Wading in the Muddy Pool

I am posting this book review on the behalf of Barnie Day. — Jim Bacon

So now comes to the literature of Virginia politics a self-published good look back, “Wading in the Muddy Pool: A Virginia Political Memoir, 1972-1982” ($15.00, Old Favorites Bookshop, PO Box 8347, Richmond, 23226) by Richmond book dealer Gary S. O’Neal.

O’Neal, who began a 10-year sojourn through Virginia’s political corridors in 1972, when he signed on as an aide to Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates John Warren Cooke, has served up a rare inside look that reads like an oral history, despite wording here and there that seems…well…a touch quaint.

I’ll translate one for you: “recently passed from the earthly scene” means somebody died.

Still, this is a good, snappy read, as much for its candid observations as anything. (The two-page memory of the House Clerk’s Office is worth the purchase price.)

Virginia politics now is a bland vanilla team sport. It used to be a game of individuals. Many of the personalities here have “passed from the earthly scene,” and won’t be recognized by anyone, even inside players, under the age of 60, or so.

A few will stir the dust of memory:

“Robert B. Ball, Sr., a Democrat from Henrico County, was a self educated man and one-time butcher who became a success in the hotel-motel business and real estate. He amassed a fortune in the 1950’s by putting pay TV sets in his motels and used to brag that he took a wheel barrow of quarters a week to the bank.”

“William Dudley, Democrat, “Bullet Bill,” a former NFL great and football star at UVA. Nice man, but fairly dense, more adept at attending local sports banquets than debating the issues of the day.”

“George Mason Green, Republican, one of the last Arlington County Republicans before the Democrats became the dominant party in that area. One of the new breed of right-wing ideologues.”

“Frank Mann, Democrat, Alexndria politician and former mayor of that city. Went back on his word to Delegate Lane (Ed Lane, of Richmond) on a committee vote at the 1973 session, a disagreeable man with little character.”

“Thomas W. Moss, Democrat, Norfolk politician, liked the ladies and the bottle.”

“Stanley Owens, Democrat, Prince William County, at that point growing somewhat senile, later known throughout the Assembly for crashing into a water fountain with his car at an Interstate 95 rest stop and then trying to bill the House of Delegates for the damage to his auto.”

“As Speaker, Philpottt (Albert Lee, of Henry County) was more politically assertive than Cooke. He saw the role of the Speaker as that of an active participant in the political process, rather than a nonpartisan referee like Speaker Cooke. I don’t mean that Cooke had no party loyalty, but he exercised it gently while A. L. used a whip.”

“Dorothy McDiarmid, Democrat from Fairfax, whose husband Hugh constantly trailed her around the Capitol.”

O’Neal has given Virginia’s political junkies a tasty appetizer (91 pages). I wish it had been an entrée.

You could do worse than buying this book.

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