Poverty of Imagination: Chris Graham for City Council!
We’d left our first media jobs at the News Virginian in 2000, going to work for the Charlottesville Observer, which we didn’t know when we left had just been taken over by a former Christian Coalition operative, who with the help of big-time Republican money was trying to establish a beachhead for conservatives in liberal Charlottesville.
All we knew was, we went from making around $20,000 a year to making around $25,000 a year, meaning we felt like the nouveau riche all the sudden.
The bad part wasn’t the working for a propaganda outfit, though, yeah, that was bad. It was the work environment.
The owners had no clue what they were doing, and quickly alienated advertisers, while blowing through his backers’ money like, well, Republicans spending other people’s money, which Republicans are good at.
What they’re not good at: getting return on investment.
The paper’s cash flow waned, and with that, we got the daily screamfests from the owners, a husband and wife, whose contributions to the overall efforts at the Observer included shoving off work to go to the movies mid-day, as if that was going to solve everything.
We grew to loathe going into work, but we didn’t know what else we were going to do, feeling tied to the area in terms of family and friends, but feeling stuck in a media market that even now offers little in terms of opportunity.
We’d thought from our days at the News Virginian that we’d like one day to start our own media company, thinking that the people we were working for there didn’t get it, how to do media.
We’d sit in staff meetings and talk about things like, why don’t we forge a relationship with a local radio station, a local TV station, maybe launch a website, to get ourselves more visibility?
No, was the answer from on high. We don’t need more visibility. We’re the daily newspaper. People know who we are.
Circulation then was around 11,000 daily. It’s now under 4.
Congrats, for staying on top of things.
We started paying attention at the Observer, to how things were run, and though what we saw going on there every day was far from being anything in terms of a model to emulate, we at least were able to get the basics down.
You provide content, you sell ads, that’s how it works.
When the checks started coming late, and requests were being made to, maybe hold off on cashing this one until next week, just this one time, we made the call: time to leave.
But, to where? A friend, Mark Corum, offered to set up a website for us, and we registered the domain name AugustaFreePress.com, a throwback to something I’d tried to breathe life into several years earlier.
Back in 1996, a couple of years into my career, the editor at the News Virginian had me work up an investigative piece on the growth of the local Latino immigrant community, and its impact on the local school system, social services, the police department.
I worked on the series for several months, and we edited the package into what was going to be a six-part series, which was advertised on the front page of the Friday paper one week in June, to start the next day.
The story was on the front page that night. Then it wasn’t.
I was told later that a local concerned citizen had called to talk to the publisher to express concern about the series.
What the nature of the concern was, I was not made privy to.
It was a white businessman who would go on to serve on City Council who had raised the supposed concern. My guess all along was that the publisher had shared the stories that we’d prepared with his golfing buddies, and the concern was that the reporting wasn’t racist enough.
Any case, the series was pulled, with an editor’s note proclaiming that the intent was to re-examine the reporting to make sure that the topic would get proper coverage.
Which was bullshit. I was told that night that the series was being canned.
I quit on the spot, and set out on my own.
This is early days of the Internet era, so I didn’t consider launching a news website with this as my first bit of good journalism to be an option that would end up with anybody actually reading what I’d written.
So, I found a printing company, in Elkton, paid $800, and published 500 copies of a paper that I called Augusta Free Press, and made them available for free at libraries and other places where people pick up free-distribution publications.
The publisher who nixed the stories was fired six months later, and I was back within a week of him being walked out the door; and a year later, in 1998, I was leading the newsroom through an investigative project looking at the local Latino community, and how police, the schools and other institutions were adapting to the social change.
The package won a first-place award in the 1999 Virginia Press Association news content.
A few fuck-yous appear to be in order.
Fast forward to 2002, and we have a news website, AugustaFreePress.com, which is all well and good, but nobody was making money with a news website in 2002, which meant, we have to live, we have to pay the bills.
Crystal and I gave up our apartment in Waynesboro and moved into my mom’s trailer in Crimora, and lived there for a year, while we worked to get AFP up and running.
Crystal picked up a full-time job with a book publisher, which paid off later, when we started publishing books under the AFP label, my own, and those of several local authors.
