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Coliseum review panel stalled after attempt to add VUU president

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 9/13/2019, 6 a.m.
New twists occurred this week in the ongoing saga of the Navy Hill District Corp. proposal to replace the Richmond ...

New twists occurred this week in the ongoing saga of the Navy Hill District Corp. proposal to replace the Richmond Coliseum.

On the political front, a five-member majority of City Council forced at least a two-week delay in the formation of an advisory commission that is to spend 90 days reviewing the proposal. They did so by rejecting a proposed slate of seven people to join the commission that already has an approved chair and vice chair, and insisting that the president of Virginia Union University be named as one of the members of the panel despite Dr. Hakim J. Lucas’ public endorsement of the project.

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Dr. Lucas

On the legal front, Paul Goldman, the leader of a drive to get an advisory referendum on the ballot so voters can register their opinion, got a little help from the Richmond Electoral Board. He also offered a compromise plan to the Richmond Circuit Court to work with the city voter registrar to check 2,079 petition signatures he claims were wrongly rejected in violation of state law and the U.S. and Virginia constitutions.

At City Council’s informal meeting on Monday, Councilman Michael J. Jones, 9th District, and Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson, 6th District, led the push to seat Dr. Lucas on the Coliseum review panel based on the claim that the recommended slate included only three black members — not enough in their view.

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Ms. Robertson

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Dr. Jones

The push came even though Dr. Jones and Ms. Robertson previously joined the rest of council to install two white men to lead the commission, former state Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer and entertainment project consultant John Gerner.

Neither Dr. Jones nor Ms. Robertson — or anyone else on City Council —proposed an African-American to serve as chair or vice chair of the commission.

Dr. Jones and Ms. Robertson lobbied for Dr. Lucas’ inclusion on the commission after receiving calls on behalf of Dr. Lucas from a group of 20 black pastors of Richmond churches, most of whom live outside the city, including the leader, the Rev. F. Todd Gray of Fifth Street Baptist Church.

The two council members insisted on Dr. Lucas even though they and other council members were aware that Richmond’s daily newspaper published an opinion piece on Dec. 9, 2018, endorsing the Navy Hill development proposal that was written by the company’s public relations consultant and signed by Dr. Lucas and Virginia State University President Makola M. Abdullah.

The newspaper has acknowledged that it later added other signatories to the online version after learning that Dr. Lucas and Dr. Abdullah had no hand in writing it.

Councilwoman Kim B. Gray, 2nd District, who led the charge to create the commission, said she couldn’t understand the effort to get an openly biased person seated on a panel whose members were supposed to be impartial.

Ms. Gray said the slate includes a racially diverse group of men and women who are experienced in the fields of development, real estate, procurement and other areas as the council had stipulated.