Thursday, September 29, 2016

We Built This City

The Presidential debate's got nothing on the Richmond Mayorathon.

Did the Clinton/Trump shindig begin with the director of a top ten museum clutching a doll representing "The Scream" while bragging about the upcoming Edvard Munch/Jasper Johns show? I'm afraid it didn't.

Did the national event have not one but two women moderators? It did not. Nor did it have a moderator who repeatedly called out candidates who rambled without answering the question, although she wasn't consistent about it, letting some people off the hook.

Did the prez debate begin with each candidate walking out to his or her own self-selected theme song? I don't think so and although some choices were regrettably trite - "I am the Champion, "Fight Song" or ~shudder~ Dave Matthews Band - it established early on that Richmond was doing this debate thing in our usual DIY way.

Did the unpleasant big business candidate in Monday's debate get showered in a spontaneous chorus of "boos" from the crowd when he went self-servingly off-topic in the very first question of the evening like RVA's unpleasant big business candidate did tonight? No such luck.

Did the main event have a pedophile on the dais main-splaining about how, despite being known as a fighter, he works well with others to accomplish things? Um, nope.

Well, did the televised debate have a candidate who would answer a question about the city's defects by saying, "The biggest weakness is Miss Mosby not being mayor" or fake pout because she wasn't getting enough applause?

And am I the only voter concerned about a would-be mayor referring to herself in the third person?

You don't think Monday's moderator would have had the balls to pull a speed round titled "Team of Rivals" and ask each candidate to say what person running they'd pick to be part of their team and in what capacity, do you?

Or have a candidate so clueless he would respond, "I'd pick a name out of a hat" when asked to choose a specific person, or another who could - with a straight face, mind you - refer to corporate pimp Berry as a "fine southern gentleman"?

It is to laugh.

Where tonight's local version of democracy in action aligned with the all-important Presidential debate was that there was clearly one candidate who'd prepared scrupulously to talk issues and past record and, best of all, even bring humor to the table while others were known to traffic in run-on sentences, platitudes and meaningless rah-rah.

On the subject of transit and how to sell regional transit to the counties, Jon Baliles pointed to the Broad Street corridor labeled in purple on the map and said, "We need to convince the people along the purple route that bus is not a four-letter word."

Boom. And, make no mistake, by "people," he means NIMBY-type white people.

Asked about increasing the city's walkability and bikability, Baliles reminded the sold-out crowd that, "Everyone knows Richmonders are equally bad at walking, biking and driving." Affirmations like we were in church abounded.

Even when reminiscing about the James when he was a boy growing up in Stratford Hills, he managed to elicit a laugh when he said, "Back then, you didn't go in the river for fear you'd grow a second head."

No, where the Presidential debate and Richmond's Mayorathon dovetailed was that any sentient voter could plainly see there was only one viable option to lead. Even the other candidates knew it.

When asked about who they'd want on their team if elected, three of them chose Baliles. Duh. Let's hope Richmond voters in five districts are that savvy in November.

Next to me was a couple who moved to the Fan from London two weeks ago with a table and chairs ("It's a long story," they said in unison when I asked), yet here they were, out trying to learn about the people who want to run their adopted city.

Leaning in, he asked me, "We're new here. Is there a runoff if no one candidate gets at east 50% of the vote?"

I explained that if no candidate gets a majority in at least 5 of the 9 districts, there most certainly is a runoff and he seemed satisfied with that as we exited the auditorium.

Using the warm, humid and breezy night that we agreed felt like beach weather as an excuse, Mac and I ditched the post-debate reception at the museum for the greener pastures of Meadow and Park, where we could hear Janis Joplin blaring from Garnett's open windows and doors from a block away.

Inside, the air was every bit as beach-like as outside, but the music was even more enjoyable at close range and we could sup and sip while rehashing Richmond's political spectacle and the folly of a proposed riverfront project to turn the wilderness of one of our favorite walking destinations, Chapel Island, into a manicured, concrete "park."

Our sense of being at peace with the world eating strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting in the soft night air while Jefferson Airplane blared only encouraged us to believe that yes, we can elect a mayor who will move Richmond forward without selling out or diluting what makes this place so distinctive and livable.

He's only got one head, but tonight proved that was plenty. Baliles is our guy. Even the Londoners said so.


  1. Thanks! You have gone a long was in making up my mind.