RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - By Paul Goldman
Editor's note: Paul Goldman is a guest columnist for nbc12.com. The views expressed below are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NBC12.
What is with Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, City Council President Charles Samuels and Councilman Jon Baliles? They have now spent almost all their current terms in office obsessed in one way or another with their top priority: building a new minor league baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom or on the Boulevard.
They all ran promising to be leading advocates for improving the Richmond Public Schools, where the average K-12 building was built in 1955. This makes them collectively the oldest such facilities in the state -- obsolete by educational building standards -- when the parents of today's students attended public school. The Diamond opened in 1985. It is not obsolete. Quite the opposite: with a little bit of mental agility, the Mayor, Mr. Samuels and Mr. Baliles could easily have developed a plan to modernize The Diamond, considered an architectural landmark, but this requires common sense and cost-efficiency not favored by political donors.
To be fair, they claim they are not focused on a new stadium, but rather developing the Bottom and the Boulevard. Let's look at the facts.
Last Spring, a determined group of Richmond school children pleaded with the three blind mice to open their eyes to the "poor school conditions" caused by the "decrepit state" of repair to the city's K-12 facilities. They spoke to the Mayor and City Council. The three blind mice said they would see to getting action.
This past August, months later, our hapless School Board pretended to be shocked by a new facilities report detailing the need for $29 million in new funds to immediately deal with pressing "operational and safety issues" facing students in their buildings. After reading the latest report on the status of Richmond's school buildings, School Superintendent Dana Bedden was forced to admit these are "some of the worst conditions I've seen in educational facilities." I wrote about the whole sordid mess in a co-authored piece in the Washington Post entitled, Richmond won't spend money to repair decrepit schools.
Emperor Jones, without Samuels, Baliles and their colleagues on the Council opposing, dismissed the school students as only "11 percent" of the population, and thus real macho men had to consider the needs of the 100 percent of the city's population. Alas, imagine students wanting a school building where bathrooms work, rodents don't roam, roofs don't leak, mold doesn't grow and heating systems operate. What radicals.
Jones, Samuels, and Baliles know these students are right. The Mayor dismisses them as just a whiny "11 percent" and said cutting the property tax by a penny was far more important. This past Monday, no one on Council was willing to lead the fight to make the body go on record as telling the Mayor we instead want to use this penny to fund school bonds to fix these problems ASAP.
Apparently, the three blind mice feel they can run for office in the future as George Bush tax cutters: it is easy to masquerade as a tax cutter when you let school buildings deteriorate, sidewalks and streets too, so you can pretend to have cut spending.
By the way, you could get a penny's worth of property tax cuts by simply forcing City Hall and City Council to stop wasting millions on Richmond's administrative bureaucracy, the most expensive in local government in Virginia. As the three blind mice know, I helped Mayor Dough Wilder find far more money to fix the schools, libraries, sidewalks, the Carpenter Center, parks and more, while cutting taxes and wasteful bureaucratic spending. Then City Council President Bill Pantele played a big role in that, as did former Council President, now delegate, Manoli Loupassi.
Let me ask you, if the three blind mice were Republicans, would Democrats in Richmond stand so meekly silent while they obsessed on a baseball stadium and let the "11 percent" – almost all African-American children from families with modest incomes – go to schools with such operation and safely issues?
"Three blind mice, three blind mice,
See how they run, see how they run."