A Richmond Casino: The Last Chance For Richmond’s Poor Black And Brown Children?


I have been obligated to write this article since 1985. In that regard, the article mentions Senator Tim Kaine, Congresswoman Jen McClellan, State Senator Louise Lucas, Mayor Stoney, City Council President Mike Jones, Alfred Liggins and others by name. This is pure chance. I didn’t know any of them in 1985.  Back then, I doubt any of them gave any thought to casino gambling in Richmond. But I suspect they all were outraged at the crumbling school facilities forced on minority children.   

Back in 1985, as campaign manager for Doug Wilder, I often quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Education is the great equalizer” he said. Then he added even more famously “this is why they make it so hard for us to get.” By “they”, he meant elected officials. In 1954 and 1955, the United States Supreme Court singled out Virginia and the other losing defendants specifically on the need to fix their decrepit school facilities. The Court said such facilities help cause unequal educational opportunities.

Those Supreme Court decisions convinced Doug Wilder to become a lawyer. Now, 30 years later, I was helping him try to do what no other Virginian, indeed no other American, had ever done. First, get nominated and then elected as Lt. Governor. Then, after winning, the plan is to get nominated and elected Governor 4 years later. No black person had ever achieved this dual goal in any state. Nearly 40 years later, this achievement remains unmatched.

In terms of political strategy, Doug needed a white person to be his campaign manager. No other white person would do it. But I wasn’t Doug’s first choice. I got the job by default. Probably because I didn’t ask for much money. My son once found a copy of the W 9 form from the 1985 campaign. I had served not merely as campaign manager, but as researcher, speech writer, travelling mobile campaign manager, press secretary, television AD writer, TV AD producer. I took the AD reels to the bus station for shipping to TV stations around the state.   

                 “You did all that for $18000?” my son asked. 

                 “Yes” I replied.  

                  “That’s crazy” he said. “They took advantage of you.” 

                  “Not at all” I replied. “I got to do what I always knew I could do.  I owe Doug for the opportunity.”    

In large measure, our campaign was about education. Old prejudices die first in the mind. As I travelled the state with Doug, I realized how cruel it is to deny someone a good education. Their minds lack an appreciation for the need to think outside the box of the old prejudices. Education isn’t simply about getting a good job. It is about learning how to become all you can be. Without a decent education, no man or woman is truly free. 

This brings me to the issue of a second Richmond Casino Referendum. As people know, I helped lead the opposition to the 2021 Richmond Casino Referendum. I rejected the sweetheart deal struck by Mayor Stoney and city council with Al Liggins, their chosen casino operator. Moreover they played the race in their campaign to unfairly smear white citizens opposed to a casino. They deserved to be defeated.   

But a true leader has to have a tough skin. I watched Doug shrugged off the racial attacks. So I needed to do the same. I believe Senator Kaine would say I have  maintained my commitment to equal educational opportunity no matter the provocations over the years. Congresswoman Jen McClellan too. Doug Wilder the same. Even my detractors.     

School facility modernizing is one issue Tim and Jen and I have championed. Necessary educational reforms require far more than new facilities. But the Supreme Court singled out decrepit school facilities for causing inequality. Their observation has since been empirically shown by the experts at Virginia Tech. 

Seventy years later, the school facilities in Richmond, for the average student, are actually in greater disrepair. Current state law provides the right for Richmond to have a second casino referendum this November. Senator Louise Lucas is the real power on the gambling issue.  She and Jen McClellan blocked the effort in the General Assembly this year to overturn the law giving RVA this 2023 right. 

But there are fears Ms. Lucas, and Senate Democrats may sacrifice Richmond’s right to vote in making a budget deal. This happened in 2022.   

I have known Senator Lucas for many years. She once needed a big favor from me. So I met her at a diner somewhere on Route 360 to help her out. I happily helped her out. She doesn’t owe me anything in that regard.

But I do think she and the Democrats owe the poor black and brown kids of Richmond long denied equal educational opportunities. 

So I ask Senator Lucas and Senate Democrats the following: If the Mayor and the City Council commit to the constitutionally required bidding process for choosing the winner of the 2023 Casino operator’s contract, and they further commit to take the measures necessary to guarantee all the Casino tax revenue will go towards the facility funding Ms. McClellan championed, why not let Richmond have a second referendum?

Admittedly a casino shouldn’t be needed to achieve educational equity. But what if it is the only way? An imperfect exasperating choice for sure. I doubt Stoney and Council will agree to my proposed conditions. But what if they do?  

I promised 38 years ago to advocate for the kids. I don’t think Doug, or Tim, or Jen would be surprised at this article. Mayor Stoney either.    

Illustration by @majormajor____

Paul Goldman

Paul Goldman

Paul Goldman, a political strategist, attorney, and activist, served as the Chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia from 1990 to 1993 and was a 2021 Democratic candidate for Virginia's lieutenant governorship. Before becoming the state Democratic Party chair, Goldman worked as an attorney and also served on political campaigns such as those of Douglas Wilder and Henry Howell. He later spearheaded the 2003 Richmond elected mayor ballot initiative and ran for Richmond City Council. In recent years, Goldman has been a political operative in Richmond, Virginia, advocating for changes to the city charter and supporting school modernization efforts by lobbying the Virginia General Assembly. Goldman is also a public education advocate and has written columns on education policy for major publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Hill, and Politico. He has a new book called "Remaking Virginia Politics."

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