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The Eighth Annual Big Smooch

Our valentines to Richmond.

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Paul Goldman for being Richmond's goofiest gadfly.

Where would Mayor L. Douglas Wilder be without his policy adviser and veritable Robin, Paul Goldman? It's tough to say — and fortunately for Richmond, we don't have to. These days, Goldman's been perfectly content, indeed insistent, on doing it for us. While he hardly exalts himself, he quickly extols the virtues of the process he helped initiate and craft, the one that got Wilder elected. Whether he's geekily hanging out at Ellwood Thompson's working on his laptop and munching Muslix or riding around town in his silver Miata, Goldman has quirky appeal. You simply can't knock a guy who, long after the campaign is won, refuses to let go.

Call his cell phone and you'll get the "Goldman Action Line." Leave a message. Voice your concern. Chances are, it'll be heard. Even if his antics drive you batty, you can't deny his out-there attempts to draw you in. Consider his take on one of Wilder's pre-election days, speaking against crime and ailing schools:

"In 1908,ÿLouie Durham of the Indianapolis Browns won both games of a doubleheader on 5 different occasions in less than a two month period, beating, in order, the Milwaukee Brewers,ÿColumbus Champs,ÿSt. Paul Saintsÿand the Louisville Night Riders.

"Way to go Louie [Is this where the name Louie in the movie 'Bull Durham' came from?]ÿ

ÿ"Never know now do we?

"Anyway, Mayor-elect Wilder is pitching a different kind of doubleheader today.

"Police Chief Parker in the morning. No time for the old Satchel Paige hesitation pitch against crime.ÿGot to start throwing the heat in this game.

"Then, at night, a meeting with the School Board, current and newly elected members.

"Again, no time for the hesitation pitch here, either.

"By the way: Best modern baseball movie is not 'Bull Durham,' ' Field of Dreams,' whatever.

"It is 'THE ROOKIE,' with Dennis Quaid."

If this is a press release, we can't wait to see what Wilder's policy adviser will pull out in the months ahead.



Mayor L. Douglas Wilder for wearing boots and meaning it.

They're all the rage in political circles. U.S. Sen. George Allen wouldn't chew his tobacco without them. And in a visit to Wilder's mayoral ball, former City Manager Robert C. Bobb — now city administrator in Washington, D.C. — accessorized his tux with them. "I always wear boots," he said. But Wilder seems best suited for backing up his signature pair. He's filling them out, kicking ass and taking names. And that's why you gotta love him — as long as you're not on the receiving end.



Calvin Jamison and André Parker for giving Wilder ammunition.

Mayor Wilder's vitriol knows no boundaries. We all knew this. But we really didn't know until the former governor publicly castigated Calvin Jamison and André Parker, the former city manager and police chief, respectively, for leaving City Hall in late December clutching a combined $274,000 in severance packages.

Like a Donald Trump special, Jamison fired the police chief, and Mayor Rudy McCollum fired the city manager in late December so that both could legally retain their fat payoffs on the way out the door. You must be dismissed to receive severance, after all.

In days of old we would have raised an eyebrow and waited for the PR machine to justify it all. When Jamison's own staffer was caught embezzling more than $800,000 last year from City Council's Paygo accounts, Jamison called a press conference to announce all the positive things his administration had accomplished.

Not on Wilder's watch. The new mayor called them thieves. He went after them in court. He asked the attorney general to investigate. He turned the payoffs into the smoking gun, the WMDs — the proof positive that City Hall had been corrupted. Suddenly, all of City Council was aghast. In one fell swoop, the severance packages became a political football in council chambers and in the gubernatorial race.

Former Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, the likely Republican candidate for governor, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the severance deals needed to be investigated by state police or the state auditor of public accounts. He called the payoffs "a hallmark of many of the actions of City Council over the last decade."

Wasn't Democratic gubernatorial front-runner Timothy Kaine on City Council in the last 10 years? Let the games begin.



Richmond thrift stores for doing more than selling clothes.

If you're not averse to germs, how about landing a big smooch on the score of Richmond's thrift stores that benefit good causes.

