Winners and losers in Wayne debate

Column by Chris Graham

The Wayne Theatre issue is all over but for the cryin’ – which promises to go on for some time despite the apparent resolution of the debate over whether or not the city should partner with the Wayne Theatre Alliance in a public-private project to turn the 81-year-old theatre building into a regional performing-arts center.

Now seems as good a time as any to come up with a list of winners and losers in the Wayne debate.

Winner – The Wayne Theatre Alliance

You have to hand it to them. I didn’t think it would happen – that city council would ever decide to join in on the public part of the public-private project that has been in the works for the better part of eight years now.

It was close in 2005 before an afternoon-of-the-vote switch moved Tim Williams into the WTA naysayer camp and killed a deal that would have had the project close to an opening this summer.

And as recently as a couple of weeks ago, the latest switch – featuring vice mayor Nancy Dowdy and council member Lorie Smith – had some WTA board members threatening to pull the plug on the whole project.

They weren’t dealt the best hand, but they played it pretty well.

Loser – The Naysayers

That scene last night at city hall was at the least embarrassing and at the most the last gasp of the old-line hardliners who did their best over the course of the past half-century to keep Waynesboro from being associated with the word progress.

Mayor Tom Reynolds was roundly booed by the naysayers in attendance when he kicked off the discussion of the Wayne funding issue with the disclaimer that it was not the subject of a public hearing. More boos were forthcoming during a public hearing on the city tax rate that followed when speakers who wanted to offer positive words on the Wayne took their turns at the lectern.

One Wayne supporter leaving the council meeting felt the need to ask for protection as she made her way to her car to head home.

One approach to this kind of organized political activity – and don’t misunderstand here, it was organized; people held up premade placards to urge council to vote no on a tax increase and made their points known verbally almost on command – would be to come out in full force, sign up speaker after speaker after speaker to take part in the public hearing, then take the high road and prepare to go all-out to throw the bums out in the next election cycle.

That the organized political activity seen last night resembled more a beer-hall putsch than the respectful kind of local politicking that you would expect in a city that advertises itself as Hospitality in the Valley is a sign that the naysayers know that the jig is just about up for them.

Winner – Tom Reynolds

Reynolds was the only member of the majority in last night’s vote not to flip-flop on the issue.

Word on the streets is that he is considering making a run at a third term on city council next year. He would be a shoo-in if he were to throw his hat into the ring.

Losers – Nancy Dowdy and Lorie Smith

They complained during their campaigns last spring that the Wayne issue was being politicized to use as fodder against them – and said the Wayne was a dead issue.

Then they brought it back up of their own volition in March and said that they would support giving a million dollars in city money to the Wayne.

Then they reversed themselves in April – saying that a long list of identified city needs, including improvements to the stormwater-runoff system and city parks, outweighed any need to assist the WTA.

Then they reversed themselves again at the end of April and …

Phew!

The saving grace for these two is that their seats don’t come up for re-election until 2010. And that Virginia doesn’t have a California-style recall provision on the books.

Loser – Frank Lucente

Where to begin with this guy … who played the mob last night the way Miles Davis used to play the trumpet.

“I do not believe the city should be a funder of any private incentive initatives on this level – and the council seemed to agree with me when we voted 5-0 not to be the primary funder of such iniatives,” Lucente said as he read from a prepared statement.

It doesn’t take a degree in applied mathematics to figure out that he’s spinning there. The city will not be a primary funder for the project to renovate the Wayne – the project laid out by the WTA will cost an estimated $5.4 million, the bulk of which is coming from private donors.

“You can argue what primary means, but when the city is planning to give a million dollars to a private enterprise, in my mind we are a primary funder,” Lucente said.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, primary is defined as 1: first in order of time or development, 2 a: of first rank, importance, or value, b: basic, fundamental.

The $1 million – if that amount actually goes to the WTA down the road – would constitute less than 20 percent of the overall costs of the project.

Primary?

Moving on … “Personal feelings are not the issue here – what makes sense for all the citizens of Waynesboro is. And funding the Wayne Theatre with public money and public funds does not,” Lucente said last night.

Well, and to also address the idea that the city should not be “a funder of any private incentive initiatives on this level,” what are we to make, then, of the involvement of the city in a deal with the private developer from North Carolina that is turning the old Outlet Village into something to be called the Waynesboro Town Center?

That deal didn’t come to fruition until the city agreed in January 2006 to refund up to $6.5 million in taxes generated by the Town Center back to the developer – that’s $6.5 million in taxes that another developer that could have done its own financing without having to go to the public sector for help wouldn’t have had to take from funds that could otherwise go to improve the city school system and stormwater-runoff system and the city parks and …

Voting with the 5-0 unanimous majority in favor of this funding toward private incentive initiatives was Frank Lucente.

It’s one thing to espouse the notion that one has principles. It’s another to actually follow those principles.

Loser – Tim Williams

Like Smith and Dowdy, he’s a flip-flopper in the mold of John Kerry – it was his switch in time in 2005 that dragged the Wayne drama out for another 20 months.

And then Monday night comes, and Williams lets the moment pass as he sits mute on the dais.

Give Lucente credit – at least he said his piece, misguided though he was.

Is Tim Williams seriously the best that Ward A has to offer? Maybe we ought to consider then going to all at-large elections.

(Originally published on 05-01-07)

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