On February 19, 2008, I conducted what was perhaps the most controversial program in the history of The Schilling Show. Controversial, not because of validity of the facts presented but because of the picture of corruption painted.
By popular demand, here, to supplement my radio broadcast (listen to the podcast below), is documentation of Charlottesville’s sordid history:
PATTERN OF SUCCESSION AND+ SYSTEM OF PATRONAGE
Beginning 1970, with the exception of the years 1978-1979, in which all Charlottesville City Council seats were solely held by Caucasians, Democrat African American Councilors have served consecutively on Charlottesville City Council with one, and only one Democrat African American holding a Council seat at any one time, and with almost every African American Councilor serving for two, consecutive four-year terms.
Charles Barbour: 1970-1978
Rev. E.G. Hall: 1980-1988
Rev. Alvin Edwards: 1988-1996
Maurice Cox: 1996-2004
Kendra Hamilton: 2004-2008
Holly Edwards: 2008-
It is interesting to note that during the years 1970 to present, no African American Democrat ever ran for a council seat while an African American currently was seated on Council. The local Democrat Party leadership only nominated African Americans to run for a council seat in the years that African Americans were leaving office.
Since 1970, when the first African American was elected to Charlottesville City Council, whenever an African American was currently holding a City Council seat, Democrat African Americans who attempted to obtain a nomination from the Central Party leadership were denied. Recent examples of African Americans denied the Democratic Party leadership’s nomination during years when an African American either already was serving on Council or was running for re-election include David Simmons and Lelia Brown.
This strange pattern of succession does not appear to have happened by chance, and through the lens of statistical analysis, it seems engineered. In a March 12, 2004 discussion, a Democrat City Councilor stated that this curious pattern of succession was actually a designed “system of patronage,” wherein in 1980, after a two-year stretch of an all-white council, the local Democratic Party leadership made an agreement with the local African American community that assured one, guaranteed African American Council seat at all times.
Charlottesville Central Party Democrats’ partisan, at large elections scheme has made it easier for this “system of patronage” to occur as it enables white majority precincts to dominate and control electoral outcomes over the voting preferences of minority-majority precincts.
In an August 24, 2004 interview, Mr. Johnson, a long-time Charlottesville citizen of African American descent, implied that the Charlottesville Democratic Central Party leadership attempts to control which African Americans are allowed to serve on Council and how they should vote in office if given the nomination and Party support.
Mr. Johnson stated that in the early 1980s, he was approached by a Caucasian representative of the Charlottesville Democratic Committee as a possible candidate for City Council. In essence, he was told that since the Democratic Central Party leadership would be funding and supporting his candidacy, that, when elected, he would have to vote and do as the local Democratic Party leadership instructed him. Mr. Johnson then stated that, in light of this restriction placed upon the offer to become a candidate, he subsequently decided at that time not to run for office because he could not be beholden to the instructions of the Charlottesville Democratic Committee over his own conscience.
PARTY LEADERSHIP CONTROL OVER THE PARTISAN, AT LARGE ELECTIONS SCHEME
The pattern of succession discussed above supports a conclusion about a small, primarily Caucasian, Democrat group, wishing to manipulate the outcomes of at large Council elections in Charlottesville. However, this conclusion is also supported by comments that have been made by some prominent, local Central Party Democrats.
While an analysis of Councilors elected from 1960 to the present shows a disturbing trend of exclusion of working-class and lower socio-economic groups, of any race or ethnicity, from Council service, some members of the Democratic leadership community do not see this trend as a problem worthy of decisive action. Mr. David RePass, a former member of the City Council-appointed Elections Task Force (2004) and an active member of the Charlottesville Democratic Committee, made the following statement in a July 2004 memo entitled Problems with Ward Representation:
“…Some wards are mainly populated by working class people who do not have the time nor the flexibility in work schedule to become a Councilor.+ Professional people, self-employed, etc. are in a much better position to take on the duties of a Councilor.”
