by Jon Baliles

When former Governor Doug Wilder ran for Mayor in 2004, his theme was that City Hall had become a “cesspool of corruption and inefficiency.” His promise to clean it up and his tough, no-nonsense reputation led him to win 78+% of the vote in a 4-person race. People were begging for change and leadership after repeated scandals perpetrated by those who were supposedly running the government under the old Council-Manager form of government.

City Council members were arrested for various charges in the five years preceeding the change of government; one for taking a bribe for their vote, one for defrauding a legal client, and one for a fraud and tax scheme. The then-City Assessor resigned after it was discovered he lowered the assessment for his own house and billed the city for gas for a trip from Miami to Key West.

The real whopper was when the then-Assistant City Manager was busted in 2002 for a mail scheme in which he sent more than $500,000 of city money go to firms he created for work that was never done. Two of the things that finally brought the fraud to light occurred when someone noticed that two phony invoices from two of his fake companies both included the word “debris” misspelled as “debre;” the other tip off was that some invoices were signed by Council members who were no longer serving on the Council. Of course, $500,000 went out the door before it was discovered.

Over a 13-month period back then, the city saw nine public employees and elected and appointed officials who have were indicted. It was so embarrassing it led then-political commentator Larry Sabato to say, “I have frequently given thanks for Washington, D.C., with Marion Barry, because it is the only thing that keeps the national media from focusing more on the sleaze and unethical activities associated with Richmond government.”

So, here we are twenty years later and all over again we are starting to see similar stories about corruption and entitlement and scandals at City Hall, though there are no stories concerning elected officials doing anything illegal, thankfully. This time it’s an administrative problem due to a lack of attention to the basics, a lack of addressing what needs fixing and using best practices, a lack of transparency, and a lack of leadership.

Back in 2004, Doug Wilder said he would clean City Hall up and he did; sadly, today, Mayor Stoney doesn’t seem too be concerned about cleaning any of the mess up (just like those in charge twenty years ago, who also didn’t even acknowledge it), and he will just leave the cesspool for the next Mayor to drain after the election in November.

Policies? What Policies?

In recent weeks, Samuel Parker at the Times-Dispatch has thankfully gotten the paper to rediscover bulldog investigative reporting like the old days and delivered a series of stories that remove any doubt that City Hall has returned to where we were 20 years ago (and will need some real professionals to turn it around, but more on that later)… Continue reading here.

Jon Baliles is a former City of Richmond councilman. This column has been republished here with permission from his blog RVA 5×5.

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5 responses to “The Cesspool Is Back”

  1. Lefty665 Avatar

    Levar's performance as Mayor has been very much like his time at DPVA. Inept and ineffective. So much for the idea that he would grow wiser with years. His time as McAuliffe's gopher didn't help either.

  2. Marty Chapman Avatar
    Marty Chapman

    The Cesspool never left.

  3. how_it_works Avatar

    They're just as corrupt down there as they are up there.

  4. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Okay, really irritating that you cannot read Jon's whole column without going to his Substack page, which has a paywall. Either share it all or don't waste my time.

    There is still one, maybe two businesses inside the city limits I frequent. Driving down there is just depressing. Weed-choked Lee Circle (sorry, I will not call it anything else) is a symbol for the whole place. Not even a bench. It is even lousy as a simple garden. Four years after the Second Burning of Richmond, you'd think there would be an agreement on at least one or two new pieces of public art. A contractor I know says the permitting system is still horrifyingly broken. Chose to move out almost five years ago and glad as can be I wasn't around in 2020. Count me among those who expected better of Stoney.

  5. VaPragamtist Avatar

    Someone should take the time to visually depict the interconnections between Richmond city government, the DPVA, Democratic gubernatorial administrations, and alleged corruption going back decades.

    There's Stoney, former ED of the DPVA, McAuliffe deputy CM, Sec of the Commonwealth (dolling out appointments), and now mayor. Lincoln Saunders, LA to McAuliffe admin to Stoney CoS to RVA CAO.

    Going back further, there was Dwight Jones, Chairman of the DPVA and the interrelation between city government, his church, and the DPVA.

    Tim Kaine, of course, who had less formal power in Richmond government and managed to avoid all of the scandals. But between him, Mike Henry, the Clintons, and McAuliffe, there's certainly potential linkages to well-hidden corruption.

    You really have to miss Umesh Dalal, the city auditor who didn't care who he upset.

    Part 2: Louise Lucas, her family, and the City of Portsmouth.

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