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Chamber Rehires Consultant Who Sparked Racial Fire

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With the city mired in political turmoil, the Greater Richmond Chamber is taking a step back: It's hiring consultant James A. Crupi to revisit his controversial 1992 report, "Back to the Future: Richmond at the Crossroads."

Crupi, a leadership consultant from Plano, Texas, caused a stir 15 years ago when he concluded -- after interviewing dozens of local business and political leaders — that Richmond's black politicians were ill-equipped to address the city's economic decline.

Based on his interviews, he made some other bold declarations: "Blacks did not create the political and educational environment that Richmond has, but they have no incentive to change it, given the political history of Richmond. They feel as if they had to work hard to gain control over the political and educational process and now are determined to not give up what they have attained."

At the time, the majority-black City Council condemned the report, even though Crupi also offered some valiant points — namely that the chasm between black and white made it impossible to address such issues as rising crime, a depleted commercial base and the lack of regional cooperation between the city and counties.

He also recommended that Richmond change the city government structure to a "strong mayor elected at-large."

"Crupi sure got the juices flowing," says Jim Dunn, president and chief executive of the Greater Richmond Chamber.

Indeed. Many people, however, couldn't get past Crupi's blunt stereotyping, like this one: "Political control over the city has been transferred to elected black leaders who lack the economic and business skills of their predecessors."

"That statement indicates a high level of stupidity on his part because he's lumping black leadership as just one group, without the proper analysis to support his statement," retired School Board Chairman Melvin Law says. "That view is not different from the view in 1977 by people who did not like the fact that the majority-black City Council was now in control."

Crupi's report came at a time when the city was "very divided politically," says John Moeser, an urban studies professor at the University of Richmond and a longtime observer of city politics.

"It was so un-Richmond," Moeser recalls. "I daresay it was a very accurate portrait of what business leaders were thinking at the time and were prepared to say in an interview as long as no one is identified."

Crupi's prescription for Richmond — that the white business community needed to become more involved in economic development — led to action, culminating in the $200 million-plus plan to rebuild East Broad Street by expanding the convention center and, as Dunn points out, the creation of the biotechnology park on Leigh Street.

Crupi spent four weeks in Richmond this past August and September for the follow-up report, interviewing 120 people. But he's mum on his latest findings. He declined to give Style a sneak preview, opting instead to let the public receive the report without a newspaper's filter. Fitting, perhaps, because the earlier report condemned the daily newspaper: "The Richmond Times-Dispatch is perceived by many as right wing and racist," he wrote, citing an overall lack of progressive media.

He'll give his full report Nov. 19 as part of the chamber's "Vision 2010" public event at 4 p.m. at Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center.



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