The venerable Clothes Rack at 2618 W. Cary St. offers a deep selection of preppy clothing — a dead giveaway that this is a major funding source for the Junior League of Richmond. For women's formalwear, and guys looking for tuxedos, it can't be beat. And kudos to the Junior League for establishing a retail training program that equips its employees to move into positions at other retailers.

Just a few blocks away, at 1729 W. Cary St., is Diversity Thrift, which, in addition to clothing, has an eclectic and constantly changing selection of furniture and household appliances and accessories. Diversity has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for causes. Most recently, it's been working on a move from its West Cary Street location to a new store on Sherwood Avenue in North Side — simultaneously creating Richmond's first gay community center. Some of Diversity's other beneficiaries have included the Fan Free Clinic, the Equality Virginia Education Fund and the Richmond Triangle Players.

The Salvation Army and Goodwill thrift stores are located throughout the community and offer excellent finds (although the way Goodwill color-coordinates its clothing takes away some of the thrill of discovery).

Of course, a secondary smooch must go to those who clean out their closets and keep the merchandise flowing.



"Acts of Faith" for finding creative ways to provoke meaningful discussions.

Miss Mannersÿmight warn you that two topics are guaranteed to inflame a conversation: religion and politics.

But inÿcoffeehouses and audito-riumsÿaround the city for the past few weeks,ÿreligion is the hot topic, largelyÿbecause of a precedent-setting collaboration of local theaters.

"Acts of Faith," a festival of playsÿthat spans the wintry months through mid-March, is provoking serious-minded comment by actors and audiences on the search for spirituality.ÿProductions range from historical dramas to contemporary musicals and monologues, all with themes involving faith. No proselytizing allowed.

Instead,ÿpeople of all backgrounds and beliefs are invited to gather after the plays and explore their responses to the material, sparking lively discussions that have so far included people of many ages and nationalities and have surpassed the expectations of planners.

Even better for cash-dependent playhouses,ÿthis is good box office. Local theater managersÿsay the festivalÿisÿpulling inÿnew audiences, inÿsome cases quadruple in number, through the sheer energy and determination of organizers from Second Presbyterian Church, who came up with the idea last year and put in considerable effort with local theater directors to make it happen. With 100 performancesÿon 10 stagesÿand with interest snowballing, the festival is poised to become a tradition. And it could spread to other cities and theaters that don't usually take their cues from Richmond.



Jody McWilliams for decades of service to at-risk children.

We've seen soft-spoken, bespectacled guysÿturn intoÿsuperheroes before, but they're not usually social workers. An exception to the rule is Jody McWilliams, 66,ÿwho stepped down last month from his role directing William Byrd Community House in Oregon Hill. For more than 33 years, McWilliams helped youth who might otherwise have become Richmond statistics of violence and mayhem, steering them from the streetsÿinto preschool and after-school programs, and developing ways to help their families cope with poverty, drug addiction andÿviolence.

Children found a compassionate friend in McWilliams and watched the man show respect to people of all circumstances, never raising his voice or showing the stress that must have accompanied the job. He built a staff of unusual longevity, often hiring folks from the neighborhoods that William Byrd serves, such as Randolph, Carverÿand Maymont. One suchÿemployee is Paula Glenn, who grew up in Oregon Hill, came to the center as a child and now works as a receptionist there. "Jody always kept this gentle, caring air about him and was always a mild-mannered person who treated everyone equally," she says. "And I can definitely see where William Byrd has made a positive impact on children. They've grown into teens who have bettered themselves and are going to good colleges and on to good things. Jody was always involved with the kids, and is a kind, thoughtful person,ÿjust a wonderful man."

The nonprofit organization plans a public gala Feb. 17 to unveil the Jody McWilliams Children's Legacy, a group of projects serving at-risk children and their families. For details, see www.wbch.org.



Nancy White Thomas for her good heart.

With gratitude, we bestow 100 belated but boundless kisses to one of Richmond's youngest centenarians, Nancy White Thomas. If there were a maternal order of police, she'd be founder, having for decades trumpeted the virtues of our oft-maligned men in blue. Indeed, she is an officer's best friend and many a jailbird's, too. Diminutive only in height, she's spent more of her 100 years on earth behind bars than some inmates. Volunteering, that is. For years she inspired many of the women locked up at the Richmond City Jail by talking to them about perseverance or else by playing the piano on Sunday mornings during worship service. In all things, say those who know her, she gives much more than praise to her efforts. She gives spirit, especially where and when it's needed most.



