I’m a single-issue voter: You got a problem with that?
And I’m not alone in this. I mean, it’s no coincidence that the current city leadership group led by retiring City Councilman Frank Lucente is tooting the Wayne Theatre dog whistle in the days leading up to next week’s elections.
Mayor Bruce Allen faces a nominal re-election challenge from an underwhelming Jerry Campbell, and a hand-picked successor to Ward A Councilman Tim Williams, Sonny Smith, has both a nominally formidable challenger (Elzena Anderson, the assistant director of the Waynesboro Public Library) and a strong personal challenge, the challenge being that he’s just not a good candidate, offering as part of his platform nonsense ideas like hiring teenagers on the city dime to clean up the banks of the South River, as if this is the biggest issue facing Waynesboro, and anything resembling a good solution if it was.
The limitations of Allen and Smith being what they are, it still seems a bit much to break out the Wayne Theatre issue to signal the haters to head to the polls in relative droves next week given the way elections have gone here in recent years.
You want to assume that there’s a method to the madness, because if Lucente and the power brokers really wanted to just screw the theatre folks one more time, it would’ve made more sense to do it quietly after the election season was over.
But no, the screwjob was put into place at a time when it could conveniently become a campaign issue.
Is this a sign that the elites who have been running local politics in Waynesboro the past few decades are feeling some vulnerability that the rest of us are missing out on?
I’ve come to refer to the approach of the Waynesboro elites to use the Wayne as a punching bag whenever things get tight politically as “waving the bloody flag,” an echo of what Southern Democrats did to win elections for 100 years after the Civil War.
Whenever it seemed that the proletarians were getting politically restless at their plight in the stratified South, Democratic elites would wave the bloody flag of the Civil War to remind them who had defended their honor from the marauding Yankee Republican hordes.
Similarly, the elites here in Waynesboro have taken to waving the bloody flag of the Wayne Theatre to remind them of the wasteful boondoggle that they have continually presented the theatre project to be.
One hindrance this time around could be that despite their best efforts to block the project from ever getting to a completion date, the Wayne re-opened two months ago to wide critical acclaim, and strong box-office success.
The $11 million project has already won the public plaudits of the local business community and the area’s representatives in the General Assembly, despite the kick in the shins from the City Council, which is trying to hold up the first installment toward $700,000 in city tax dollars earmarked for a performance agreement with the Wayne Theatre Alliance, the city and the Waynesboro Economic Development Authority.
The implications of this cutting off your nose to spite your face move should be obvious. A long-term effort to land a natural history museum in Waynesboro would seem to be in serious jeopardy should the city renege on its agreement with the Wayne Theatre. If you’re a state lawmaker considering state tax dollars for that project versus many others in other communities in the Commonwealth, how do you weigh the word of Waynesboro that it is willing to put some of its skin in the game on the museum when it did the same on the Wayne project and then backed out due to petty personal politics?
For that matter, the same considerations are at issue if you’re representing a manufacturing concern looking for a new location. Part and parcel to any arrangement landing a manufacturer in any locality anywhere is a sheaf of paperwork involving tax abatements, infrastructure improvements and workforce training. You’d have to be operating on an interesting amount of blind faith to think that any of that paper emanating from Waynesboro is worth anything given what the city is trying to pull right now with respect to its deal with the Wayne.
But this move with the Wayne isn’t about good public policy; we all know that, and have known for years that the hard-on that city elites have for sticking it to good sense isn’t about anything other than maintaining a grip on political power.
The bloody flag, the dog whistle, however it can be termed, is being used yet again to serve the elite’s naked purposes.
And then, yet, the party line from that side is that it’s those of us who see this power grab for what it is give it whatever power it has.
I was taken to task in a recent political conversation for supposedly being willing to let $140,000, the first installment on the performance agreement now in jeopardy, hold up the city’s $43 million annual budget, and by extension allowing the Wayne issue to persist as a point of divisiveness in Waynesboro, the implication being, if the Wayne falls on its sword here, the issue goes away forever, and what can they use next time?
OK, I’ll bite. Two years from now, the frequency of the dog whistle changes to tune in the natural history museum.
Or the renovations to Waynesboro High School.
Or whatever we’re going to do with the scrub brush disguised as land zoned for industrial and commercial development that we paid $3 million for in 2011 to bail out a friend of the power bloc, without any business plan with identified steps for turning that $3 million investment into something that can pay anything resembling long-term dividends.
The notion that the Wayne is the only point of division in Waynesboro political circles is at best a fundamental misunderstanding of reality, and at worst a willful misrepresentation of intentions on the part of those who are maintaining their grip on power by any means necessary.
So you ask if I’m a single-issue voter, if I’m willing to let the Wayne determine how I vote, and how I frame local politics?
You get a hell, yeah, and that’s the bottom line.
Column by Chris Graham