Henry Marsh, D-Richmond, is hoping to intimidate
Gov. Mark Warner, Lt. Governor Tim Kaine, and the
Democrats in the General Assembly in a way he could
not rattle former governors Gerald Baliles and Doug
Wilder 18 years ago.
Democrats don't know what happened behind the scenes
in the 1985 gubernatorial campaign. But history is
repeating itself as Senator Marsh and his cronies -
as former Democratic Attorney General candidate and
civil rights champion Don McEachin decried Monday -
run a race-baiting campaign to defeat Richmond's
November 4th ballot referendum to allow citizens to
directly elect their mayor, a right enjoyed by
citizens of most other cities Richmond's size or
Earlier in the campaign, I called on Mr. Marsh to
stop, saying his ugly smears were ruining the
reputation of good people, and instead debate the
issues. Instead, as Mr. McEachin pointed out,
Senator Marsh and his cronies recently sent out a
political flier to only certain neighborhoods in
Richmond - you can guess which ones - containing
pictures of white politicians from back when Richard
Nixon was president. The message: Whites want to
turn back the clock to the days when an African-American
could not have been elected mayor of Richmond,
indeed, turn back the clock on all the progress made
As former Gov. Doug Wilder pointed out in a recent
forum discussing the at-large-mayor plan, Mr. Marsh
and his cronies have called him an "Uncle
Tom," a "racist" and a
"conspirator" out to hurt
For purposes of full disclosure, let me add here
that Mr. Marsh and his mouthpieces have labeled
likewise labeled me a "racist," and a lead
actor in this "conspiracy," along with
Wilder, former Republican Congressman Tom Bliley and
the 12,000 people who signed my petition to get the
elected mayor proposal on the ballot. They have even
circulated my picture on occasion for reasons which
need little explanation.
I hold no ill-will toward Marsh or his minions, for
I have to learned to accept vilification as the
price for fighting to open up our elective process.
As Virginians are discovering, taking the lead in
making real, positive fundamental change is hard
work. You expose yourself to character assassination
and disappointment. But leadership stems not from
position or authority but what is in your heart.
In this last week before election day, pro-mayor
supporters should expect the worst from opponents of
giving the people the right to elect their mayor.
People tell me it is among the most racially charged
of Marsh's efforts -- and the best funded -- fueled
by thousands of dollars for mailings, newspaper ads
and these flyers.
Good people in Richmond specifically and the
Democratic Party generally are naive about the power
of such appeals when backed by real money. The
amplitude of his message is magnified, as Marsh is
not sending his stuff to all parts of the
city, if you get my drift.
Race baiting is not new to Virginia. It may have
cost revered U.S. Senator Bill Spong his seat in
1972, and it was used against anti-segregation
champion Henry Howell in his 1973 campaign against
segregationist Mills Godwin. A friend of mine thinks
he lost a race for the House of Delegates due to a
last-minute flyer that showed him and an
African-American in a photo together. In 1989,
judging by the polls taken by the Washington Post,
the playing of the "race card" in the
final week of that gubernatorial campaign -- as
documented in Margaret Edds' book -- might have
taken away 10 percent of the vote from Doug Wilder.
Admittedly, there is never a way to know for certain
what influenced any particular voter. But you can
muster proof about tactics and, of course, election
results. So, I think it is justifiable to make
certain cause and effect conclusions.
The bottom line: Race baiting works. It shouldn't,
but it does. Racism exists in our society and
are not immune to it. So, when you see Henry Marsh
appealing to racial solidarity -- and justifying its
use on a "two wrongs make a right theory"
-- it saddens those of us who have fought so hard
against this mindset.
You want to leave your sons, like my Thomas,
something better, something to build on, you don't
want them ruled from the grave by the old,
discredited politics of this type. Dr. King was
right: Two wrongs never make a a
In political terms, Mr. Marsh now has created an
issue far bigger than the mayor-at-large referendum.