Mr. RePass’s comments are particularly troubling because an analysis of Charlottesville’s demographics would, under his assumptions, render under the current system of elections, many, if not most, of Charlottesville’s adult African American population unlikely to serve on City Council because they are neither self-employed nor professional people.
In a September 14, 2004 publicly distributed email (excerpted below), Lloyd Snook,+ then-chairman of the Charlottesville Democratic Committee, seems to substantiate Mr. Johnson’s perception that there has been concern in the black community over a mainly-white Democratic Committee selecting which African Americans could be nominated and supported for Council office:
“…The push for the ward system in the early 1980’s was not primarily a Republican issue. The real impetus for the ward system in the 1980’s was a schism in the African American community. The African American community was divided between those who were active in the Democratic Party — folks like Drewary Brown and Grace and Robert Tinsley—and those who were not —folks like the late Virginia Carrington. In the mid-1980’s there was a battle going on over who would run the local NAACP; the schism was between the same two factions. Those who were not active in the Democratic Party tried to use the NAACP as their base for local power, and they also backed Margaret Cain of the Citizen’s Party for Council in 1984. The African Americans who were active in the Citizen’s Party, and who backed the ward system, saw the issue in terms that would have to be regarded as somewhat radical — they felt that the only African Americans being put forward by the Democratic establishment were ones who were acceptable to the white power structure, and so a ward system was necessary so that the African American community could choose one of their own as a Councilor without input or control from whites who controlled the Democratic Party.…”
REFERENDUM ON THE WARD ISSUE (IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…)
In April of 1979, during the years of exception when no African American was serving on Council (1978-1979), the local branch of the NAACP approached City Council with a petition requesting a change in the City’s electoral process to include election by several wards and one at large seat.
In response to the NAACP proposal, in August of 1980, Charlottesville City Council appointed the Citizen’s Committee to Study Council Changes (CCSCC). The Committee was given the following charge:
“To investigate and report, with recommendations, the means by which Council may be made more democratic or representative by revising the composition and/or election process by which Council members are selected. The Committee is to consider the advisability as well as the feasibility of making such changes. Specific methods for consideration include: 1) use of a ward or mixed ward / at large system; 2) enlarging Council from its present five members: 3) direct
election of the mayor; 4) any other suggestions relevant to the above inquiry.”
In November of 1980 CCSCC issued a report to City Council with the following recommendation: “A majority of the Committee recommends that Council consider favorably a change in the method of election of Council to a mixed ward / at large system, with the mayor being selected by Council as at present. (Five for, two against, one abstention, one absent)” Specifically, a four ward, three at large system was proposed (Six for, one against, one abstention, one absent).
In January of 1981 Charlottesville City Council held a work session with the CCSCC. In this meeting, several pertinent comments were made. Then Mayor Frank Buck, himself a Caucasian professional and a resident of an affluent section of the city, raised the question of whether a ward system “…would not encourage the possibility of incompetent people being elected to Council through their identification with a narrow parochial issue in a particular ward.”
Ms. Susie Sherwood, a member of the CCSCC stated that she had “…not felt entirely persuaded of the necessity for making such a change (to a mixed ward at large system), but was aware of the claim by some individuals and groups that Council has not been entirely representative of community interests in the past…” The minutes of this meeting further state that, “Council seemed to agree that they wanted to hear from citizens about the issue of under representation and whether people really would want such a change in council.” City Council John Conover opined that, “…those people that currently feel underrepresented may not be likely to come to a public hearing or vote in a referendum.” City Council then scheduled a public hearing for January 19, 1981.
On January 19,1981 City Council held a public hearing on the recommendations of the CCSCC to enlarge the Council to seven members and to go to a mixed ward / at large system. Several members of the public spoke in favor of the proposal and several members of the public spoke against it. Mr. William Johnson, then president of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Justice Committee favored the change because. He suggested that, “…blacks, the poor and the needy would be better represented under a ward system.” Several speakers suggested that the issue be placed on the ballot as a referendum. Councilor John Conover suggested that, “…Council should indicate before a referendum how it will act on the voters’ choice.”