When it came time for us to move out of my mom’s trailer, and really, that time was about a day in, because she was the mom that I’d come to know and love, always asking for money, basically, we played it conservative.
Crystal had found a deal on a trailer in a park about a mile up the road from where my mom lived. I preferred the apartment in Waynesboro route, but Crystal was set on the trailer, even as I expressed fears about what would happen when we’d want to sell, and what had happened to my parents when we’d tried to buy that house in Verona.
I was outvoted, 1-1, and so, there we were, in another trailer park, this time as proud owners of our own.
I was convinced that this was it for me, that I was doomed to a life, like my parents, living in various trailers in even more various trailer parks, but we made the best of it.
We ended up living there for four years, and they were, by and large, four pretty good years.
We weren’t exactly swimming in money, but we were growing, steadily.
I picked up my first radio gig, launching a weekly sports show with my friend, Patrick Hite, on a radio station in Staunton, then taking that show, called ACC Nation, to the Internet as a podcast, with syndication across a couple of stations in Virginia.
Patrick and I later collaborated on a book, Mad About U: Four Decades of Basketball at University Hall, a history of the basketball arena at the University of Virginia, which closed in 2006.
We published that book ourselves, with Crystal tapping into her skills learned from that job that she’d had with the publisher early on in our AFP days.
The book, unfortunately, didn’t make money, and neither did the radio show, but they both led to bigger, better things later on.
Crystal, meanwhile, picked up a gig as the co-host of what became a national-award-winning local TV show, Virginia Tonight, which aired nightly on the local PBS station, WVPT.
We did all these things living in that little single-wide trailer, on a small lot in the corner of a trailer park owned by the absolute biggest assholes that I’ll never meet, slumlords who ran the park like a personal fiefdom.
Our neighbors were good people. Next door was a retired couple, artists from up north, who had moved to the Valley to be closer to family.
Behind us was a truck driver and his wife, who’d lived in the park for-damn-ever, and were among those in constant fear of running afoul of the slumlords.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pray several times a day to get the hell out of there, but I’d also be lying if I’d say I was unhappy while we were there.
We had great neighbors, great views – our kitchen window opened to a scene of the Blue Ridge that artists would fight each other to be able to render on canvas.
I biked our quiet backroads in the evenings and on weekends, and got in great shape as a result.
It was good; but, yeah, also, I wanted to get out, every single day I was there.
By 2007, five years into our run at AFP, things had progressed for us to the point where we could make that happen.
The step up was a house on Main Street in Waynesboro that was available for rent, and it was perfect for us in two respects: it wasn’t a trailer in a trailer park, and it had office space on the first floor, meaning we could still do the business stuff at home, only now, in the middle of downtown, in a professional environment.
The tentacles of poverty took one last grasp at us, though, in the form of the laws giving trailer-park owners the right to first refusal in terms of the sale of trailers located on their property.
This was the same issue that had kept my parents from being able to buy that house in Verona 30 years earlier, remember.
I can kind of see it, the logic to the laws as written. The slumlords own the property underneath the trailers sitting on them, and they want to protect themselves in terms of making sure their monthly lot rent is paid, that the people who live on their slumlord properties are on the up and up, as much as people who can only afford to live in trailer parks are on the up and up.
But, to the bullshit part of the laws. Obviously, holding credit checks that are only credit checks in calling them credit checks as the standard by which to judge worthiness is a steaming pile of bullshit.
It got to a point in our case that after having the first several people who wanted to buy our trailer rejected that we went to the credit manager at another trailer park to have them run credit checks, and we still couldn’t get through the thicket.
You’re thinking right now: it’s a mobile home, so why not just move it?
Aha, good question. I’ll answer with another question: who do you think offers these kinds of services, to move trailers?
Ding, ding, ding: trailer-park owners.
Who are more than happy to move trailers to their parks, if they have space, and you pass their credit check.
Otherwise, you have to have a buyer who can put the trailer on land, which, yep, you guessed it, people who have to resort to living in trailers don’t usually have land.
Not always the case. You drive around Augusta County enough, and you’ll see individual trailers on plots in different spots.
Just, not that many, for good reason.
So, what was going on here, in our case: the slumlords can use these laws to make it such that you just give up and surrender the trailer to them, which they of course then turn around and turn into extra money by selling it themselves once you’re out of the picture.
