The inestimable Jim Bacon writes over at Bacon’s Rebellion how Charlottesville politics has become a byword for ineptitude and dysfunction:
Fortunately, Virginia has no analogue to San Francisco. That’s not for a lack of emulation. Progressives here just haven’t held the levers of power as long. But Virginians can get a close-up look of progressive political culture at work in Charlottesville. The home-town newspaper, The Daily Progress, has just published an analysis — “Charlottesville faces major challenges following mass departure of city leaders” — that might aptly have been headlined, “What’s the Matter with Charlottesville?”
Bacon attributes the dysfunction to “Bolshevik vs. Menshevik” style infighting between liberal Democrats and more progressive Democrats. Which is true enough, as the Daily Progress records.
Yet the problem goes a bit deeper than this, as those in and around Charlottesville will readily attest. The type of “tolerant” leftist in the Charlottesville area isn’t precisely enamored with the locals. Like most college towns, Charlottesville gradates a certain sort who choose to stay here, involve themselves in their community (not the community), welds themselves to government and the institutions, and then demands conformity from the rest.
Two added factors. One forgets who coined the phrase, but there is no greater conspiracy in Virginia’s localities than the concert between local government and the local gentry — the folks who have “been here” and the folks who don’t mind things being run from a shoebox so long as the paychecks cash on time and with a nice steady cost of living increase that middle class homeowners never see but are always asked to pay — for the children (of course). Yet there’s a deeper problem at root, and it goes to a problem that most major Virginia localities do not have. Specifically, in cities such as Fredericksburg, Richmond, Norfolk, Danville and Roanoke there is a mid-level press establishment with a beat reporter that calls balls and strikes.
In the Charlottesville area? The press is utterly dependent upon the mercies of local government, specifically the state mandate that requires localities and school boards to publish in a newspaper of record. Should a publication not toe the line? The implied threat is that another rival can be found (or even manufactured) in order to produce the mirage of a community that cares.
Of course, progressives bristle against this sort of paternalistic nonsense from the institutional left — and rightly so. Yet where conservatives discover that the economy can outpace the institutions in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads — in Charlottesville the University of Virginia is the economy.
In short, there is no free press — merely underground social media chatter — and woe to those who buck the institution and its tangle of local patronage.
Yet conservatives do have an advantage in the Charlottesville area by and large, namely that the local television and radio media isn’t exactly in the business of showing folks that everything is all sweetness and light. Charlottesville’s television stations are by and large straight shooters; Charlottesville’s talk radio stations produce rock solid content from luminaries such as Joe Thomas and Rob Schilling.
Which means that the alternative media outlets that do exist (outside of the local weeklies) are out there putting the institutionalized dysfunction and open hatred of all things right-of-center on display — mostly in the hopes that sunlight might provide the best disinfectant.
Thus it strikes most Republicans as no surprise that the rest of Virginia views Charlottesville with a jaundiced eye. Unlike most parts — in fact, the rest — of Virginia, it isn’t just the presence of a viable opposition that matters, but rather the presence of an open public square and a media that legitimately concerns itself with journalism rather than protecting the institutions and being team players. The latter wants to explore what is; the former simply wants to make friends.
That gets us to the damn bitter problem of it all.
It’s not that progressives cannot govern in Charlottesville, they just run into the same problems conservatives run into when they are elected to positions of authority.
Rather, the problem is that the liberals running the institutions want them to fail.
Unelected bureaucrats are quick to remind those outside of the institutions that it is the bureaucracy and city managers (and county administrators) that they run the county; elected officials merely assent or dissent from their course of action, is all. Should Mayor Nikuyah Walker or former Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy stray too far off course? Well then… things just don’t quite get done, do they? The problem isn’t limited to Charlottesville, and there is no statewide newspaper of record anymore to remind the region that the world is much bigger than Mr. Jefferson’s backyard.
That’s the problem in a nutshell.
Best of luck explaining it to folks, and better luck finding a reporter whose paycheck doesn’t depend upon them not understanding the problem — at least in the Charlottesville area.