Mark Twain famously held school boards in low regard, subordinating them to idiots, and the race in the 4th district to replace outgoing Richmond School Board Chairman George Braxton may serve to illustrate the point of his disdain.
For the past few weeks, bad blood between two of the four candidates for the seat, Bert Berlin and John T. Lloyd, has threatened to boil over, with Lloyd hiring a campaign worker that Berlin accuses of stealing and destroying Berlin's yard signs.
In a series of bristly e-mail dispatches, Berlin has chastised his opponent for not reigning in the campaign worker, Cliff Troutman, a well-known and regular participant in conservative city races and a familiar gadfly at City Council meetings.
“The current state of affairs in which your campaign worker constantly removes the campaign signs being put up by [4th district candidates] Adria [Graham Scott], Jonathan [Mallard] and myself has to stop,” Berlin writes in an Oct. 28 e-mail to Lloyd. “I was willing to assume that you had disowned Mr. Troutman's childish and unfair campaign tactics. Yet last week at the Fisher PTA meeting and at the candidate debate there was Mr. Troutman putting out your signs and handing out your literature.”
Berlin threatens retaliation if Lloyd fails to act: “Up until now, I have discouraged any of my supporters from removing any of your signs, even when they are posted in the public area not on private property. However, I'm not sure I should restrain them any more. Since your campaign has not been acting fair, I think it is appropriate to raise this as an issue with voters.”
Lloyd, for his part, says he's neither encouraging or sanctioning Troutman's alleged removal of any signs.
“I have no idea,” Lloyd says of the fracas. “I stopped answering the [Berlin] e-mails because I too am having signs taken down. I can't accuse this Mr. Troutman when I, too, have signs being removed.'
Lloyd did not deny that Troutman has been working for his campaign, but says Troutman is not a member of his campaign committee, and that his own losses have amounted to about 20 to 25 signs that have gone missing.
“I really had not realized this thing had escalated into something of this proportion,” he says.
Berlin points out that Lloyd might have more awareness if he were to have answered his e-mails: “I have never heard anything from Mr. Lloyd on this subject.”
Troutman laughs the entire thing off, saying he is authorized by the city's clean city commission to remove trash from the city right of way, pursuant to city code. City code allows for the removal of any unauthorized signs or other materials from city right of way, including political campaign signs.
“If it's on private property, don't touch it, if it ain't on private property, it's fair game,” Troutman says, though hedging on whether he's responsible for Berlin's missing signs. “I'm not saying I'm taking any signs … the wind did it.”
Earlier in the campaign season, Troutman sent an e-mail to local media and to a number of people involved in the 4th district race, talking disparagingly of Berlin's religious heritage, as well as taunting the other two candidates, one for a physical disability and the other for being from out of state.
The same day Berlin sent his last e-mail to Lloyd, he also released a letter of endorsement from “three of Richmond's leading advocates for Richmond Public Schools and the children of the city of Richmond.” The letter was signed by current board chairman Braxton; the Rev. Benjamin Campbell, pastoral director of Richmond Hill; and Tom Klein, chairman of the Richmond Business Council of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce.