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Sorry Politics

Someone should apologize to Richmond, but it's not Marty Jewell.

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A Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial this morning, “Richmond City Council: Comedy Is Over,” calls on City Councilman Marty Jewell to apologize to Council President Kathy Graziano, with inexplicably vacuous reasoning. Jewell called for Graziano’s resignation two weeks ago after she introduced a budget amendment seeking an additional $100,000 for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. This amendment came just a few days before that office stuck a deal with Graziano’s aide, David Hathcock, agreeing to drop charges of misdemeanor sexual battery and assault against another City Council aide, Jennifer Walle.

Hathcock agreed to undergo workplace sensitivity training and perform 100 hours of community service. It’s been more than a year since the incident occurred, and nearly six months after Jewell brought the incident to light.

Jewell may or may not have gone too far in calling for “the Graz’s” resignation, but the idea that somehow Jewell has become a political scourge of sorts for raising his fist at the whole affair suggests Richmond isn’t ready to become a first-tier city.

Much has been written and bemoaned about this City Council’s largely genteel, collegial approach. After former Mayor Doug Wilder left office, this council and mayor jumped at the chance to reinstall Richmond’s longstanding tradition of non-evasive politics. Ditto for the city’s business leaders.

This environment has allowed a giant bubble of insularity to build around the city, a place where the slightest burst of hot air can rupture an increasingly thin-skinned and fragile civic sensibility. In such a bubble, serious discussions about the state of our schools turns into gentle cheerleading, the need for expanded regional transit gets brushed to the sidelines and downtown master plans get shunted when it conflicts with the motives of profit-hungry developers.

In other words, the bubble becomes more important than the city -- and the people it purports to protect. One can envision the horror on Graziano’s face when Walle, who once worked in her office, appeared with allegations that Hathcock groped her in her office. What transpired after that has turned into a vicious she said, she said, but we do know what didn’t happen: There was no initial investigation into the charges and no attempts to limit contact between Hathcock and Walle. No one was put on administrative leave. When there was an eventual investigation into the alleged groping incident, and the city’s handling of the allegations, it was done 10 months later with the purpose of preparing the city’s defense against a civil lawsuit filed by Walle.

And Jewell is the one who needs to apologize?

The very suggestion offers an important insight. This is the same City Council that has withstood heroin addictions, tax evaders, bribery scandals and long, sustained bouts of carvinalesque stupidity. And that was before Doug Wilder. Can anyone even imagine what Wilder would have done with a gift-wrapped sex scandal involving a political foe? And Jewell’s umbrage over Graziano’s handling of the sex scandal, and her inability to see a problem with putting in a $100,000 bonus for the city prosecutor’s office, requires repentance?

Progress requires a healthy debate and political discourse that hardly seems possible in today’s Richmond. How can it when calls for moral and ethical accountability -- yes, as difficult as it is to believe, such calls usually are accompanied by political grandstanding -- are met with such scorn and dismissal, especially on the editorial pages of the city’s most influential newspaper?

One day, when the city finally wakes up and finds the bubble has burst, the people will decide that progress is more important than collegiality. And no apology will suffice.

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