The word sankofa in the Akan language of Ghana, West Africa, encompasses a powerful principle. In essence, it means to move forward while learning from the past.
Richmond, with its turbulent political history of recent decades, would do well to apply this lofty goal in the search for its next mayor. From the politics of annexation of the 1970s, to the black majority regime of the 1980s, to the so-called new City Council of the 1990s, it would seem that by now we would have learned that what doesn't work in Richmond city politics is the tyranny of a select few.
Indeed, in the 21st century, Richmond's people must be led by an inspiring vision, wrought with determination and most of all with the respect and inclusion of all races and socio-economic backgrounds. A visionary mayor with the support of and heart for a cross section of Richmond's citizenry would be the appropriate choice for the city's next leader.
That appears not to be the direction in which Richmond is moving since the announcement that Mayor L. Douglas Wilder will not seek re-election. Indeed, some in Richmond's corporate community appear to be moving in reverse - prepared to repeat the city's worst mistakes by excluding lifelong residents and faithful citizens from choosing their own next leader.
The most recent cast of characters in the spotlight, prepared to reset Richmond's political stage, appear to resemble a puppet show. It stars Wilder as the puppeteer, Wilder's attorney, Richard Cullen, as the director, some in Richmond's corporate community as the producers and Hunton & Williams attorney Robert J. Grey Jr. as the puppet.ÿ
Grey, widely viewed as the corporate community's select heir to carry out Wilder's vision, is troubling at best. This is because one of the greatest tenets of leadership is that leaders must have a vision of their own. In other words, the future of the city of Richmond will be contingent upon its quality of leadership - not the showmanship that's held this city hostage for the past three years. In the advent of a hand-picked corporate representative who is cut from the same cloth, the latter is bound to occur.ÿ
Unlike the other top contenders in the race - former Wilder aide Paul Goldman, Delegate Dwight Clinton Jones and City Council President William J. Pantele - Grey has yet to announce a detailed platform. Could it be that he's focused on riding on Wilder's coattails and the truckloads of corporate dollars that his endorsement could draw?
If this happens, Grey - a longtime associate and supporter of Wilder with a Main Street pedigree - could likely be the same style of mayor that Wilder has been; moreover, he would likely act at Wilder's behest. Already, Grey's candidacy has been endorsed by Wilder's attorney, a Henrico resident and chairman of a local law firm.ÿ
It is no doubt that Grey, former president of the American Bar Association and one of my predecessors as president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters, would otherwise be a fitting candidate for mayor. But he has already tipped his hand. As one of the 26 people - including four black men, 21 white men and one woman - who have sought to overturn Richmond's will for an elected school board, he has revealed himself as one willing to make decisions that exclude some of the city's most important stakeholders. In fact, any group with interests in Richmond Public Schools that would exclude the important voices of black women - the mothers of more than 80 percent of the student body - is playing antebellum politics.
For one poised to run for mayor at large, this line of thinking is quite puzzling. With one hand Grey would advocate taking away the people's vote for the School Board. On the other, he would ask the people's votes for himself? Any mayor who is hand-picked by some of Richmond's corporate community - to the exclusion of its majority - should be suspect. Wilder's lawyer, who is not a Richmond resident, has helped his firm rake in millions of tax dollars from his representation of the mayor and the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Why would he have such great interest in Richmond's next mayor, for whom he will not even be able to vote?
Furthermore, need we be reminded that this is the same cast of characters that supported Wilder as he lost the Richmond Braves, embarrassed the city by trying to evict the School Board from City Hall, lost Police Chief Rodney Monroe and repeatedly landed the city in court over matters more pertinent to egotistical drama than to economic and social progress?ÿ
If Richmond would simply reflect on its past mistakes, voters would see this is a setup for failure. Richmond knows and deserves better. Because of its past erosion from division and strife, Richmond has invested millions of dollars with a goal of building a multiracial, public-private partnership that includes all of the city's people, the now-defunct Richmond Renaissance.
Has this been a waste? Or shall we act on what it symbolizes? That is to learn from our divisive past by building bridges between our communities for the future and respecting the principle of one person, one vote. S Terone Green, a Henrico County resident, is past president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters. Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.