The issue now is whether Richmond can unite to move
forward, or whether it will remain two cities,
divided and diverted by bogus racial politics. We
have had too much divisive politics, from too many
people, for far too long. It is time for a new day.
Race baiters count on their ability to silence those
who should know better. If you cross them, they will
call you a "racist," label you a
"conspirator" against African-
interests, ruin you in local and state politics, and
leave your sons with that ugly smear of a name.
So, I have challenged Mr. Marsh's racial tactics at
press conferences. Donald is right, the time to
speak out is now, not after the fight is
in 1985, the tactics and rumor-mongering of the
Henry Marshes of the world were aimed at stopping
Doug Wilder from becoming the Democratic nominee for
Lt. Governor. At the time, there was a brain-numbing
fear that nominating an African-American for
statewide office would provoke a huge white backlash
and crush the Democratic Party. The fear, as
articulated by UVa pundit Larry Sabato, was
everywhere. The fear blinded good people to reality.
Now, you would think that Henry Marsh, of all
people, would have been on the front lines fighting
that fear, demanding that Wilder be given an equal
opportunity to be nominated and then take his case
to the people.
Truth is, Mr. Marsh was fanning the fear, justifying
the fear, all for his own purposes. Henry Marsh, in
the name of defending African-American voting
rights, gave aid and comfort to the enemies of
African-Americans, the big business money folks who
desperately wanted to block Wilder's nomination.
Those very same folks contacted me, dangling hints
of a monetary reward for my trying to persuade
Wilder to get out of the race. The polls, they said,
showed he could never win and would kill the ticket.
With some choice four-letter words, I told them to
for Mr. Marsh, he openly opposed Wilder's nomination
on the grounds it would be a setback for black
progress when he lost. Instead, Mr. Marsh said he
was willing to back any white candidate over Wilder,
then a state senator from Richmond, claiming that
denying him the nomination was in the best interests
Think of it: Henry Marsh aided and abetted the whole
anti-black movement against Wilder, giving cover to
those who needed to claim their opposition to
nominating a black man had nothing to do with race.
Any thinking person knew Mr. Marsh's explanation for
his actions was absurd. If the Democratic Party had
denied Wilder the nomination on the grounds of his
skin color, a backlash from across the state would
have sunk the Party for at least a generation. To
the whole nation, Virginia Democrats would have been
branded a bunch of "you know whats".
Marsh didn't care about that. Instead, he allowed
himself to be used by a group of folks who needed
someone to lead the public fight against Wilder in
Richmond. I am not saying he got paid to do it or
made any money from it. Rather, he wanted to be seen
as a kingmaker in Democratic state politics.
I don't fault him for wanting to be seen as a
power-broker. This has been his calling for some
In 1985, the Richmond delegation was the key in the
fight for the 1985 Democratic nomination for
governor. Jerry Baliles needed Richmond to defeat
the favored Dick Davis. Needless to say, Wilder's
candidacy for lieutenant governor would have
collapsed if he couldn't even win the delegates in
his home City.
Mr. Marsh knew all this. So he cut a deal: He would
lead the fight in the African-American community to
stop Wilder, then aligned with Baliles, from winning
delegates at the Richmond Mass Meeting to elect the
city's delegation to the State Democratic
sure, Mr. Marsh was supporting Mr. Davis, so he had
legitimate reasons to oppose the Baliles-Wilder
alliance. Yet Davis was publicly backing the Wilder
candidacy for lieutenant governor, so Marsh's
opposition to Wilder was not ordered by the Davis
To repeat: I don't object to Mr. Marsh trying to be
a kingmaker or cutting whatever deal he could for
his own self-interest. He wanted to be the "go
to" guy for a future Gov. Davis. Lobbyists and
power brokers strive mightily to achieve that status
with any incoming governor. So, Mr. Marsh was just
doing what hardball politicians do: He was looking
for an opportunity for himself, and he took it.
I can respect that.
But the subject today is race baiting, the use of
racial politics to divide and inflame, to fracture a
city so desperately in need of a unifying and
hopeful figure invested with that moral authority by
all the people.