Another Louthan for keeping it in the family.

Kudos to Reaves Louthan for becoming the third generation in his family to be president of the service club Kiwanis. His grandfather Frank Louthan Sr. was a charter member and became president in 1933; his father, Frank Louthan Jr., held the office in 1962. Now, Reaves will be president. Kiwanis supports local and regional programs mostly focused on the needs of young children. The purpose, according to Reaves, is "to make the world and Richmond a better place."



Can Can for adding je ne sais quoi to Carytown.

Here's something to kick up your heels about: The hottest new restaurant in town is Can Can, which seeks to replicate a Parisian brasserie right here in Carytown.

Upon entering this sprawling, people-watching place, formerly occupied by a formalwear shop, Francophiles may sense that the only thing missing from the real thing is the pungent odor of Gaulois cigarettes. But even those smelly French smokes are available, sold behind a 50-foot-long zinc bar. Although, in a concession to 21st-century American sensibilities, their consumption is limited to the bar and a smoking section.

The menu, including 200 different wines, is entirely French, ranging from frites to fruits de mer, and even the beer is European.

Can Can (phone 358-PARIS) is meant to be brighter, noisier and faster-paced than most dining spots. It's a high-class neighborhood establishment where people stop in for morning coffee (it opens at 7) or a nightcap (until 2).

If Can Can succeeds, as owner Chris Ripp envisions it, French egalitarianism will result in a young couple from Virginia Commonwealth University on a first date sitting in a banquette just 10 inches away from a gray-haired pair celebrating their 40th anniversary. Their respective bills could be $30 and $100.

For Valentine's Day there will be a prix fixe three-course dinner featuring the food of Normandy. Bon appétit.



Sheriffs in Henrico County and Richmond for believing their inmates can rise above the past.

It's not often that self-help experiments in correctional facilities spark replication, let alone applause. But that's exactly what's happened with Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade's Recovery in a Secure Environment program. RISE is a substance-abuse treatment initiative modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. The six-week, 12-step program asks inmates to face their addictions honestly and intensely through group support, the goal being to get them secure enough in their recovery that they won't repeat the behaviors that landed them in jail. By all accounts it seems to work. Since the program began nearly five years ago, it's grown from 20 to 200 participants, and more than 1,000 inmates have graduated from at least one of the four phases of RISE.

A counterpart for women inmates called New Beginnings is equally successful, and last year Richmond Sheriff Michelle Mitchell was so impressed with what she saw when five of her inmates participated through an exchange program with Henrico, she adopted a version — the Belief program — within the city jail, too. The program also was recognized nationally in June when a representative from the U.S. Justice Department visited to learn how RISE works. But what may be most impressive about RISE is how it inspires optimism and hard work in inmates. Put simply by Wade: "I think there's a whole lot of talent in the jail and that's what we've tapped here."



WRIR for getting on the air.

In 2004 their DJs were everywhere, from the Farmers' Market

to the First Friday Artwalk, and we were glad to see them. They

played world beat and lounge and electronica, like nothing we'd ever heard

in Richmond before. Then we heard they needed to raise $25,000 in four months

to get on the air, and we worried. But come January there they were, pumping out all sorts of unexpectedness from their low-powered signal on Broad Street.

One day it's the River City Blues Society behind the dials, the next it's a hipster playing new wave; mornings it's the syndicated talk show "Democracy Now." Plus there's almost every other subgenre you can think of: experimental, African, Caribbean, Latin, soul, electronic dance, '80s rock, classic rock, British rock, ska, punk, hip-hop, reggae, Spanish reggae, salsa, industrial — the list goes on. And if you want news, they have that too. There are segments for women, bookworms, the techno-savvy, media hounds, pet lovers, parents and more. The only problem is the range. Right now, it can be heard clearly from Church Hill to Willow Lawn, and with varying degrees

of static beyond that. But with continued fund-raising that could change too.

