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The Goldman I Knew

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With a failed mayoral bid behind him, Paul Goldman may be down but certainly isn't out.


Still, if there is one person who epitomizes the failure of City Hall over the last four years, it is Goldman. Oh, sure, Mayor Doug Wilder has been the man in charge. But he never knew how to run the city, and the voters should have known better than to elect him.


Goldman, however, was the self-proclaimed architect of a flawed populist movement, standing on Carytown street corners in his ball cap asking passersby to sign petitions supporting the change to an at-large, elected mayor.


He presented himself as an altruist, just a regular guy trying to fix what seemed broken, but Goldman actually was well-paid for his efforts. He received tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees while serving as executive director of the Mayor At-Large Referendum Campaign, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.


The lion's share of those funds — including additional pay he pocketed managing Wilder's inevitable power grab — came in donations from the same corporate leaders he hypocritically derided for supporting his mayoral opponents this year, saying their kind of influence is damaging City Hall.


When you consider that he also landed a $112,000-a-year job in Wilder's administration — a job for which he didn't have to compete — it's hard not to notice that Goldman was the only person other than Wilder to personally profit from what he touts as one of his greatest accomplishments.


And now what? Everyone from Wilder to the City Council to every other mayoral candidate agrees that the new city charter has so many inherent flaws (see the $1 million-plus in legal fees Wilder and City Council have spent fighting over who has what authority in court) that a nine-person commission has been asked to fix it.


Since Goldman dropped out of the mayoral race last week in the face of a guaranteed trouncing, there has been talk among some of the remaining candidates about bringing him back to City Hall as a policy wonk, the same role he played until Wilder tired of him before.


Look, I won't pretend to understand Goldman better than anyone else, but as Mayor Wilder's first press secretary, I worked with him nearly every day for six months in 2005. So let me tell you what I know about Goldman, the public employee.


On the positive side, I truly appreciated the unique perspective Goldman brought to complex issues that would cause most normal people's eyes to glaze over. City Hall isn't known for its creative approach to problem solving, so having a dynamic thinker around was exciting even if some of his ideas could be a bit far-fetched.


His brainstorm to start planning ahead for the financial windfall that would come with the rollback of historic tax credits, for example, was genius. That then became the basis for his City of the Future plan, a pleasant dream that has seemed impossible to implement.


On the negative side, Goldman could be a tremendous pain in the ass.


For starters, he was a loose cannon with reporters even after Wilder had forbidden him from talking to them, often alienating the administration from the media with incessant pleas for attention that simply lacked substance. Reporters would routinely call me after getting off the phone with him to complain or ask, “Is this real, or is it just Goldman?”


Usually, it was just Goldman, whose nonstop campaign mentality frankly felt reckless to those of us who were trying to run a responsible government.
He was fond of saying that the appearance of doing something was more important than actually doing something — and he took it to heart.


For instance, when launching a review of Blackberry use among the city's bureaucrats, he publicly called them costly, unnecessary perks but privately said he didn't care if we had twice their number again a year later. It was more important for the public to think we were tough.


He also came up with a plan to send money and other support to the small, impoverished city of Moss Point, Miss., whose devastation by Hurricane Katrina was overshadowed by the wreckage in New Orleans. It was a nice idea, but Goldman disregarded that City Council would have to approve the funding. Instead, he called Moss Point Mayor Xavier Bishop, who turned down other offers for help because he was led to believe the cavalry was coming from Richmond.


On a more personal level, Goldman demonstrated a blatant disregard for administrative rules, seeming to think everything from coming to work on time to using his AOL e-mail account on city computers (an attempt, I think, to circumvent open records laws and keep his correspondence from being subject to public disclosure) applied to everyone but him.


In my eight years at the city, Goldman is the only employee I know of at any level — let alone a senior executive — to whom the city manager or chief administrative officer wrote a memo reminding him of the city's office hours and requesting a list of his current projects because no one knew where he was or what he was doing.
The response was classic Goldman: a sprawling dissertation listing scores of supposed good deeds and their estimated savings to taxpayers — very little of which could be verified.


Finally, let's not forget that his brief time as a city employee ended after he was caught violating the public's trust by doing paid political consulting for Tim Kaine without preapproval. He wasn't fired for that misconduct, but he was suspended without pay for several months before ultimately resigning.
All this, and yet Goldman still felt he should be mayor.


I've actually run into Goldman a few times recently — twice as he was campaigning and once as we were both appealing parking tickets in General District Court (I won, but he lost, arguing of course that his situation was unfair).


Paul Goldman has a way of being endearing even in spite of himself, and there is no question he is a smart guy.


But he has no place — elected or appointed — in Richmond City Hall. S

Bill Farrar, a freelance writer and public-relations consultant, served as Mayor Wilder's press secretary from May 2005 to November 2005.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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