Rebel With a Cause

Paul Goldman

Avoiding a Dem Disaster in 2005


Once again, Henry Marsh's race-baiting politics threaten a Democrat's chance to become governor. Democrats need to speak out.


Sen. 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.


Most 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 bigger.

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 in Richmond.

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 African-Americans.

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 African-

Americans 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 right.

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-

American 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 over.

Back 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 get lost.


As 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 of African-

Americans and Democrats.

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 time.

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 Convention.

For 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 campaign.

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 political purposes?

Right 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.


Right 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 Western Virginia.

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 position.

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


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Paul Goldman, the Rebel With a Cause, was chief political strategist for the past two winning Democratic governors in Virginia and was credited with leading a "revolution in American politics" by The New York Times for his role in breaking America's 300-year-old color barrier in national politics.


You can reach him at