Bruce Thompson recently mentioned me in an article and threatened to leave the city entirely if there was a change in leadership on the Virginia Beach City Council. After my response, he then dismissed my opinion, doubled-down and said that I “went nuts” and I am “jealous”.
Are we unable to even gracefully disagree?
Overreactions like this is a prime example of why many people become frustrated about getting involved in politics. Mr. Thompson painted my disagreement with a brush of hysteria; perhaps that is how he handles dissent.
Despite his business successes here, Mr. Thompson threatened to pull his investment from the the city altogether if there was new city leadership – a mighty thick line to draw in the sand. Why would a potential change in leadership shift your bottom line so drastically that you would seek an entirely new location?
Well, there are theories.
Crony capitalism: an economic system in which certain businesses are given unfair advantages by government officials; that’s a $36 million pill for some of us to swallow. Considering the megadonor status of Mr. Thompson in buying influence with several government officials through campaign contributions, the inappropriateness practically writes itself.
Cronyism is a term that Mr. Thompson attempts to shrug off, but it has surfaced that Mr. Thompson did in fact enjoy preferential treatment from the City in 2013 with the bidding process on the Cavalier project; he was given insider information that other bidders were not. Mr. Thompson was offered incentives that other bidders were not. These facts were reported in this very newspaper on November 8, 2015, more than two years after investigative journalism uncovered the truth.
Saving the iconic Cavalier and the amount of taxpayer money that has been funneled to it are entirely different issues that should not be conflated with the process that I raised concern with originally: the City should not be picking winners and losers. In an economic system that turns a blind eye to the deleterious effects of cronyism, insiders such as Mr. Thompson are insulated from competition while their pockets are deepened from political connections and taxpayers are left to absorb the risk. This rings true in light of the recent Disparity Study that was unveiled to City Council this week, which shows that a steep disparity still persists in city contracts awarded to women and certain ethnic groups. A more equitable, level playing field will foster competition, encourage economic growth and will signal that our City is open for business for all.
Mr. Thompson also used a tactic called gaslighting – putting audacious words in my mouth in an attempt to mischaracterize and isolate. His claim centered on that I am against all Public Private Partnerships and cites educational cornerstones in our community like the Virginia Aquarium (which I’ve always supported). He uses this example as a cover for all types of Public Private Partnerships – including the ones that have enriched his own personal business interests. Public Private Partnerships can certainly be beneficial – when there is minimal risk, a real public need is addressed and there is public ownership in the project.
However, we the taxpayers, are not Mr. Thompson’s personal bank, and we must judiciously protect public funds for our responsibilities in public safety, education, infrastructure and transportation. We all have to find a way to make our household budgets work with what he have, and our City budget should strive to mirror your own.
The compromise budget proposal my Council colleagues and I unilaterally voted in featured no tax and fee increases for only the second time in 25 years. Mr. Thompson wrongly accused the alternate budget I co-sponsored with Councilmembers Moss and Dyer of “raiding” the TIP fund for garbage trucks (that was a recommendation made by the City Manager and was not a part of the original budget proposal we co-sponsored). Mr. Thompson also charged that our first budget proposal would have “stripped funding for stormwater projects”. Better flooding mitigation has always remained one of my top priorities even before Hurricane Matthew, so I honestly do not know how anyone could have any different impression. Councilmembers Moss, Dyer and I initially tried to fund the nearly half a billion dollars in flooding projects in 6 years, not 15, without raising taxes or fees – but the majority of City Council chose to not make flooding a budgetary priority.
In conclusion, Mr. Thompson, just so we’re clear – I refuse to be chained inside of your fabricated “No Team”. I have high standards of how our city conducts business and this does not make me a naysayer, nor as you stated, one who is “cursing the wind”.
This election offers us a choice: we can choose fiscal responsibility or we can choose higher taxes and fees and more debt. We can put the needs of our classrooms, our public safety professionals and our neighborhoods ahead of the wants of an elite few. I urge Beach residents who also want good government to join me in supporting Bobby Dyer for mayor and John Moss and Aaron Rouse for at-large City Council members, as well as Louis Jones in the Bayside District, Eric Wray in the Centerville District and Tim Worst in the Princess Anne District.
No matter the outcome of the election, we must find a way to work together. We live in a truly great place and so many of us are happy to call it home.