So we give WRIR a big kiss in the air for giving Richmond what we desperately needed: a true community radio station. So far in its short life,

it's sticking to the admirable mission to "air unrepresented music,

news and views, to provide a platform

for cultural diversity in Richmond."





Would Virginia Commonwealth University ever move MCV out of the city?

In a meeting of the university's board of visitors in August, President Eugene Trani insinuated such things were possible — at least, if the board were to decide against approving a master plan that would include tearing down the architecturally significant and historic West Hospital.

If VCU couldn't tear down the landmark hospital along with the A.D. Williams Clinic and Cabaniss Hall, Trani argued, the institution would have no viable way to build a new high-tech medical facility and nursing school.

He put it thusly: "The option we have is to replace [the old buildings] or lock them up and consider leaving downtown Richmond."

Gasp! We wouldn't want that, would we?



Jeremy Redmon and Dean Hoffmeyer for courageous reporting when the time came.

Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Jeremy Redmon and photographer Dean Hoffmeyer volunteered to go to Iraq to be embedded with the 276th Engineer Battalion of the Virginia National Guard. They had been there only five weeks when, on Dec. 21, they were in the mess tent where a bomb exploded, killing at least 26 people and wounding 60 others.

Hoffmeyer was knocked to the ground beside a soldier who subsequently died, but Hoffmeyer fortunately was able to get up and photograph the carnage and the heroism of the soldiers who tended to the wounded.

Redmon immediately began reporting and, despite shock and fatigue, continued to file his reports. These dispatches and photographs were picked up by the world media, making Redmon and Hoffmeyer instant celebrities.

In an interview back home, they said it was good to be recognized for their work, but it came at such a price. And Hoffmeyer pointed out that while they had been in Iraq only a short time, the 276th had been there a year.

Thanks to these two young men who showed us the courage it sometimes takes to be a member of the news media.



The Switch Beverage Co. for juicing up the Big Idea.

The planned public offering has been tabled, but the enthusiasm of Bill Hargis, president and chief executive of the Switch Beverage Co., has been bubbling over nonetheless. His carbonated-fruit-drink company broke into the school-cafeteria business last year with old-fashioned street salesmanship. Switch is now in every Starbucks in Canada. In July, Hargis and company pounced when Pepsi and Coke were booted out of the California public school system (a new state law bans sodas with added sweeteners and less than 50 percent fruit juice). In January, Hargis says, Switch saw business jump 270 percent over the same period last year.

The drink is now in public schools in California, New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Colorado, and the state of Washington, to name a few. In Virginia, Switch is just now test-marketing the concept in Henrico County schools.

In its first five years, Switch hasn't posted a profit — but it seems to have enough momentum to have a breakthrough year, Hargis says.

And regardless of its future, Switch is breathing life into the metaphorical Big Idea.



Chesterfield County for muscling Cloverleaf Mall away from a black church.

Don't be silly — race had nothing to do with it. When Chesterfield County officials suddenly became interested in buying Cloverleaf Mall after learning that the 4,000-member Faith Alive International Ministries wanted to purchase it in mid-May, the county simply wanted to make sure it was developed properly — or at least not by one of the city's largest African-American churches.

Long left for dead by retailers and department stores, Cloverleaf, which opened in 1972, stands at the eastern edge of Midlothian Turnpike, a few car lengths from the city line. (The same city line that Chesterfield refused to allow city buses to cross in order to drop off mostly African-American shoppers and workers at the mall years ago. Instead, they were forced to cross the busy Chippenham Parkway interchange.) It's the mall that saw business nose-dive in the wake of a grisly double murder in 1996 in the back offices of the All-For-One dollar store.

The Rev. Steve Parson and his congregation wanted to build a new sanctuary in the old J.C. Penney and use the old Hecht's for a job-training center and a fitness center, complete with spa and bowling alley. The church's plans called for retail shops, a theater, hotel suites and even a grocery store. The first phase would have included $15 million in reconstruction, according to Parson.