We called this bluff in our case, threatening to sue everybody west of the Blue Ridge, but we’re talking a few months into this nonsense with our $12,000 sale tied up in the process.
We were fortunate: that we were doing well enough to be able to wait the slumlords out, but that makes us a rare case, a very rare case, in the constituency of trailer-park residents looking to make the move from the park to the next step up.
My parents, remember, couldn’t do this, which is why it was that I had never lived in an actual house, with a foundation and the rest, until we made the move to that house in Downtown Waynesboro, when I was 35 years old.
The first slumlords in my life, way back in the 1970s, had asserted their legal right to block my parents from being able to sell their piece-of-crap 12-foot by 60-foot trailer, so all they could do was afford to pay another trailer-park owner to move it to his park, and we set up shop there, and I got to grow up in that trailer park, instead of the first one.
Academics don’t waste their grant money researching such things, but if they did, I’d be willing to wager that most people who live in trailer parks would be able to get out of them if the laws weren’t written in such a way as to make their residence permanent.
Which is to say, it’s not entirely a poverty of imagination at play here.
Poverty is very much systemic, and enforced.
Within three months of settling down in our rented home/office in Waynesboro, I was declaring my candidacy for a seat on Waynesboro City Council.
How that came about: well, it started seemingly innocently. Tom Reynolds, the sitting mayor, had announced in January that he would not seek a third term representing Ward B on the City Council in the upcoming May election, leaving the only candidate in the race a nice enough feller, I suppose, Bruce Allen, who, among other things, had a beating pulse, which probably overqualified him to be put up by the do-nothing faction that had been tilting city politics to the libertarian far right.
I asked around to my circle to see if anyone else was thinking of running for the seat, found out there was no one, and gave it some thought.
I have a degree in American government, have been covering city government as an award-winning reporter for 13 years by this point. Why the hell not?
I announced my candidacy on Feb. 1, and hit the ground running.
And, gotta say, learned a lot in the process.
For starters, while it’s easy getting signatures on the ballot-access petitions, it’s also hilarious at times.
Like, for example, the time an apparently nice senior lady asked me if I was maybe too young to be running for City Council.
Ma’am, I’m 35.
That’s great, she said.
At 35, I could run for president of the United States, I replied back.
One day, young man, you just might.
Another senior lady, when I asked if she’d sign my petition, said she would gladly do so, as long as I promised not to change Waynesboro when I got elected.
That, in a nutshell, would define what happened on Election Night, but more on that later.
Spoiler: it didn’t go well.
Waynesboro, if it can be viewed as a living, breathing entity, doesn’t want to change.
Sure, all the kids on free and reduced lunch, the industries leaving and being replaced by food and retail, the meth problem pressing our understaffed and underpaid police department, our infrastructure crumbling to the point that it takes state and federal edicts before our leaders do something, and then only at the point of a funding bayonet, but, seriously, why change?
I remember covering an Election Night from a few years prior. Standing out in the hallway outside the voter registrar’s office, waiting for the results to be posted, two old codgers engaged in a pointedly loud conversation about current city events, passing the time.
The city manager at the time, great guy named Doug Walker, had been on the job just a couple of months at this stage, but was already making waves.
You know, doing crazy things like suggesting that the city not wait to be ordered to do what we all knew needed to be done, that kind of thing.
We need to get rid of this guy before he causes trouble.
That was the thrust of the conversation outside the registrar’s office.
Right out there in the open.
Those were the stakes when I decided to run in 2008.
Reynolds was allied with two other City Council members, Lorie Smith and Nancy Dowdy, to form a 3-2 majority on the City Council, with Frank Lucente and do-nothing supplicant Tim Williams on the do-nothing side of the ledger.
Lucente’s at-large seat was back up in the 2008 election, as was Williams’.
Meaning, the outcome in May would determine the direction of city politics for at least the next two years, and as it would turn out, I’m writing this in 2019, and the vote is holding us back now, and will for the foreseeable future.
Sorry, another spoiler there.
I can’t say the experience was totally a loss, just considering the final outcome. We learned, in the crucible of that campaign, that we had the skills to be able to run a full-service marketing company one day, that one day to come in the months after the Election Night fiasco.
We raised more than $10,000 for our campaign, had campaign signs in yards all across the city, had radio and TV commercials, a big push on Facebook, which then was still relatively new to folks outside of the college scene.
The education included insight into how low people will go to gain political power.
Which started with the whisper campaign that folks associated with the Wayne Theatre Alliance, the punching bag for Lucente and his cronies, because, you know, how dare people look at a dilapidated downtown movie theatre as a possible future savior of the downtown district, had moved me into town to get me to run for City Council as their puppet.
Allen, again, genial guy, but if he has an original thought, it will be the first one for him, bless his heart. He wasn’t running for City Council because he wanted to serve and had some ideas for how to make Waynesboro a better place. The other side was propping him up to run for City Council because they knew he wouldn’t rock the boat once he got in.
It was all about, we don’t want change, and the thing that pisses me off about it the most is, it’s not just that the mentality here is, change is scary.
I mean, because I could get that. Change is scary. Even if the status quo absolutely sucks, it’s at least familiar, right?
Change can be good, if it works out, or it can be worse, if it doesn’t.
These folks running things in Waynesboro, though, aren’t scared of change because things might get worse. They’re OK with the fact that things aren’t okie-dokie for the masses in Waynesboro, because they’ve already got theirs.
And what props them up is the fact that we’re lucky if we get 20 percent of the eligible voters to turn out for May elections, and that the bulk of those showing at the polls are seniors.
And the bulk of those seniors are the retired DuPonters and GE’ers who already got theirs.
Their homes are paid for. Their kids have already gone through the school system and moved away.
Their grandkids visit in the summer, and it’s quiet here for them, as long as the bad stuff that happens on the other side of town stays on the other side of town.
So what if there are no jobs for today’s twenty- and thirty-somethings? These folks are retired, and their kids are off making somewhere else a better place to live.
The jobs that replaced them are in restaurants and retail, which, great.
We have money to spend, and more places to spend it. Awesome for us!
This young whippersnapper is talking about investing more money in our schools and into economic development.
The infrastructure? Ha. Millions of dollars literally going into the ground, in projects that won’t be done until I die.
It all sounds expensive to me, and that means my property taxes are going to go up, and for what?
Schools my grandkids won’t use, jobs that I’ll never work, water and sewer and flood improvements that I won’t be able to enjoy in my lifetime.
I’d vote for that kid, but it sounds like he wants to change everything, just like that smart-ass city manager.
Who, you know, wasn’t from here.
The other side decided to make me one of those not-from-heres.
I found this out when I knocked on doors campaigning. Doors that had already been knocked on were answered by people who told me that I was from Charlottesville, and moved here to bring liberal politics to Waynesboro.
No, ma’am, I’d say, born and raised in Crimora, just north of town.
I do have a degree from the University of Virginia, but that’s all I’ve ever had to do with Charlottesville.
That one didn’t win me any votes, oddly.
I had no idea then that telling people I had a degree from UVA would be a disqualifier.
Oh, so you think you’re smarter than me, that line of thinking.
It was the school bus ride playing out all over again.
I’m the weird kid again because I liked to read, basically.
Then, a major public controversy erupted over an effort to have one of the spring candidate forums broadcast on the local government access channel.
Crystal made an inquiry on that to one of the City Council members, who brought the idea up at a Council meeting, only to be rebuffed, the issue being, one of the candidates is a professional media guy, and might have an unfair advantage in a televised forum.
The fuck, you say?
Then the local newspaper, yes, same local newspaper where Crystal and I had met nine years prior, made the issue that this Chris Graham fellow was trying to ramrod through the proposal to have the forum televised.
Like, you know, I’d be the only person on the TV for the 90 minutes.
Fast forward to the following spring: Crystal and I are attending the Virginia Press Association awards, because our now-defunct print magazine had won several statewide honors.
Walking through the awards room, the first thing I see: a display honoring the News Virginian for its bullshit coverage of the City Council debate issue.
No good deed goes unpunished.
So, I was a pawn, also uppity, with education airs, I was trying to game the system, and then came the most awesome thing ever.
I’m an elitist.