On March 10, 1981 City Council heard a report from the City Attorney detailing necessary steps to implement changes in Council size and election. By common consent, Council decided to pursue the idea of a referendum and to ask the CCSCC to work on specific procedural questions.
On May 14, 1981 City Council passed a resolution acknowledging the possibility of a November 1981 ballot referendum on the topic of changing City Council elections from the current five-member at large system and directing CCSCC to answer several specific procedural questions. Item 5 of the questions to be answered was: “Whether it is possible to provide for a City Council elected partly from wards with a significantly increased probability of election of a black member of City Council or a member residing in a historically underrepresented area of the city.”
On October 19, 1981 City Council appropriated $3,000 for the “printing and distribution of informational brochures and related expenses to inform citizens of the advisory referendum on a proposed charter change to be held during the general election on November 3, 1981.”
On November 3, 1981 the election was held and the referendum stating: “Shall the form of City Council be changed from the present Council of five members elected by the voters of the entire city to a Council composed of seven members, with four members elected from four separate wards within the City and three members elected by the voters of the entire City?” was passed.
Note that the referendum passed in three of Charlottesville’s four wards and in six of its eight precincts. The passing percentage was particularly high in the two precincts that have the highest minority populations: Rose Hill (Carver), which passed the question with 68.09% in favor; and Firehouse (Tonsler), which passed the question with 71.64% in favor.
On November 16, 1981, at the first Council meeting following the election, City Council and the public discussed the election results regarding the passed proposal to move Charlottesville elections to a mixed ward / at large system. Mr. Sherman White and Ms. Virginia Carrington, both representing the NAACP but speaking separately, expressed concern that and questioned why the referendum was not included on the Democratic Party’s sample ballot (which was distributed at the polls). Mr. Sherman White, an African American, had run for Council unsuccessfully as an Independent candidate in both 1972 and 1976; Mr. White had won election in the city’s minority-majority precincts but had failed in his bid to win office citywide.
At that meeting, Council stated its intent to hold a second referendum on the ward issue. Several other speakers, including Mr. William Johnson, questioned the stated intent of City Council to hold a second referendum on the same question. After being warned by Mayor Buck, himself an influential member of the Central Democratic Party leadership and a staunch opponent of ward based elections, that he had exceeded his allotted time in which to speak, Mr. Johnson was escorted from the Council chamber by a police officer.
Ms. Theresa Smith expressed her opposition to holding a second referendum and questioned why Mayor Buck had made a remark in the (news)paper that even though the referendum was advisory, he felt that the Council would be bound by it.
Following the public discussion, Councilor John Conover moved that a second referendum be held simultaneously with the May 4th 1982 Council elections. Councilor Elizabeth Gleason seconded the motion. Councilor Conover then elaborated on his decision by stating that he felt another referendum was required because of “a low number of voters on the issue and the closeness of the vote.” He expressed the need for the Council to establish a two-thirds response requirement for approving the referendum.
Councilor Gleason commented that a change in the system of electing Council is a very major decision, and that there had been no charges or allegations of bad government and/or lack of diverse representation on Council. She noted that before she would propose a change in the election system for Council, she would need “a very decisive request from citizens.” She further stated that the November 3 vote did not represent an overwhelming citizens’ request for change. She said she supported having the referendum on the May ballot and agreed with the two-thirds majority proposed by Councilor Conover.
Councilor E.G. Hall, the only sitting African American Councilor, supported Councilor Gleason’s comment that the vote should have been more decisive. He stated that the referendum was not a racial or income-level issue, but a concern about unfair representation. Councilor Hall concluded his remarks by stating that the referendum had been before the public and that Council should move forward.
