Not so long ago, Richmond was one crazy town. Most mornings, the newspaper offered a guaranteed gasp or giggle with your first sip of coffee. On Richmond City Council we had a heroin addict, a Baptist-minister mayor convicted of fraud and racketeering, and a councilwoman performing an exorcism on the roof of City Hall, and we had a commonwealth's attorney who threw more punches than Joan Collins and Linda Evans in an episode of Dynasty .
Wasn't it great?
Recently, though, it has seemed as if grown-ups finally took over. The relative calm has been good news if you want a local government led by sensible, productive people.
It's bad news if you are a columnist, especially one whose job it is to expose the absurdities of our great but flawed town. Yes, I delight in drawing the silly mustache on the oh-so-serious portrait of Richmond, but my job is a lot more fun when the city grows one itself.
So check out the handlebar Richmond is currently sporting, thanks to scandal at City Council, stupidity in the police department and ugliness in county politics. Yes, that's right. The circus is back in town.
In the center ring, we have an alleged sexual-harassment scandal involving two City Council aides, Jennifer M. Walle and David Hathcock. The Days of Our Lives version goes like this: Back in April of last year, alone in Walle's office together, Hathcock allegedly got a little handsy. In an e-mail exchange, Walle, who is aide to Councilman Bruce Tyler, accused Hathcock, who is Council President Kathy Graziano's aide, of touching her and making inappropriate comments about his feelings for her. Hathcock responded, "I had the same thought. You are right."
Sounds like this woman knows how to handle herself. She confronted the aggressor, who dutifully tucked his tail, or something, between his legs and slunk off in shame.
Not so fast, because politics didn't get its chance to perform its juggling act. So some eight months later, Councilman Marty Jewell accuses Graziano of mishandling the situation, not taking it seriously enough — just as Council is preparing to reelect officers. Graziano is reelected president anyway, but Walle files a complaint with the EEOC alleging that Graziano tried to force her out over the incident.
Meanwhile, after coasting through a few quiet years of its own, the clowns have returned to the Richmond Police Department. First, the department bungled a Freedom of Information Act request from a self-proclaimed anarchy group called The Wingnut collective by providing police- procedure manuals without approval from Police Chief Bryan Norwood. Realizing its error, the department only made it worse by suing the group's leader to get the documents back, an idiotic move from both a legal and public- relations standpoint.
Over in Chesterfield, the Board of Supervisors appears to be attempting some sleight-of-hand magic. Now you see Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Jim Holland, the board's lone Democrat and possibly first black chairman, being elected chairman! Now you don't!
It has been customary for vice chairmen to be elected to the chairmanship in the subsequent term, and it appeared Holland would so be elected. Alliances were forged, promises made and then ... et tu, Art Warren? Somehow, Warren, who has been on the board for more than 20 years, was elected chairman for the third time in four years.
Oh, the drama! Like something out of the opera ...
Yes! How can we forget the Virginia Opera, engaged in a knife-throwing act of its own, by ousting longtime artistic director Peter Mark.
In a delicious twist, Mark announced early this year that he is starting a new statewide opera company. Competing operas with bad blood between them? Scandal in City Hall? Bungling police and dirty politics?
And just think. We have front-row seats.