-7 The city declares war on the really big issues (how we have fun).
It would be easy to explain away City Hall's puritanical assaults on night life and music as the natural byproducts of having a Baptist preacher for a mayor. Anyone remember “Footloose”? But this town has been waging a war on the local music scene — and its young people — for years (the previous two mayoral administrations proposed their own fun-killing initiatives).
What makes this year different is that the city's inexplicable quest to live up to its reputation as “The City That Fun Forgot” can no longer be denied by anyone able to read news headlines.
City Council, led by 2nd District Councilman Charles Samuels, unanimously passes a new noise ordinance, arguing that it's a dire emergency. When a general district court judge rules the ordinance unconstitutional, council claims it knew all along that it had passed a bad law. Why this particular law had to be as restrictive and punitive as possible is never explained.
The mayor's office soon joins with council — in an effort again spearheaded by Samuels — to unanimously pass a new dance hall ordinance to address violence occurring outside Shockoe Bottom nightclubs. Council votes in favor of this ordinance on the consent agenda, which is where it normally places uncontroversial votes — hello? The new law's passage is an emergency, the members once again claim — never mind that, statistically, violence is down in the Bottom and the law fails to address the immediate problem, seeming to worry instead that too many people are dancing in clubs.
Only boosters wearing blinders can feign surprise when nightclub owners and promoters travel to City Hall to apply for their new dance hall licenses, only to be told that no process is in place for them to comply with the just-passed law.
The punch lines to all of this civic slapstick come at the end of the year, when Mayor Jones trumpets his grand plan to attract young people downtown — an outdoor skating rink next to CenterStage that opens two days before Christmas (!) — and the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce announces that its members (along with some City Hall employees) will take their annual booster-driven intercity jaunt to Austin, Texas, the live music capital of the nation, to study that town's relative success in the wake of the recession.
Put it another way: The instigators of Richmond's ongoing war on nightlife plan to embark on a taxpayer-funded road trip to a town that champions its local music scene in order to find out how that community has been able to attract and retain young people and new businesses — and why Richmond continues to shed both at the speed of sound.
Don't you wonder what they'll find?
[image-2]-5 Republicans rule the roost in 2010, but mostly forget about you.
Having recast himself as a moderate, Robert F. McDonnell is inaugurated as governor following eight years of Democrats. Attorney General Kenneth N. Cuccinelli, an incorrigible hard-right conservative, quickly outshines McDonnell with a series of dramatic moves that bring national attention. And Eric I. Cantor, a Republican congressman from Henrico County and a favorite of Richmond's ruling elite, is slotted to be House majority leader following a Republican rout in November Congressional elections.
The year starts out well for them all. Photogenic McDonnell is picked to deliver the Republican rebuttal to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. Then things hit big bumps. McDonnell goes through a partial meltdown by carelessly failing to mention slavery in a pronouncement on Confederate History Month. His plans to raise money for the state's depleted transportation budget go nowhere after his offshore oil drilling plans get Deepwater Horizoned. His complex scheme to sell off state-owned liquor stores gets nowhere.
While McDonnell fiddles, Cuccinelli burns. Nicknamed the Cooch, he launches a series of initiatives in big plays for the hard right. He refuses to extend state protection for gays employed by state universities, tries to cover up the lady's breast on the state emblem and leads a court attack on ObamaCare. He torments the University of Virginia by going after a former professor who concludes that human activity creates global warming. Cuccinelli becomes a regular on Fox News, setting himself up for bigger things.
Cantor basks in his position as a Main Street Republican and big-time fundraiser. Trying to keep up with the anti-Obama backlash, Cantor co-writes a political tome titled “Young Guns” that decries federal spending, while leading a charge to fund an engine for a new jet fighter that the Pentagon doesn't want (the builder's North American headquarters is in Virginia). With the shellacking that Obama takes in November, Cantor moves up from House minority whip to House majority leader, a big step indeed.
Stay tuned for more jockeying in 2011? McDonnell is casting himself as a “jobs” governor and sets sights on a massive road-building campaign. The Cooch is still a superstar who could run for governor or senator, especially if Democrat Sen. Jim Webb decides against another run. Cuccinelli already is trying to undercut other GOP threats, such as Corey A. Stewart, a supervisor from Prince William County whose claim to fame is harassing Hispanic immigrants. Cantor, meanwhile, will rise steadily as the solid, if lackluster, Republican congressional leader.