Commentary: Costly Silence 

As Richmond got snubbed in the state redistricting plan, where were our political leaders?

click to enlarge Former Richmond City Council President Bill Pantele. - SCOTT ELMQUIST/FILE

If former Richmond City Council President Bill Pantele were black, would he be a Richmond state senator next year? The answer: Yes. But Pantele is white. What follows are the facts about how Richmond taxpayers of all races lost hundreds of millions of long green without City Hall and City Council even putting up a fight. 

In an act of singular political courage, state Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico County, agreed to make a political sacrifice to help the Richmond region get the representation it deserves in the senate. He took the lead in convincing the Democratic majority to support a redistricting plan giving Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield counties an extra member of the state senate. Pantele, a Democrat and a resident of that Democratic-leaning district, would have been the slight favorite to win against a solid Republican challenger. 

McEachin is a savvy legislator. He knew this extra vote meant hundreds of millions in additional tax dollars being returned to taxpayers in the region as opposed to the money being shipped to other areas of the state. Why?

State funds are allocated to cities and counties according to formulas passed into law by the General Assembly. Few Richmonders know anything about this process. Making sure our area gets a fair share is one of the most important jobs of any state senator. An extra senator would have been hugely beneficial. 

The Republican majority in the House of Delegates, led in this area by another former Richmond City Council president, Manoli Loupassi, voted to support the pro-Richmond plan.

But Republican senators from our area, for purely partisan reasons, opposed the plan supported by McEachin and Loupassi to give Richmond an additional senate seat. The GOP senators convinced Gov. Bob McDonnell to veto the McEachin plan.

The Republican senators didn't like the idea of Democrat Pantele having a leg up. This is where Mayor Dwight Jones, Sen. Henry Marsh and the City Council dropped the ball — to the detriment of the region. Unlike the city leaders of Virginia Beach, who challenged the pro-Richmond plan as taking a senator away from them, Jones, Marsh, and Council President Kathy Graziano never lifted a public finger to help galvanize support for the pro-Richmond plan.

Which raises the question: Why were Pantele and the new Richmond Senate district so easily expendable? The governor may have vetoed the pro-Richmond plan, but he was objecting to the plan's extra Virginia Beach seat. He voiced no concerns about an additional Richmond senator. How could he when it met the constitutional requirements?

Had Bill Pantele been an African-American friend of the mayor, Marsh and others, would they be threatening to sue if the governor signed a bill eliminating his district?

You be the judge. S


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