If you like to see political fights devolve into bare-knuckle brawls, we kindly suggest you turn your attention to the Richmond mayoral race. With 10 weeks remaining before voters go to the polls, the two heavyweights in the field have already landed so many blows there's some fear they'll punch themselves out.
In one corner, with 36 years council experience and a natural gift for the verbal jab, is 82-year-old Nat Bates, who regards hometown corporate giant Chevron as a friend. In the other corner, a 15-year council member wearing progressive party trunks, is 70-year-old Tom Butt, known for his quick rejoinder and occasionally a temper to match.
Oh, yeah, there's a third man in the ring -- small-business man Uche Uwahemu in the underdog role -- who largely has escaped notice. His best strategy might be just to stay out of the way, avoid the brickbats and be the only one standing when the noise ends.
Once upon a time, there were other candidates. Mike Parker wanted to run until he didn't. Charles Ramsey set his sights on the mayor's seat until he reset them on a council seat. Butt emerged only at the eleventh hour, but he clearly came prepared to do battle.
Not everyone relishes Richmond politics -- the council meetings with their late-night screaming, five-minute recesses and chambers cleared of crowds -- but some of us find it a refreshing reminder of how nasty the political process can be if the practitioners want it that way. The mayor's race has a chance to be just as nasty.
Butt began his campaign by charging that Bates' election would send cold shivers through staffers at city hall. "I just have a feeling," he told reporter Robert Rogers, "that Bates as mayor would set a tone for the next four years that would incentivize our best managers to think about moving on."
Bates barely flinched before answering with a counterpunch: "If you did an anonymous survey of all the managers, they would probably say Tom is the most bullying and demanding council member in the city."
OK, back to your corners and wait for the bell.
A few days later, Butt sent an email blast that tied Bates to corporate puppet strings and distanced him from constituents: "It is no surprise that Nat's supporters are big business, Chevron, special interest and real estate speculators. Nat voted against the will of the people to build a casino at Point Molate, and he says Richmond has too many parks and doesn't need bike lanes."
Bates, who also knows how to send email blasts, delivered his assessment of Butt as "perhaps one of the most crafty, cunning and manipulative council members ever elected to the city council. His mind is constantly analyzing ways in which he can personally benefit financially for himself, his friends and special projects he loves at taxpayers' expense."
OK, men, break and step back.
All the while, Uwahemu sits off to the side. His only jab came at an Aug. 12 candidates forum, when he said Butt and Bates have "had their chance to lead for 60 years."
Nice try for a beginner. Now let the heavyweights back into the ring.
With plenty of speech making and email blasts still to come, the Richmond mayoral election holds the promise of a knock-down, drag-out affair. The opponents are girded for war and the aroma of contempt is in the air.
Pull up a seat. It promises to be quite a show.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com.