Feeling good and thinking the county would be thankful someone actually wanted to buy and reuse Cloverleaf, Parson contacted county officials and informed them of his plans. County officials promptly made a counteroffer to the bank that owns the mall, eventually buying it for $6.1 million. The county argued that it needed to control the property to make sure the eastern corridor of Midlothian Turnpike is developed in the most responsible way possible. (Chesterfield wants to tear down the mall to make way for a mix of residential and office buildings.)

Including the $2.8 million the county paid for the Sears property, the county is spending nearly $10 million in taxpayer dollars to buy a mall that another buyer was willing to develop at no cost to taxpayers. Of course race had nothing to do with it.



Plant Zero for disproving detractors and giving the arts scene a boost.

Whenever someone comes around with a big idea in conservative-minded Richmond, the knee-jerk reaction of many people is to complain until it goes away. This phenomenon was evidenced by the reaction to local developer Tom Papa's ambitious plan to create an arts district anchored by a renovated former Westvaco paper plant just south of the James. Many in Richmond's arts community worried aloud that the crime-ridden industrial district of Manchester would prove to be a less-than-welcoming location or that a brand-new "creative complex" would detract from other burgeoning areas such as the Broad Street corridor. Others were concerned that if it did work, it would quickly turn into something akin to Alexandria's hoity-toity Torpedo Factory, where the cost of a studio space is far too high for the average emerging artist.

A year since Plant Zero opened its doors to local artists, there is much evidence that these worries were off-base. Each of the 60 artist's studios is being rented at the bargain price of 50 cents a square foot. (The affordability of its studio space is key to Plant Zero's popularity; more than 20 artists are on a waiting list.) To support this newfound artist community, the complex houses an art supply store (a satellite location of the Fan's Main Art & Supply) as well as a café. One of Richmond's veteran galleries, Artspace, exists side by side with a new, experimental exhibition venue called Solvent Space. And the complex has proven to be a boon for the Richmond arts community in general. Plant Zero event space was host to the James River Film Festival, Art 180 fund-raisers and several year-end shows staged by Virginia Commonwealth University. Plant Zero recently announced that it is launching a series of art classes and workshops in the spring.



The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee for being a flip-flopping bishop.

We're withdrawing a kiss from 2004, the first one in the issue's eight-year run. We were perhaps premature and presumptuous last year in smooching the Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee for simultaneously promoting civil rights for gays and the unity of the church.

Lee, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, was rebuked by some of his constituents when he voted for the consecration of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, at the denomination's 2003 General Convention. Some called for Lee's removal, while others stopped giving to the church or threatened to divide it. Lee was steadfast and fair, defending his affirmation of Robinson with a theologian's rationale. He was struck, he said, by the teachings of a faith based more on grace than law. "My reading of Scripture convinces me that the Gospel is ever-increasing its power to erase the barriers that we human beings erect among ourselves," he said, then asked: "What difference does this controversy mean for us in Virginia? That depends on us." Apparently so. For Lee, it means diluting, if not recanting, a message.

He'll not vote again to affirm a bishop candidate who is openly gay — at least until the matter is more accepted within the church. Lee's remarks surfaced in a videotaped address last month during the 210th Annual Council of the diocese. Lee was unable to attend as he was awaiting triple-bypass heart surgery. Despite saying further that the diocese will refrain from public blessings of same-sex unions, he didn't flop fully. "That restraint, however, does not mean withholding pastoral care or denying full inclusion to gay and lesbian people in our midst," he pledged.



Councilwomen Delores McQuinn and Ellen Robertson for their conditional allegiance and independence.

An insubordinate smooch goes to 7th District Councilwoman Delores L. McQuinn and 6th District Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson for presumably bucking what some might call the new moral majority. You know the one — the band of seven within Council that local pundits say have all but promised to promulgate Wilder's policies en masse, legitimizing the popular vote.

At last, it seems, in municipal matters it's both logical and possible to embrace reform. It's the new mayor's mandate, for Pete's sake. Still, as with any change, caveats exist. But with such sure support for Wilder, who'd proffer warnings? State Sen. Henry L. Marsh's pals, perhaps? It's no secret there's little love lost between cohorts McQuinn and Robertson and the mayor. After a chilly meeting with Council Dec. 9 when Wilder wasn't yet sworn in, he chastised McQuinn for interrupting him and attempting to steer the discussion. McQuinn dismissed the apparent tension later by insisting, "The air was not thick."

