Red herring

9/10/2020, 6 p.m.
We were surprised by Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette W. McEachin asking the Richmond Circuit Court to appoint a special prosecutor ...

We were surprised by Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette W. McEachin asking the Richmond Circuit Court to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Mayor Levar M. Stoney violated any laws in handling the removal of the city-owned Confederate statues.

We believe Mrs. McEachin, with a history of being a stand-up lawyer, is using this as a way to cover herself in what is becoming a political sideshow launched by City Councilwoman Kim B. Gray in her attempt to unseat the mayor in the November election.

In mid- to late August, Ms. Gray sent a letter to Mrs. McEachin saying that a probe was needed to determine whether any “procurement rules were violated and whether any criminal charges are warranted” because of Mayor Stoney using $1.8 million in city Department of Public Works funds to hire NAH LLC to remove the Confederate statues from Monument Avenue and several others around the city.

When recent protests over police brutality and racial injustice rocked the city and caused millions in property damage, City Council declared a local emergency that gave Mayor Stoney emergency powers. He used those emergency powers to order the removal of the Confederate statues after protesters toppled several in the city, including that of Jefferson Davis on Monument Avenue, two around the Virginia Commonwealth University campus and the statue of Columbus in Byrd Park, causing major safety concerns.

Ms. Gray was part of a unanimous City Council consensus at the time backing removal of the statues. She also joined the council on June 8 in granting the mayor authority to deal with the civil unrest in the city after Gov. Ralph S. Northam declared it an emergency.

Mayor Stoney’s administration awarded the no-bid contract to the Newport News-based company to remove the remaining city-owned statues. The company has ties to a man who has donated $4,000 to Mayor Stoney’s political action committees and campaigns since 2016, according to records.

The administration has said NAH was chosen after several companies turned down the job.

But Ms. Gray claims that raises suspicions.

We believe this is all a distraction and red herring pulling focus away from the more important issues facing the city, including police reform, the excessive methods and force Richmond Police continue to use on protesters and the severe and widespread health, economic, education and social impacts of COVID-19 on Richmond residents, schoolchildren, parents, workers and businesses.

We see this as a ploy by a mayoral candidate to use the divisions over the statues’ removal as a wedge to gain an advantage in the Nov. 3 election.

What a shame.

The Richmond City Council, including Ms. Gray, and Mayor Stoney and his administration should be sharply focused and steadily working on these critical issues, not sucked into a special investigator’s probe of how the statues were taken down.

The racist statues are down; they should have been down a long time ago. Period. Stop.

Is there enough smoke here to call in the fire brigade? We believe not.

We would hate to see this situation devolve into a political epidemic such as that sweeping Portsmouth. The current crisis in Portsmouth started with public protests and the toppling of one of the statues on a Confederate monument in town square.

But an underlying racial sickness in Portsmouth allowed the situation to snowball, leading in the last three weeks to inane charges against state Sen. Louise Lucas, one of the highest-ranking African-Americans in the General Assembly; her daughter and vice mayor of Portsmouth City Council; and nearly 20 others, including a Portsmouth School Board member, two officers of the local NAACP; and several members of the public defender’s office; the suspension of the Portsmouth police chief; the resignation of the city manager; and the firing of the city attorney.

We would hate to see Richmond, a city also dealing with a racial undercurrent, pulled downward by a similar undertow that started with the possible manipulation of a mayoral candidate and now Mrs. McEachin’s request seeking appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the handling of the Confederate monuments’ removal.

We believe in government transparency, and as long as the public is kept adequately informed, this matter should be resolved in a way that is best for the city.