Upperdate (to borrow a term from Jeffrey): The responses I have received from this post have run the entire gamut. People have e-mailed me personally to say, “Thanks for saying what needed to be said,” and others have publicly suggested that I was unnecessarily and unfairly targeting Mr. Goins.
I am not surprised in the least that Mr. Goins has his defenders; the man has nearly 5,000 friends on Facebook.
I remember the first time I met Mr. Goins. It was at a community meeting at the Broadway Resource Center. I was immediately impressed by him. He was young, confident, and obviously very intelligent. At that meeting, he recited a poem (I believe it was by Langston Hughes) from memory, not an easy task. In person, Mr. Goins has always been a consummate gentleman to me, and I had always respected him.
But I stand by what I wrote. I cannot respect him any more. Maybe that will make me the scourge of some people. So be it.
Jonathan Goins seeks to have it both ways, appeasing a very small but very vocal group of cynical opponents to anything and everything that has the Mayor’s imprimatur on it, while, at the same time, suggesting that he supported the initiative all along and that his opposition represented a “missed opportunity.”
Lead or get out of the way.
On so-called “controversial issues,” he should be guided by his conscience. Apparently, though, when his conscience is in opposition with a small group of malcontents and cynics, he prefers to allow them to sway his decision-making process. As smart as he is, Mr. Goins, for some reason, cannot break free; even after considerable research and analysis on this particular issue, Mr. Goins, for some strange reason, could not vote his conscience. Yet, voters elected him to lead. They elected him because he was, seemingly, a smart and capable candidate. They elected him to research and analyze the issues. They did not elect him with the expectation that he would suddenly relinquish his own determinations, after his own careful deliberation, simply because less than a half a dozen residents showed up to a televised City Council meeting to express their opposition. That, to me, demonstrates a fundamental weakness, an inability to adequately serve all of those who entrusted him with their votes.
And yes, voters overlooked the fact that Jonathan Goins, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t actually live in the district. He claimed his grandmother’s house as his residence, while he spent the night in a gated apartment complex on the other end of town. I’m not breaking any news here. His residency was the subject of protracted litigation, and in my personal opinion, the judge ruled incorrectly. (I have to wonder what Congressman Cedric Richmond would think).
His living situation is relevant, because Jonathan Goins lives in exactly the same kind of apartment community that he opposed in his own district.
I am personally aware of other decisions that Councilman Goins has made that do not make for good government, and at least one of those decisions is even more pernicious and egregious than his vote on the stockyard.
A commenter on The Town Talk suggested I was being racist in my criticism. Obviously, the commenter and I belong to two vastly different generations. In 2008, President Obama said that America has “reached a racial stalemate.” Quoting from his historic speech:
Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.
But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.
After several years in the front lines of Alexandria, I hope that we will all heed these wise words, though I worry that, far too often, we, whether white or black, “succumb to despair or cynicism.” Far too often, we fail to recognize our common humanity, our shared goals, and our interdependence.
Someone wrote to me and said, “You’re just mad because your Mayor lost on his project.” No, I’m upset because the City– the entire community– lost, and I’m upset because some people, including the person who wrote me, believe this is just a zero-sum political game. I’m upset because Alexandria continues to be infected by the disease of racial bias, a disease that cuts both ways and hurts everyone.
Again, lead or get out of the way. We don’t need or deserve this type of “leadership” in Alexandria. We need and deserve men and women of conscience, men and women who have the courage and the integrity to vote their conscience. Anything less is an abdication and a dereliction of duty.
Update: I need to make a few things clear. I understand I was implicitly mentioned on the local talk radio show this morning in Alexandria, and that the host, Fred Rosenfeld, assumed I had been principally tasked with locating commercial developers at the stockyard. In fact, I had been doing exactly what Fred Rosenfeld criticized the City for not doing– seeking out the opinions and expertise of real estate professionals, particularly people with experience and knowledge of this type of development. But it wasn’t just me, of course. There are many others who worked on this project. I only wrote about my experience, and I think it is worth sharing. It’s also worth mentioning to Mr. Rosenfeld that, although I may be young, I am a graduate of Louisiana Real Estate School, and I worked in residential and commercial property management for a year before joining the Mayor’s Office. Moreover, as he should be aware, both of my parents operated the most successful real estate brokerage firm in Central Louisiana for many years. After my father’s death, the firm was sold and then sold again, and currently, no one in my family is affiliated anymore. But throughout my life, as a result of my education, my work experience, and the network of professionals that were cultivated by both of my parents and my grandparents, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and befriend many real estate development experts. I was, in no way, attempting to give credit to myself and myself alone for bringing some of these professionals to assess the stockyard’s commercial feasibility; I was simply reporting what these people told me and others. By the way, Mr. Rosenfeld, the City has always had on staff a licensed real estate agent who managed mega-million dollar commercial leases before he joined the administration. Additionally, there are at least two attorneys who work for the City who have extensive experience contracting with mega-million dollar retail and service industry tenants.
I agree with Rod Noles, who said this morning that the City should consider placing another sign on the front of the property that says, “Closed for Business.” And I am dismayed and disappointed by one of the callers to Bob Madison’s and Fred Rosenfeld’s show who seemed to attack Mr. Noles’s involvement on the basis of hearsay (which was ridiculous, by the way) and on the basis of his skin color.