I’ve since read the excellent biography of Alexander Hamilton written by Ron Chernow, and, first, I’m no Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton laid out the federal government and economic structure that we have followed for 200 years, that one presently being torn down, brick by brick, so that the Hotelier-in-Chief can build a Trump Tower in Moscow, but, I digress.
OK, that all said, I can identify with Hamilton. The guy was born into poverty, his parents died, he was sent to America as a sort of Hail Mary, and he made himself from there, pulling himself up by his bootstraps, which is to say, daddy didn’t give him millions.
And yet, Hamilton, in his time, was pilloried as an elitist, ironically by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, who only had anything because he was firstborn, inherited his father’s estate, then married well, and Martha had just been widowed, and got hers, too.
People like Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, two other guys with family money, styled themselves populists, and positioned the poor immigrant kid from the Caribbean who had to work for everything he ever had as the scion of the elites.
Me, in my case, I’m a kid from a trailer park, graduated second in his high-school class, degree from a top university, forged a career as an award-winning journalist out of the thin air, then decided to run for public office out of a sense that maybe I could make things work better, I’m the elitist.
Not Lucente, who made his money franchising a hot-dog stand. Not the lawyers and industrialists who treated City Hall like a personal piggy bank. Or the retirees whose votes propped them up, who made more on their pensions that I made winning awards at the newspaper.
But see, I was proposing some pretty radical things.
Like, for example, throwing money into our school system.
Yeah, I know, that automatically makes me a socialist. Everybody knows the public schools are how we indoctrinate kids into hating America.
Funny, how a generation ago, Waynesboro had maybe the best public-school system in Virginia, and city leaders had no problem spending the money necessary to make it so. It was the physicists at DuPont and the engineers at GE, who wanted their kids to grow up to be physicists and engineers.
But they’d long since left Waynesboro behind in their rear-view. The DuPonters and GE’ers still here were the people on the lines, and their perspective was, well, we got good jobs with high-school educations, or less, so what’s all this nonsense about school being so important?
Same thought when it comes to economic development.
All this stuff about how we need to have an economic-development office, people out there beating the bushes to get new business into town.
What we need, if you poll the old-timers, is to get DuPont and GE back.
This issue turned into our version of an October Surprise, in this case, a late April surprise, since the election was on the first Tuesday in May. The libertarian cabal strategized a way to get the union representing workers at Invista, then a Koch Brothers-owned company that had bought out the local DuPont operation a few years earlier, to come out on their side, using the stormwater-system improvements that I was backing as the boogieman.
A plan on the table from the city proposed system-wide improvements, funded by assessing property owners by the amount of impervious surface, which makes sense, because when you’ve got a lot of impervious surface, you’re contributing more to the problem.
That kind of thing doesn’t work for people who make more money if they don’t have to pay for the problems they create for others.
The pressure from the top eventually trickled down the pressure to the union, in essence the message being that their jobs were on the line if the people backing the stormwater proposal were to win on Election Day.
A press conference staged on the Monday a week out from the election caught the rest of us by surprise. I remember being interviewed by a local TV station about what the union folks had to say. I admitted to being dumbfounded, because no one from the union had ever reached out to me to express those concerns.
The writing was on the wall, and I’m not talking here about my campaign. I had somehow earned the endorsement of the News Virginian, in spite of their soon-to-be award-winning coverage of the debate fiasco, but the endorsement would be the high-water mark of the spring for me.
No, the writing on the wall that I’m actually referring to here involves the union. The Invista plant, today, 10 years later, employs less than a tenth the number of jobs that were on-site at the height of the DuPont era.
So, thanks for helping us win the election, but, fuck you anyway.
One side note here, and it’s a bit of a spoiler, but bear with me. The fall of 2008, I was the Democratic Party chair in Waynesboro, having taken that on after losing my City Council bid, and deciding that I wasn’t done with politics yet.
Among the many things you’ll hear me explain in detail you get to do when you run a political party committee, you get calls from people who want to volunteer.
The guy from the union who blasted me at the press conference in April tucked his tail between his legs and called, volunteering his union membership to help us work to get Barack Obama elected.
Like Barack Obama is going to be able to convince the Kochs not to send your jobs overseas.
Can’t make this shit up, folks.