Whether or not their positions are viewed as obstructionist, the duo can be counted on to put their constituents' priorities first — such as building a teen center and reducing city real-estate taxes, respectively — before the needs of the city at large. Perhaps something can be said for district distinctions, if not the reluctance of their representatives to throw caution to the wind.



Alley Katz for 10 years in the trenches.

Little Walnut Alley, with its cobblestones, its glittering bits of bottle, its assorted stains, has never been so proud. Alley Katz, Richmond's side street to rock, celebrates its 10th birthday in the Bottom, a part of town notorious for washing away businesses with financial woes and great dark rivers. That's a decade of combat boots, sandals, stilettos and the occasional loafer beating a path over those cobblestones and onto the dusty floor of the converted tobacco warehouse that had been waiting for music to come along since the late 1800s.

Chris and Heidi Gonzales have made a warhorse out of a warehouse by following a few simple rules. Chris supports "keeping it on the table," saying honest dealings are essential to maintaining relationships with bands that may someday become big. Those venues that tried to cut corners had their doors shut for them. Also, no liquor. "Imagine 500 people on liquor at a Nashville Pussy show," he says.

The couple had help in the early days. Agents of Good Roots and Pat McGee played show after show while both they and Alley Katz were on the rise, which, Chris says, "gave us the opportunity to figure out the combination to this town." After thousands of bands have come through the old warehouse on Walnut Street, after other Bottom businesses have changed hands two or three times, it seems clear that Chris and Heidi Gonzales have unlocked something special, rowdy and very loud.



William Harrell for putting the city at ease — and on notice.

Those close to former Deputy City Manager William E. Harrell say they're psyched to see him step up to the plate as the city's interim chief administrative officer, as long as stress doesn't steal his smile. After all, his sunny disposition and customary calm are what draw people to him — oh, and his lack of ego. It's easy to understand how that quality might complement those of our macho mayor. Plus, insiders say, Harrell's the perfect go-to guy, the one who gets things done. He's also the sole deputy city manager to remain from Calvin Jamison's regime.

Will he get the full-time post as CAO? So far as interim he's had to manage the work of Wilder's transition team, ask all top city officials to reapply for their jobs and interview others for prime positions while living in a kind of perpetual job interview himself. Co-workers tease him about his nonchalant, yet impeccable, style, calling him "sartorially skilled." Described, too, as a natural, straightforward and hardworking, Harrell credits his wife, Johnna, and their two daughters as being not only his inspiration but also the keepers of his heart. We throw a genial kiss to Harrell for hanging in there and making things happen.



The James River Writers for bringing the literary community together.

The James River Writers was born three years ago when freelance journalist and author Phaedra Hise's cocktail parties collided with author David Robbin's poker nights.

Since its inauguration as a writers' conference and festival in October 2003, the organization has become host to a yearlong calendar of events, including Reading, Writing Richmond; Virginia Arts and Letters Live; the Firehouse Theatre's monthly Just! Poetry Slams; the Library of Virginia's People's Choice Awards; and Carytown Books' annual banned-book reading.

The year culminates in a two-day festival in "Booktober" featuring renowned keynote speakers, agent workshops and genre seminars, all of which focus on the tools of the trade for every kind of writer, from amateur to professional.

Run by a board of published authors and local talent, the group thrives on volunteerism. Newly appointed Executive Director Colleen Curran says, "We are devoted to building a bona fide literary scene in Richmond for writers." And the group's mission is to raise awareness of the local literary scene, "not just here, but nationwide," says Hise, who co-chairs the writers' festival. There has been no shortage of authors, poets, journalists and working or aspiring writers of every category in Richmond, but most of them have never had such a forum in which to know each other.

"We have a lot to celebrate, to unite," says Dean King, acclaimed author and the festival's first-year co-chair. "Ultimately, this will sharpen and invigorate Richmond and make it a better place to live."

For a literary calendar and more information about the James River Writers Festival, log onto www.jrwf.org.

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