If Marsh had succeeded and the anti-black politics
of 1985 had scuttled a Wilder nomination, we would
not have had a Democratic governor in 1985. The
ticket would have been crushed.
The same will be true if Mr. Marsh's race baiting
succeeds next week. The public, the press, and
Republicans will ask: Where was the leadership of
the Democratic Party when it was needed to fight
this mean-spirited racial politics? Don McEachin has
given the Party a heads-up on this question, telling
them silence is a risk they can not afford to take.
True, we Democrats are not responsible for Mr.
Marsh's tactics. But we are Democrats and we have
always believed you can not stop prejudice by
fostering it. We have regularly and publicly
challenged GOP tactics we felt were race baiting.
So the public will look to see if we have the
courage of our convictions. Or do we just condemn
the playing of the race card when it suits our
now, Richmond is ground zero in the fight for
Virginia's soul. The issue on the November 4th
ballot, thanks to Mr. Marsh's tactics, could
reverberate around the state should he succeed.
now, Henry Marsh is a heat-seeking missile aimed at
Tim Kaine's 2005 gubernatorial campaign. He could
bring down the whole Democratic ticket.
Why is this so?
Let's do the 2005 electoral math. Kaine barely won
in 2001. He will fare far, far worse in Western
Virginia against Jerry Kilgore, the first
honest-to-goodness Southwesterner running for
governor in almost two generations. Yes, Tim is the
son-in-law of Linwood Holton, the last son of the
outhwest to be governor. But if Democrats think this
will trump the Kilgore connection, they have a
serious brain cramp. Kilgore will run up big numbers
in Western Virginia.
As for Northern Virginia, the LG can do better in
2005 than he did in 2001. But if he does, he's not
likely to widen the margin enough to offset losses
in Western Virginia. He certainly can't match
Warner's 2001 margin in NOVA. And the governor,
remember, won the statewide vote only narrowly and,
in large measure, thanks to a strong performance in
Here is the political straightjacket that Senator
Marsh is creating for us Democrats. For Kaine to
win, he must do one of two things. Either (1) run up
the biggest margin in a generation in Tidewater, an
area of the state that has become increasingly more
Republican than when Baliles ran up those big
numbers in 1985, win a far bigger margin in Richmond
than in 2001 and run better in the rest of the
Central Virginia media market. Or (2) run much
better in Tidewater than he did in 2001, run
considerably better than Baliles did in the Central
Virginia media market, including a record margin
in Richmond, topping Wilder's mark in 1989 when
we had an all-time record turnout.
Admittedly, one can tweak these numbers here and
there, and come up with other 50.1 percent
scenarios. But no matter how you massage the data,
there is one clear and overwhelming fact: If the
swing voters of Central Virginia, and especially
Richmond, don't support Tim Kaine in big numbers,
the electoral mathematics in 2005 is skewed strongly
toward Mr. Kilgore, more so than at the start of any
gubernatorial campaign in modern history. Doug
Wilder is the only Democrat to come from behind in
his own polls to win the governorship.
So I ask you: How can Henry Marsh's race-baiting
campaign, played out in front of the whole Central
Virginia media market, indeed the whole state,
possibly help Tim Kaine or any statewide party
nominee in 2005 if Democrats are seen as not making
a real, public effort to denounce those tactics?
Answer: It can't help us. Now, if Marsh loses, then
Democrats will probably dodge this political bullet,
although they will have missed a great opportunity
to do the right thing. But if he succeeds, then we
will have put ourselves in a terrible political
Yes, I know it is not fair to hold us accountable
for Mr. Marsh. But politics is not fair, as JFK
observed. If Marsh succeeds, Democrats will be held
accountable if the public believes we lacked the
principles to oppose his race-baiting tactics.
There is no useful reason to put us in this
position. For there is absolutely nothing to gain,
and potentially everything to lose, by failing to
denounce Mr. Marsh's tactics.
I defy anyone to analyze the election statistics and
arrive at a different conclusion.
-- October 28, 2003