Drink Their Coffee, Then the Kool-Aid

by Joe Fitzgerald

The only thing I remember from Howard Fast’s Lavette family saga is from the fourth book, The Legacy. A pragmatic leftist organizer is registering Black voters in Mississippi with two dewy-eyed liberals, and an older couple invites the three into their home. They drink coffee and the two liberals talk about the high-flown principles behind what they’re doing and what great things they hope to do for the Black community in the South.

The pragmatic leftist sees two things wrong. First, the couple is already registered; the organizers should move on to someone who’s not. Second, they’re drinking a week’s worth of coffee from a couple too proud to say anything.

Fast could be heavy-handed in his writing — but he made a good point. The people who thought they were doing the couple a favor just didn’t get it. The dew is in the eyes of proponents of the Bluestone Town Center (BTC) today.

Consider. The chair of the Planning Commission, in what was almost an aside, dismissed the concerns of neighbors of the planned development by saying they didn’t understand what it was like to need housing. The obvious question: how the hell does he know? He has no knowledge of these people other than that they’re opposed to a project he’d already decided to vote for before the meeting began. Somehow he knows what they do and do not understand.

Another planning commissioner said the opponents came from a place of privilege. Same question. How the hell does she know? Two of the strongest opponents of the project grew up in trailers. Our place of privilege is something we worked for.

Finally, a city resident apparently chosen at random by the Daily News-Record says that people opposed to the project don’t understand the need for it. How the hell does she know? That question could also be a reply to her assertion that “[Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority] and city staff can address rational concerns and still get things done right.”

Of course, they can. Although it’s worth noting that the concerns raised by two JMU scientists, Eric Pyle on geology and Jeremy Akers on airborne poultry contaminants, seemed like a surprise to HRHA and EquityPlus. HRHA’s chief addressed the health concerns by saying he grew up near a poultry farm and never got sick. Good for him. The geology concerns went unaddressed.

The former HRHA chair, now a city council member, has pushed the project as supplying housing for teachers and police officers. Members of both groups have said privately that they don’t necessarily want to live in the area they serve. Maybe the council members supporting BTC could give both groups a $12,000 annual raise to offset their housing costs. It would cost more than what BTC will cost the city but would have the fringe benefit of making it easier to recruit cops and teachers.

The other new council member, Monica Robinson, said she would reach out to the constituents targeted as needing affordable housing. This is the first time we know of that anyone in the process has suggested that. She’s the first to ask what they want, instead of what the dewy-eyed liberals think they need.

Finally, someone gets it. And those who would lead based on their own ideology are the ones who truly don’t understand the issue.
Let’s hope they don’t drink a week’s worth of coffee as part of their service.

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg. This column is a follow-up to an earlier column posted January 16. It is republished with permission from his blog, Still Not Sleeping.