Unfortunately, race seems to be percolating right beneath the surface. Amazingly, I received a comment (which I deleted for a violation of my editorial standards) that suggested I was simply angry because the Mayor had been defeated. This is what is wrong with the thinking in Alexandria. I haven’t asked the Mayor whether or not he wanted this project, though considering he is a reasonable human being who cares for the City and wishes to see increased economic activity in struggling, inner-city neighborhoods, I cannot imagine why he would not want it. But the Mayor wasn’t defeated by the City Council; the developer was defeated; the neighborhood was defeated.
Still, I think the comment is illustrative of the major problem plaguing Alexandria. Why did Jonathan Goins vote against a project he supported? Was it really because eight people, three of whom didn’t even live in that neighborhood, showed up to get on a television show? Really? Or was it because it represented a net-benefit for the community? When you hear people who own rental properties complain about plans for a new apartment complex, it shouldn’t be difficult to connect the dots, which Mr. Noles also mentioned on his radio show. I can only conclude that those who complained and protested lacked any legitimate counter-argument. I watched the whole meeting on video, and half of the complaints were actually pictures of construction projects being undertaken to correct those very issues. Indeed, the site is still somewhat of a construction zone, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that there are still oddly-placed dumpsters or dirt-overturned on the sides of the road (to prepare for ditch closures, no doubt).
Finally, I want to to make this abundantly clear as well: I have always been impressed by Jonathan Goins. When he wants to, he can deliver a great speech. He’s confident. He’s a young and educated attorney who returned to Alexandria after law school and hung up his own shingle. But I think this decision that he made– a decision for which he will ultimately be responsible not just to his district but to the entire City (it affects ALL of our tax base)– will follow him. My respect for him evaporated, and I am severely disappointed. You don’t arbitrarily or capriciously deny a $12M project that you “supported” based on the whims of the same small and recycled group of malcontents and “neighborhood leaders” who had the ability, presumably, to take off work on a Tuesday afternoon so that they could stand behind a lecturn in a televised meeting and ramble through, often incoherently, a series of half-truths, exaggerations, and attacks against the very people who are actually investing their own hard-earned money in Alexandria. Something tells me that the 45-50 people currently on the waiting list for Phase One of the apartments had other obligations that afternoon.
I will always think that Councilman Goins made a colossal mistake, something that will not soon be forgotten. As that property continues to sit vacant for the next several years (as it almost certainly will do), every single time one of his constituents drives by, she should consider what might have been and what almost was.
It takes far less energy to cooperate than to continually obsfucate. When you’re basing your decisions by attempting to best answer “How can I hurt the Mayor’s agenda?”, what happens when your goals align with his? As the vote on the stockyard site demonstrates, it means destroying the very thing your constituents need the most, simply because the Mayor also recognizes its need. Such a strategy may have worked for some of these people in junior high school, when the stakes were much lower, but in City Government, it’s completely inexcusable; it’s a dereliction of duty.
Alexandria can never move forward when some of its leaders tend to relish in the festering underbelly of retrograde, personalized, tit-for-tat politics.
Either way, like Mr. Noles, I hope I will be proven wrong, but it sure seems to me that the Alexandria City Council royally screwed up and effectively drove away any development leads for the next five to ten years. But considering the opponents of this project are all hard-working businessmen with extensive contacts and experience in commercial real estate…. oh, sorry, I was describing the team of people who were set to actually manage the new development. The City Council has more experience in video production and the local television business.
To Alexandria City Councilman Jonathan D. Goins:
You are forever responsible for depriving your district— one of the most impoverished and blighted areas in Alexandria– from receiving the benefit of a mega-million dollar mixed-use development. You also proved that your word is meaningless and that your allegiances are illusory. You are not trustworthy. You are dishonest. You even lied to the local media.
For the last several months, I have heard from multiple people that you do not plan to run for re-election. Sir, if this is true, please do the entire City of Alexandria a giant favor and immediately resign from office.
Alexandria and, in particular, the people of Lower Third do not deserve and should not tolerate the kind of representation that you offer. Because of your actions, Alexandrians are now deprived a $10M- $12M mixed-use development. Because of you– and you alone– the residents of Lower Third are denied increased police protection, more quality housing, and a million dollar retail facility. You should be ashamed. There are significantly more people on the waiting list for the apartment complex in contention than those who showed up at yesterday’s televised spectacle of a City Council meeting.
Here’s the kicker, Mr. Goins: You don’t really live in your district. You live in a gated apartment complex in the Lakes District, one of the newest and most affluent areas in Alexandria. The apartment complex you live in is currently being expanded, and no one ever opposed this expansion. Your attorney once said that you don’t feel comfortable taking your clients to the very neighborhood that you purport to represent.
People in the area in which you actually reside recognized that more rooftops lead to more retail.
My heart aches for the good people of Lower Third. It aches for Alexandria. You, Mr. Goins, had the opportunity to lead, and instead, you naively followed a small contingency of narrowly-minded racists (Let’s not be afraid to call a spade a spade).
You’ve also forfeited the right to ever claim that your district is being “held back.” As you clearly demonstrated yesterday, it’s not being held back; it’s being held hostage.
Resign now. You’re hurting more than helping. You’re hurting good people– families– who are trapped on a waiting list for an apartment in their neighborhood. To think: I once respected and defended you. Never again.
Enjoy your luxury apartment in the Lakes District. I hear there’s a waiting list.
PS: If you want to know why young professionals are not flocking back to Alexandria, then all you need to do is look yourself in the mirror.