Fear and Loathing: ‘A disgrace’

Fear and Loathing in Waynesboro column by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

Politics isn’t personal for me. It’s politics. Sometimes you agree, sometimes you disagree, but at the end of the day, you don’t call the person who holds a different view than you “a disgrace.”

Which is what I ended up being called by a political rival in print this week.

“It’s a rag,” Frank Lucente told The Hook for a story about the sixth anniversary of the AFP in its edition this week. “I see it as a blog for Chris Graham to attack people in the community. I think it’s a disgrace. He puts himself off as a journalist, but he’s a rumormonger.”

Funny thing, I don’t see Frank Lucente as “a disgrace.” I definitely don’t see eye to eye with him on many issues, though I have gone out of my way to try to point out where we do agree, most notably on economic development in Waynesboro, which we both think needs to expand outside of the retail and service sector that has been getting the lion’s share of the attention recenlty.

That said, to be sure, I’ve been a vocal critic of the direction that Lucente is trying to take the city in, if we can call publicly disavowing any need for long-term planning in favor of short-term projects and an emphasis on the bottom line so extreme that it fails to recognize any idea of performance measurement a direction. I’ve also been a critic of Lucente’s personal style, which comes across as condescending to city employees and women in particular, with his references in private and public settings to city councilwomen Nancy Dowdy and Lorie Smith as “the girls” as a throwback to the paternalistic and chauvinistic days of yore.

But even as I note these criticisms, I have said repeatedly that I don’t think Lucente to be a bad guy, and that I think he thinks he’s doing the right thing. It’s a sign of maturity on the part of anyone involved in politics to be able to recognize that the person on the other side of the fence is a living, breathing, sentient being with their own outlooks and insights and approaches developed over a lifetime of experiences, and that maybe we can learn from each other even as we clash over the right thing to do.

I’ve come to see that in my years in journalism and in business, and I like to tell people that I often learn more from those who don’t see things the way I do than I do from those who do, because they challenge me to think outside my comfort zone and see things that I might not have seen on my own without that challenge from the outside.

In that context, then, I wanted to believe that the more conciliatory approach that Lucente had seemed to be taking to city-council matters in recent weeks had been based on an understanding forged to some degree from reading the AFP that he had gotten his new city council off on the wrong foot with the firing of Doug Walker and the series of rookie political missteps that followed.

And then he goes out of his way to call the AFP “a rag” and “a disgrace.”

I’ve been wrong before, so it’s not breaking news that I was wrong on this one, I guess.

I assume that he’s expecting me to respond in kind, but I won’t. I’m not upset at the namecalling; I’m more saddened by it. I expect more out of someone with Lucente’s track record of public involvement and his recent tenure as a city leader than to resort to these kind of playground tactics.

And I’m still going to expect that. Mainly because the stakes, namely, the future of our city, are too important to let ourselves get bogged down in this kind of artifically-induced divisiveness that only serves to distract us from the task at hand.



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