In a city where politics long has been defined by black and white, the true colors of our top elected officials have been unconsciously revealed by the long green in the newly proposed city budget.
When Mayor Dwight Jones studied sociology at Virginia Union University, this phenomenon was popularly known as a Freudian slip. The Freudian part started when the usual suspects in our town began labeling the education budgets of then Mayor Doug Wilder anti-Richmond Public Schools. They pointed out in the code-word politics of River City that the student population of the city schools was more than 90 percent African-American. Wilder played into the anti-education image, allowing others to whisper that his budgets were unfair to black children. Thus, Jones used this during his campaign in 2008 to say Wilder was using education money to run up the cost of his office.
Now comes the slip part, as we discover that the superintendent, the Richmond School Board and these usual suspects are backing the Jones budget, which proposes the lowest educational funding, as a percentage of the city budget, in years — many millions less than the amount Jones once deemed unfair and vindictive to the schoolchildren and their teachers. At the same time, the Jones administration intends to spend millions more on the mayor's office, along with City Hall patronage and government bureaucracy.
As Freud so shrewdly realized, the superintendent, School Board and the Jones team have been caught in a Freudian slip. No wonder President Barack Obama said those in charge of school systems like Richmond's are fostering a terrible shame on these youngsters.
As Freud predicted, it turns out that contrary to what the mayor, superintendent and School Board have been saying publicly, they actually feel quite differently as long as Wilder isn't involved. The Jones budget funds the very anti-education, anti-black child education plan people all said was wrong: It uses educational money intended to help the children instead to pad the political and patronage, which has made our city government the most expensive and wasteful in the state.
Contrary to what they've been saying for months, the tax revenue of the city is on the rise, not a decline: Instead of the shortfall that was supposed to make it difficult to fund education in the new city budget, it turns out the mayor had millions more than claimed, yet still decided to cut education while spending more on City Hall. Moreover, he's shortchanging the schools at the very time the state has reduced its financial support of public education.
Freudianly, he's doing it without any real protest from the school superintendent, the School Board, the usual suspects who have always said such cuts hurt black children — including City Council, business and other civic leaders.
Did they think no one would do the math? State and local law expect, if not require, city school leaders to ask the mayor and City Council for the money they believe the children need, not the money they apparently knew the mayor wanted to give them. Naturally, there's no way to prove the mayor and the superintendent cut a deal to help Jones politically. So maybe it's just pure coincidence that he gets to give them a lot less than Wilder ever did, and lavish praise on Jones for giving them what they wanted.
“I'd like to help you son but you are too young to vote” is the famous line from the Eddie Cochran rock 'n' roll hit. Truth is, the Richmond Public School system stopped a long time ago, as Obama pointed out, putting the children first. To be sure, more money is no cure-all to what ails the Richmond school system.
But sometimes, as “Fast” Eddie Felton, aka Paul Newman, might say, the color of money reveals the hard truth about a city, and forces responsible adults to stop seeing things through the old black-and-white images. A recent national study found the Richmond school system was running a “dropout factory,” crushing the lives of so many of the students. As Obama said, when the school system is more than 90 percent nonwhite, who bears the burden of this unfairness? While it's not politically correct in Richmond to say it, the facts are clear: The Jones' budget feeds the same ole, same ole.
Yet the superintendent, School Board and City Council just go along to get along, loyal soldiers of the failed status quo, the children be damned.
The mayor has brought them to heel by playing to their vanity and their perks of power. He is a politician who wants total control. You have to admire his audacity, and his reading of those in elected office.
The chloroform of conformity now hangs over Richmond, north and south of the river, east and west of the Ashe statue, from Church Hill to church pew, up and down the leadership tree of our town and from the top to the basement of City Hall. The more things change, the more they remain the same. S
Paul Goldman is a longtime Democratic strategist who worked on the gubernatorial campaigns of Doug Wilder, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.
Opinions expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.