Mayor Dwight Jones and City Council claim they are making Richmond a first-tier city, a rank associated with New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. They promise high-speed trains, the best schools, 10,000 new jobs. And that was just last year.
But if actions speak louder than words, they appear to have some explaining to do. For months now, the mayor and City Council have been embroiled in a sex scandal that would be barely worthy of mention in most fourth-tier cities. Don't get me wrong: I'm not advocating that our elected leaders get involved in a first-rate sex scandal. As the country song says, that takes a little less talk and lot more action.
The mayor and City Council strongly attack those who accuse them of being all talk and no action. It appears they have a point: They don't even talk. For months the mayor, key members of his administration, City Council President Kathy Graziano, 1st District Councilman Bruce Tyler, indeed the whole council, have been silent on the following matter. They claim they did nothing wrong.
This is roughly the situation:
Back in the spring, Tyler's public liaison, Jennifer Walle, began complaining about unwanted comments about her appearance, and worse, such comments made in the workplace. Had she been a minority or gay, I suspect the matter wouldn't still be in confusing limbo some nine months later.
This only came to light after Councilman Marty Jewell raised the issue at the council's first meeting in January. He thought Walle had been denied simple justice. No one is denying the situation, nor the most serious specific allegation regarding her being physically groped by David Hathcock, the top aide to Graziano. The City Council president has refused to fire Hathcock, a decision seemingly supported by City Council and the city administration because he still has a totally political job.
Rather, the system instead has put all the pressure on the victim. There was a time when we had advocates for women's rights to prevent such things.
Our elected leaders claim they can do nothing unless the victim files a formal written complaint. Having co-written the elected mayor law enacted by the voters in 2003, such a reading of the city charter is nonsense. They seem to be hiding behind the political version of what law students learn as the “one bite rule.” This tort doctrine, boiled down, is that every dog gets one free bite. Say you're walking your dog. He's never even growled. Suddenly he bites someone. The free-bite rule says that if the dog had never done such a thing before, the owner is off the hook.
As sex scandals go, this isn't representative of a first-tier city. A fourth-rate scandal could only get this much coverage when it's the only real action to come out of City Hall in months.
Look at the facts. Tyler hasn't thought it necessary to do what other real males would do if their female aides were so treated. He hasn't held forth at City Council meetings, demanding that Hathcock be fired, defending her honor, insisting on justice. Rather, it seems he tried, or at least a fellow councilman did, to use the victim as backroom leverage to win Tyler the City Council presidency.
The mayor doubles as a practicing preacher. But he's made no sermon, issued no directive, led no prayer meeting, to explain the need to obey the Ten Commandments. The city administration is demanding that 40 percent of the funds used to construct a new jail be spent with minority contractors. The city's record on fairness in contracting is poor. Its treatment of city employees may now come into question.
City Council itself has not demanded an independent investigation into the Walle incident. Rather, it re-elected Graziano, and by default her aide Hathcock, to lead it.
The alleged victim apparently has decided she can only receive justice by bypassing City Hall and City Council.
Knowing the situation, I sympathize with Walle. She expected the system to treat her equally. But she misunderstands Richmond's identity-group politics. City leaders of a first-tier city would have spoken out, settling this responsibly months ago. Instead, we get Sgt. Schultz, from “Hogan's Heroes,” played by actor John Banner, saying, “I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!”
The victim deserved far better from Graziano, Tyler, the administration, the city attorney and down the line.
The victim here got a first-rate runaround. So at least in that respect, our leaders are keeping their promise. S
Paul Goldman is a longtime Democratic strategist and former senior policy adviser for former Mayor L. Douglas Wilder.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.