An open letter to Councilman Brown

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 22, 2003

Editor, the News-Herald:

I recently sent the following letter to Councilman Charles Brown. I think your readers will find it of interest:

Although I am not, strictly speaking, one of your constituents, I am a property owner and a taxpayer residing in Suffolk and therefore feel free to ask you to elaborate on your political positions.

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Specifically, I would like to know you positions in detail with respect to remarks that were attributed to you in the Hampton Roads section of the Virginia Pilot, published on Tuesday, July 22, 2003 (&uot;Less-expensive homes sought for Suffolk&uot;).

The specific quote to which I refer reads as follows: &uot;Years back, before our city started growing, you would see our city was divided by race. Since the city started growing, you would see our city is divided now by economics, by class. Well, I would say one is as bad as the other. The city’s much stronger if we can diversify our neighborhoods.&uot;

The thrust of the article dealt with the City of Suffolk’s desire to make affordable housing available, particularly in new, upscale developments.

I find this concept a bit puzzling and I am writing yourself and other City Council members in an effort to find some answers, to learn the positions of the guardians of our local government, and to better inform the members of my community, for whom I have the singular honor and responsibility of writing and editing their newsletter.

I would agree with your point that Suffolk was once divided by race. Suffolk is a Southern city and, like all Southern cities, was once divided by race. I would agree also with the sentiment your statement implies, that racial divisions here are largely a thing of the past. We are so incredibly fortunate to live in an area where upward mobility is available to all, without respect to race or religion.

I believe this is largely a result of the military presence in Hampton Roads.

As we all know, the military services are oriented on merit far more than any other factor. I suspect that this attitude has percolated into our local communities. How many areas of the country must envy what we have here! I could write paragraphs about how satisfying I find living in Hampton Roads in general and Suffolk in particular can be.

I find one aspect of your statement puzzling. You argue that economic division (you use the word &uot;class&uot;) is as insidious as racial segregation.

This is a position I believe to be as reprehensible as it is indefensible. Dividing neighborhoods on the basis of one’s skin color is bigotry of the worst sort. Division on the basis of one’s ability to pay is something else again. Simply put and to paraphrase your words, one is NOT as bad as the other. I cannot fathom that any responsible proponent of civil rights would endorse such a position. I cannot imagine any scenario where economic circumstances can equate to racism. When I began to climb the economic ladder, I was as poor as anyone living in Suffolk today. Through my own hard work (and that of my wife), we now enjoy reasonably comfortable economic circumstances.

Economic divisions have always existed and will persist in spite of any attempt to legislate them out of existence.

Economic divisions occur on the basis of a free market. And, make no mistake, economic divisions do not respect skin color.

Please tell me how our city is made stronger &uot;if we can diversify our neighborhoods?&uot;

Which aspects of diversity contribute to the strength of our city? To what sort of diversity were you referring? Were you referring to racial, economic, religious, height, weight, eye color, hair color, or political affiliation diversity? Which of these characteristics contribute to the &uot;strength of our city?&uot;

How do they contribute? How would I, a Suffolk resident and taxpayer, benefit from such diversity?

I consider myself upwardly mobile. Like most families, we work hard to continuously improve our quality of life. Given this point, what would be my incentive to purchase an expensive house in an area where my property value would most certainly be depressed through an artificially induced presence of &uot;affordable&uot; housing? (By the way, I consider my house &uot;affordable.&uot; I wouldn’t have purchased it if I didn’t.) By definition, all housing is &uot;affordable.&uot; If it were not, what would be the motive of those who build and sell? Thus, I must conclude that, in the politically correct lexicon of the Suffolk City Council, &uot;affordable&uot; is a synonym for &uot;cheap.&uot; And just for the record, I don’t object to cheap housing. I do, however, object to calling it something it isn’t. Why do so many politicians insist upon cheapening and corrupting the language?

As a Suffolk citizen, taxpayer and voter, I insist that the free market forces dictate what houses are built and what the selling price should be, within the limits of common sense and practical zoning requirements.

I insist that the city not attempt to engage in the nefarious practice of social engineering by introducing legislation designed to artificially modify an otherwise free market.

I would like to close on a positive note. Although I consider your position on this issue to be a black cloud, like many black clouds, this one has a silver lining.

If indeed, you are truly interested in removing class boundaries in our community, I look forward to your announcement that you support a voucher program that would lead to true school choice in our community.

If you are intellectually honest and if you truly believe in removing divisions stemming from economic circumstance, you must carry this argument to its logical conclusion. Permitting our parents to select the manner in which their sons and daughters are educated will contribute far more to the dissolution of the economic divisions than any misguided attempt at legislating &uot;diversity&uot; could ever hope to achieve.

If you are sincere in your belief that, &uot;Since the city started growing, you would see our city is divided now by economics, by class,&uot; then you have no choice but to agree that education is the key to dissolving this division. Is there a better way to promote and improve Suffolk’s economic base than to ensure that all parents enjoy an equal level of opportunity for their children, without respect for divisions &uot;by economics, by class?&uot;

Once again, I look forward to what I believe will be your enthusiastic endorsement of a school choice program for our city. Given the passion and tenor of your arguments on the housing issue, I would expect nothing less.

Robert K. Jackson