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In Spite of Ourselves

Yet this time, there’s more momentum as Richmond residents were stirred from a state of apathy to one of action. The stretch of political corruption began in the spring with former Councilman Sa’ad El-Amin’s tax-evasion charges and subsequent conviction. It heated up considerably in the summer with bribery charges against Councilwoman Gwen C. Hedgepeth.

The scandals rendered City Council insignificant — along with the political forces that have driven city politics for the last two decades. As heralded by state Sens. Henry Marsh and, more tentatively, Benjamin J. Lambert, the argument that “there’s nothing broke at City Hall” began to sound comical. So much pressure mounted that Lambert switched sides and promised to co-sponsor the mayoral legislation in January 2004.

Bureaucratic ineptitude was hardly limited to council chambers. City Manager Calvin Jamison’s City Hall and its players seemed to brandish it on cue. City Assessor James R. Vinson got the boot after lowering the assessment, and his tax bill, on his house while his neighbors saw their property taxes soar. Louis Salomonsky resigned from his council-appointed position with the Industrial Development Authority after bribery charges alleging he tried to buy a council member’s vote for mayor. One of Jamison’s assistants was charged with extorting half a million dollars of city money in part by forging the signatures of deceased Councilman Joe Brooks and former Councilman Sa’ad El-Amin, who had been sentenced to prison.

In all, six city officials came under investigation in 2003. Yet there was good stuff to remember. Downtown, a bevy of upscale apartments opened. Artists carved out space in Manchester around a sleepily waking Hull Street. Economic development projects like the new Kroger on Lombardy Street and Ukrop’s Super Market on Harrison Street defied suburban convention.

Richmond appears to move forward in spite of the shenanigans of city leaders we empower. But we can’t help imagining the day we, the people, actually choose who runs the city.

Because that person would be directly accountable to us. — Scott Bass