It’s been 11 years, at this writing, and I still look back on that 2008 City Council campaign and think, I let everybody down.
The city manager who had been working to get Waynesboro out of 1950s thinking was let go. The new City Council majority would end up reneging on an economic-development agreement with the Wayne Theatre Alliance, delaying the opening of the theatre, now an economic driver for downtown, for eight years, infinite wisdom there.
The downtown development outfit that had been working up strategies for breathing life into the city core was defunded, making it official, that our approach to building the local economy is hoping people stop at our big boxes and chain restaurants and fast-food places on our interstate exit.
Funding for the school system was made to be a zero-sum game. The school buildings themselves, like the rest of our infrastructure, are crumbling, way outdated, in need of repair, but the City Council made it clear to the School Board, OK, fine, we can give you money for operations or for infrastructure, but both, come on, let’s be serious.
The Waynesboro that I’m writing in now in 2019 still faces these issues.
Frank Lucente, the chief do-nothing on the City Council, stepped down in 2016, but his legacy of doing nothing lives on.
Bruce Allen, the dense, though genial, fellow who cleaned my clock at the polls in 2008, is still hanging around.
The man who assumed the mantle of city manager back in 2008, Mike Hamp, super nice guy, smart guy, but afraid of his own and many other shadows, is still in the big chair, and still constrained from doing anything of consequence, other than to make sure that the trash trucks run on time, which to his credit, they pretty much do, give or take.
Now, you could argue with me that the Waynesboro of 2019 is different in some significant ways from the Waynesboro of 2008.
The Wayne Theatre eventually did open its doors, in 2016, to cite one for instance. There are a number of nice restaurants downtown that all seem to do good business. The number of empty buildings is still a little alarming, but a decade ago, downtown was basically City Hall and the post office, and when City Hall closed down for business at 5 p.m. on Friday, downtown was a ghost town until 8 a.m. Monday.
That’s not the case at all now, and then you look out at the south side of town, out near the interstate. We used to only have us an Applebee’s and WalMart, but now we have a Ruby Tuesday, a Plaza Azteca, Buffalo Wild Wings is out that way, we got a Target and Kohl’s to shop in.
That’s progress, right?
The movie theatre out there on Lew Dewitt Boulevard, also progress.
Sure. And the city had exactly nothing to do with any of it, and in fact, if you talked to the business folks that I do, you’d know that we’d have a lot more going on if the city would just get out of the way.
One good friend of ours is a partner in an effort to reuse an industrial space out near the interstate, a location that you would consider ideal for development, but not only is the city not helping with the marketing, the focus seems to be on minutiae like the city sign ordinance, and making sure that the amount of signage on the building doesn’t exceed the arcane specs.
Another friend who turned a long-vacant restaurant space into a staple on the downtown scene was met with months of delays from the city to a point where she told us several times that she was just going to cut her losses and move on.
Other projects that had gotten far enough along to get to me as a news writer to report on ended up being scuttled for similar reasons.
All of this, on top of the ongoing embarrassment involving the Wayne Theatre, which opened in spite of the best efforts of city leaders to apparently have the building just sit there, literally beside City Hall, as an eyesore, and reminder to how we’re 40 years past our heyday.
I think about this: way too much, honestly.
Particularly, I think about it every four years, when the seat in Ward B comes back up for re-election.
People ask me, not all the time, not often – there’s no groundswell of, we need Chris Graham to save Waynesboro! – but I do get the question: Chris, are you ever going to run for City Council again?
The implication being, from the well-meaning who ask, please!
I, unfairly, cite my wife in my response.
Crystal won’t let me, I say, sidestepping.
I mean, Crystal wouldn’t let me, but I’d run anyway, if I wanted to, and Crystal, begrudgingly, would be there with me, reminding me that being on City Council would cut into my ESPN broadcasting schedule, make it harder for me to train for marathons, for us to sit on our back porch on summer nights drinking Bold Rock and listening to the Alexander Hamilton soundtrack, elitists that we are.
No, the reason I won’t run again is: Waynesboro had its chance.
And, I mean, I lost in a landslide. I got 30 percent of the vote in a three-way race, in which the winner got nearly two-thirds.
