City Council sometimes reached Jerry Springer levels, but it did a lot in 2001. 

The Fearless Leaders

Richmond's irrepressible City Council gave people something to talk about this year — over and over again. Headlines alternately trumpet members' controversial decisions to fund downtown development and their bizarre adventures outside Council chambers.

Overall, 2001 is defined by "the repopulation of the city," says Vice-Mayor Joseph E. Brooks — "not just with residents but with businesses." He cites a lengthy list of projects Council approved including Dominion Resources' new riverfront building, the demolition of the stagnant 6th Street Marketplace and the reclamation of the old Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimers department-store buildings. "All the little things add up to a sort of progress report," Brooks says.

Councilman Manoli Loupassi, 1st District, agrees. "We've had a lot of successes," he says, "but those successes don't get magnified in the press." Retailers' return to the city and the Neighborhoods in Bloom community rebuilding program went unheralded, Loupassi says, while everyone was gossiping about "distractions."

From shouting matches to lawsuits to questionable vacations, Council members' foibles often steal the spotlight from their decision-making.

All eyes are on Councilwoman Reva Trammell in January, when she goes on trial for allegedly violating the city charter by giving direct orders to two city employees in the fall of 2000. When the case is dismissed, Trammell demands the city pay for the $28,000 in legal expenses she'd incurred. Fortunately for taxpayers, her lawyers say to forget the fees.

Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin is spared prosecution for a trip to Jamaica that was originally funded by taxpayers (he pays back the $1,600). His luck turns later in the year; in March, El-Amin reports being robbed at gunpoint, and a few months later his car collides with a taxicab. Last week he announced he won't run for re-election.

In May, Councilwoman Gwen C. Hedgepeth to pressure the city to fund a community center in her 9th District begins a fast that lasts more than a month. She also asks the city clerk's office to contact Oprah Winfrey and Wendy's founder Dave Thomas to request donations for the center.

And most recently, protesters, donning signs badges and even a devil suit, flood Council's chambers on Nov. 26 to shout down Dominion Resources' plans for a new building on the bank of the James. They fail to faze the Council members, who approve the plan unanimously.

Mayor Rudy McCollum is sanguine about Council members' ups and downs. "A couple things that have occurred have helped us fill the holes in the dike, so to speak, on some policy issues," he says — referring to the arguments over salaries, vacation time and use of city cars. The disputes aren't extreme, says Councilwoman Delores McQuinn, 7th District. "It's no different from what goes on in other places," she says. "The difference is ours is televised."

What's in store for next year? McCollum says he hopes to see Council members overcome their differences and begin working more as a team. Loupassi points out that at least the city is moving in the right direction economically. "It's almost in spite of its politics that it's doing as well as it is."

And McQuinn is optimistic as well. "You have to look at where we were as a city," she says. "We are turning. We are making that 360-degree turn." — Melissa Scott Sinclair

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