is amazing. Richmond got exactly what it wanted, a milquetoast wishy washy mayor who gets along with everyone and sings the city’s praises. No progress, no vision, no sense of direction, but everyone is saying nice things about each other. This is Richmond’s future.
Paul Goldman is a standup guy for speaking up for his friend, the Mayor. I acknowledge his loyalty and I appreciate the kind words he extended to me in passing as he expressed his displeasure with our criticisms of Dwight Jones.
But if Paul can’t see “the beef” here, it’s because he refuses to look under the bun, the tomato, the cheese and the pickles… or even to open up the styrofoam carton. The colloquial language found in our letter to Dwight Jones may have seemed frivolous and crude, but the situation couldn’t be more serious. Richmond’s future is at stake here — our plans and what kind of leaders our citizens want and deserve.
That isn’t just a slice of beef, Paul, that is the whole damn combo meal.