Undeserved attention

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2006

Every election needs a bad poster boy with whom to taint one candidate or the other such as Willie Horton in 1988.

The George H.W. Bush campaign ran ads featuring Horton, who was released from prison on a work release program, early parole or something like that and committed a rape or murder while he probably should have been rotting in a cell. Bush’s opponent, Michael Dukakis, was governor of Massachusetts at the time Horton was released and committed his crime.

The message Lee Atwater was trying to get across to the public on behalf of Bush was that Dukakis was soft on criminals and if you elect him, big, scary black men are going to be let out of the jails to come and kill you.

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The ad was only about a half-truth and the tactic was despicable. It also was effective and helped Bush defeat Dukakis, though he likely did not need a lot of help.

Today, on the national scene, the bad guys are disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and despised and in-the-process-of-being-disgraced Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas. The Democratic strategy for trying to take control of Congress this fall is clear: Link as many Republicans as possible to these cretins and imply that Republicans are corrupt and care more about lining their own pockets and those of their corporate contributors than they do about protecting your interests or homeland security. Moveon.org has already been running TV commercials in our market trying to link Rep. Thelma Drake to Abramoff and Delay. You’ll be seeing a lot more of that stuff between now and November.

Again, while there may be a grain or two of truth to the allegations, in most cases, like with Horton, it’s an oversimplification of a complex issue. But it will probably be effective.

Unfortunately, the same tactic is apparently being used in the Suffolk City Council election. Letter to the editor writers and callers to the News-Herald’s Sound Off line have been implying that there’s something devious going on in Suffolk borough incumbent Bobby Ralph’s apparently close relationship with developer Mickey Garcia.

There’s no denying that the two are intrinsically linked through their association with the Bank of Hampton Roads, Garcia’s political support for Ralph, and Ralph’s appointment of Garcia to a couple city boards or committees that deal with housing issues.

Be that as it may, there’s been no suggestion I’m aware of from anyone that Garcia has done anything wrong and as such I’d say he is undeserving of the type of attention he has been receiving.

Garcia is a relative newcomer to Suffolk, one who has worked hard and by all accounts prospered fabulously. It is not unusual for such circumstances to engender jealously among some, people who are likely upset that they weren’t shrewd or ambitious enough to seize opportunities he did and they resent him for it. The fact that he’s so young only compounds the animosity.

As a disclaimer, Garcia is an acquaintance and from what I’ve seen of him, I like him. I think most folks who have met him do.

By saying this, I’m not suggesting that the relationship should be off limits in the campaign. When you run for office, you are a public figure and your life is an open book.

Politics is a rough game and when you choose to play with fire (or get pretty darn close to the flame as Garcia has done), you need to be prepared to get burned. Garcia is, after all,

pretty high profile and is prospering, as are others in town, on wheeling and dealing in historic tax credits (taxpayer money) and he did acquire Suffolk taxpayer property (the Thomas Jefferson School building) at what many think was below market rate, which in my mind makes his and similar developers’ business dealings fair game for public scrutiny.

As far as I know, these deals have been scrutinized and everything found to be hunky-dorey.

I guess what I’m trying to do is put this into some type of perspective. Just as incumbents’ and their supporters’ efforts to paint the challengers as people who will wreck our quality of life by opening up the floodgates for real estate developers to create sprawl is without basis and merely a scare tactic, so too are suggestions by challengers and/or their supporters that Garcia is somehow … I don’t know, a threat to their freedom or whatever ridiculous thing it is they are trying to imply.

As far as I’m concerned, Suffolk is a better place because of work Garcia has done, even if he has made a big pile of money doing it. Our community is at a crossroads, poised to become a major, perhaps even somewhat sophisticated, player. We need to attract people with big dreams, big ideas and big ambitions, people like Garcia, not haul in the welcome mat. Suffolk’s a much better place than it was five years ago, not necessarily because of anything city officials or city council has done (if anything, they might have been selling an overly-hyped Suffolk), but largely because of the investment made by people like Garcia, Deme Panagopolous, John Brown and others. They risked their capital and labor on our community and if we are to progress, we need more like-minded outsiders to do the same.