Museum Sign Becomes 15-Foot Political Platform 

click to enlarge With a news conference Charlie Diradour, a local developer and political adviser, jumps into the museum sign controversy. Photo by Scott Elmquist.
  • With a news conference Charlie Diradour, a local developer and political adviser, jumps into the museum sign controversy. Photo by Scott Elmquist.

It's big. It's bright. And now it's a political lightning rod.

Since Style Weekly broke the story about the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' controversial electronic sign on Dec. 7, elected officials of the past, present and future are coming out of the woodwork to take a stand.

The museum got approval from the state architectural review board on Nov. 5 to install a 15-foot-high sign that includes a 4-foot by 8-foot illuminated electronic screen on the Boulevard. Some neighbors in the Fan and Museum districts say the museum told them about the sign plan just one day before a board meeting of Fan's neighborhood association, making it obvious their feelings were superfluous.

“Let the people speak,” says Delegate Manoli Loupassi, who's looking into the matter. The museum, by law, doesn't have to get local approval or neighbors' input for its projects. But “they're part of the public,” Loupassi says of the museum. “And the public pays for them.”

On Dec. 18, former city council president and mayoral candidate Bill Pantele sent an e-mail to local state delegates, including Loupassi, and the governor's office describing the “striking lack of sensitivity and coordination when a state agency assiduously sidesteps community priorities for its own aspirations.”

There's a need for legislation that reforms how state agencies plan and communicate projects like this, he says: “The public has a right to know.”

Three days later, local developer and Fan District Association board member Charlie Diradour held an impassioned, if modestly attended, news conference on the sidewalk outside the museum. Diradour requested the governor make the museum wait 60 days before taking action on the sign.

“I urge you to help the citizens of these great neighborhoods by issuing the stay I have requested,” Diradour read aloud from a letter he'd delivered to the governor's office that morning.

Sounds mighty politician-like. Is Diradour thinking about running for office? He chuckles. “I really am hard-working with my business, my family, my commitment to my church and to the Fan District Association,” he says, “and I'm not ready to make those decisions yet.”

Diradour, who sidelines as a political adviser, ran briefly against U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor for the 7th Congressional District in 2008, but withdrew his candidacy.

Former councilman Pantele, too, hints he may be weighing a political bid.

“When the right opportunity presents itself,” he says, “I probably will get back in, because I'm just that way.” Not local politics, though — “at least for a while.” He says he's been having conversations about state-level opportunities, depending on the results of redistricting in the spring.

But Pantele also says he's been enjoying a less stressful life out of the public eye: “I don't take potholes quite as personally as I did before.”

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