In Ward A, by far the most economically depressed of the four city voting wards, I got 37 votes. Bruce Allen, stooge of the good old boys, got just short of 400.
That was an ass-whuppin’.
Way I look at it, Waynesboro said what it had to say when it came to its interest in my civic talents.
The verdict: don’t wantya, don’t needya.
Which, actually, is fine, more than fine, to tell the truth.
The time and energy that I would have put into city government, I’ve been able to put instead into, damn, so many other things.
Augusta Free Press has grown into a 2 million page views a month news website with better web metrics than the legacy newspapers in the region.
We ran a successful print magazine for five years that won prestigious awards from the Virginia Press Association.
I landed an ongoing gig broadcasting college football, baseball and soccer on ESPN.
Lost 100 pounds, took up running, ended up running the New York City Marathon.
We helped run the Waynesboro Generals for six years, and the team won two Valley League championships, and I was the radio play-by-play guy telling you all about it.
I don’t know that any of this happens if I am elected to City Council in 2008.
Maybe bigger and better things happen, you never know. I could have served a term or two on the City Council, then decided to run for the House of Delegates, built my base out from the city into the surrounding area, and ended up with an even bigger platform from which to try to make a difference.
Or maybe I just burn out from the day-to-day.
Serving on a City Council isn’t just the sexy stuff, the big projects that come to fruition, bringing jobs, approving more money for schools and instantly seeing kids getting scholarships to Harvard.
Having covered local politics as a journalist for 20-plus years, I know that the bulk of it is answering phone calls and emails from people whose trash didn’t get picked up on Tuesday, whose sewer backed up into their basement, poring over hundreds of pages of annual budgets, making sure the line items add up.
The baseball team burned me out. Summer baseball is a 12-months-a-year job that just happens to ramp up in June, July and August.
It probably says a lot about how burned out you can get when I tell you that we won the VBL championships in our last two seasons with the team, and I still couldn’t wait to get away.
Wrestling burned me out. After the gig that led to the national-TV appearance, I partnered up with a local promoter to put on shows off and on for five years, and there were some awesome times with that.
We packed 1,900 people into the Waynesboro High School gym in 2013 with a card that included four WWE Hall of Famers, for example.
Didn’t make a dime, that night, or any night, because the live-events business, we came to learn, isn’t something anybody makes money from, but damn, it was fun.
I’m now, at this writing, in my fourth year doing broadcasting work with ESPN, and also doing football play-by-play down the road at VMI.
My schedule is roughly 40 games a year, in the fall and then in the spring.
It gets grueling each season, but then there’s the winter and the summer off in between.
I run every day, almost literally, and haven’t burned out on that yet, and to this point, I’ve logged more than 8,000 miles since the spring of 2014.
Running is good because it keeps you in good physical shape, and for however long I’m out there, I’m not writing, or reading emails, or doing anything other than running, listening to music, clearing my mind.
I can’t imagine burning out on running, given that, but even if so, it’s been good for me.
The only way I imagine not burning out on politics is if you’re the type of person who feels the need to feel like you have some sort of power.
For example, that mythical person who calls about the trash not getting picked up on time.
You deal with that for them, and they feel somewhat beholden to you.
Now, extrapolate that out to, say, fixing a pothole in front of their house that’s been there for years, and nobody would ever do anything about it.
Then you vote to bring an industry with 1,000 jobs, and they get one of those jobs.
Or you’re in Congress, and you say you have a fix for Social Security or the VA.
The stakes just get bigger the higher up the ladder you go, but it all boils down to that first phone call about the trash.
I don’t get a hard-on thinking about being able to get the trash trucks running on time, which means, I’m just not cut out for the bullshit that comes with a life in politics.
So, selfishly, good for me that I didn’t get elected, I guess.
But that’s not to say that I still don’t feel like I let folks down by losing.
The hardest thing I’ve had to do, to this point in my life, was to show up at the victory party that friends threw for me on Election Night, 2008.
I mean, yeah, my clock got cleaned, but I still had just short of 1,000 votes when it was all said and done, and when I got to the party, it seemed like all 900+ or so who pulled the lever for me were there, waiting for me in the backyard.
I walked through the kitchen toward the throng, and all I could muster, as I walked out the door, was: Sorry! So sorry!