Councilor Tom Albro commented that Councilors should keep their individual opinions on a ward / at large system for Charlottesville to themselves and focus on whether they should move on the majority opinion expressed in the referendum vote. Councilor Albro said that based on the broad support for the referendum, the issue was something that people wanted and that Council should put into effect. He concluded that he would not support a second referendum since it was “fundamentally wrong to put it before the voters a second time.”
Mayor Frank Buck questioned the validity of the November 3rd referendum since one-half of the citizens who cast votes did not vote for the referendum. He concluded by proposing that he would cast a vote in favor of the referendum if it passed by a simple majority of one, out of the total number of people who go to the polls in May.
Councilor Albro questioned the Council’s establishing standards after the citizens have already voted on the referendum.
The motion to put the referendum on the May 4, 1982 ballot was approved by the following vote: Ayes: Mr. Buck, Mr. Conover, Ms. Gleason. Noes: Mr. Albro, Dr. Hall.
On March 1, 1982 Mr. William S. Johnson again addressed the City Council accusing the Democratic members of council of “conspiring with a group of Black citizens who had recently spoken out against the mixed ward / at large system.” Mr. Johnson further spoke of his displeasure of the alleged mistreatment of Blacks.
(In an October 1, 2004 private meeting, a long-time African American resident of Charlottesville, also voiced the belief that a group of blacks that had spoken out in 1981 against a ward system had received “favors” from the white political establishment in return for their public opposition to the proposed electoral changes. He further stated that this “betrayal” had so divided the black community that the local NAACP still has not recovered its cohesiveness or its political strength.)
Later that evening, City Council approved a resolution requesting the circuit court judge to authorize the advisory referendum for the May 4, 1982 ballot by the following vote: Ayes: Mr. Buck, Mr. Conover, Ms. Gleason, Dr. Hall. Noes: Mr. Albro.
In the discussion of the issue, Councilor Albro stated that he believed the purpose of the second referendum was because the “results of the first referendum did not suit certain people in certain parties.”
Councilor Gleason stated that, “the small percentage of those voters who voted on the referendum was not indicative of the opinion of enough people in the City to merit changing the entire system.”
In the years since the election of November 3, 1981, it has been alleged, from a variety of sources, that the leadership of Charlottesville’s Central Democrat Party deliberately left any reference to the ward referendum off of their sample ballot so that voters relying only on Democrat sample ballots would not cast a vote, either way, on the referendum, This would allow any favorable results for wards to ultimately be considered inconclusive (by Councilors opposed to the measure) due to a lack of voter participation.
On March 16, 1982 City Council unanimously approved the appropriation of $3,000 to publicize the referendum on the proposed charter amendment.
On May 4, 1982 the election was held and the referendum stating: “Shall the form of City Council be changed from the present Council of five members elected by the voters of the entire city to a Council composed of seven members, with four members elected from four separate wards within the City and three members elected by the voters of the entire City?” was defeated.
Tied to an election in which the prevailing candidates campaigned against the question, including incumbent Mayor and Council candidate Frank Buck, the referendum was defeated in each of the City’s four wards and in six of its eight precincts, more narrowly in some than in others.
CHANGE WE SHOULD INSIST ON
The history delineated here should be a shame to all who have participated in and perpetuated racial manipulation in Charlottesville City Council elections. Sadly, iron-fisted, Byrd-inspired tactics continue to this day in Charlottesville.
The system can be righted rather easily, if not by ward-based elections, by non-partisan elections, which easily could be implemented by City Council through a+ change of the City charter.
The non-partisan election model, mandated for our Charlottesville School Board elections, has resulted in four African American candidates being elected in two election cycles, while only six African Americans ever have been elected to City Council in the nearly forty years since Charles Barbour first held office in 1970, under the (Democrat-favored) partisan nomination process.
The results of a non-partisan election process in Charlottesville would likely yield an all-Democrat City Council, but at least they would be the People’s Democrats, not the Party’s Democrats, unleashed from the fraud, corruption and racial manipulation that has characterized Charlottesville’s Central Party Democrats for decades.
Listen to the podcast: