Written by Jessee Perry and edited by Melissa Vaughn
On September 30, 2016, WRIR 97.3 aired Don Harrison's interview with mayoral candidate Jack Berry on Open Source RVA. During the interview, Harrison asked Berry how the people should separate him from the Jack Berry who advocated in favor of controversial projects such as the Redskins training facility. Berry responded before Harrison could finish the question to say, “I didn’t have anything to do with that. Nothing.” Listening to that exchange, I brushed it off as a question that dropped from a slip of the tongue because everyone in Richmond knows Berry’s association with the plans for the stadium in Shockoe Bottom. Further research shows that Jack Berry may not have had a direct hand in the Redskins training camp, however, he supported the deal openly.
A public hearing to vote on Ordinance No. 2012-215-194 (which is the approval to develop and manage the Redskins training facility) was held at the November 26, 2012 City Council meeting. During this hearing, three citizens spoke out against the agreement and three spoke out in favor. Jack Berry was one of the citizens there to voice his support for the ordinance. Berry said, “I, too, want to congratulate the leadership of the council, the city administration, the Redskins, and Bon Secours for making this opportunity possible . . . This is a really great step forward in building a better Richmond.” That night, City Council passed the ordinance authorizing the development and management of a Redskins summer training facility. It passed unanimously.
The Redskins Training Facility is frequently thrown into the bucket of the Dwight Jones administration’s boondoggles along with Shockoe Bottom Stadium and Stone Brewing. The general public perceives those type of deals as city government giving away parts of Richmond, reciprocated by alleged promises of a return on an investment that never materializes. While Berry was not involved with the inner workings of the Redskins Training Facility, he spoke in favor of the project. This raises the question if, as mayor, would he be able to understand how proposals impact all citizens of Richmond and make decisions that are beneficial to everyone across all nine districts?
In the same WRIR interview, Berry criticized the deal that was struck with the Redskins. He said, “I can’t imagine a deal, why anybody would do a deal where the landlord is paying the tenant to use his property. Why are we subsidizing the Redskins to come down here every year?” For Berry’s criticism to be true, when he spoke in favor of the facility at the November 2012 City Council meeting, he was either unaware of how the deal was structured or he spoke in favor of a bad deal.
For Berry to be unaware, he would have missed three different articles that outlined the details of the deal (including the $500,000 payment to the Redskins) prior to his appearing at the City Council meeting. The first story was published November 13, 2012 on the cover of Style Weekly and was titled “Hogwash: Why the Washington Redskins aren’t worth $10 million to Richmond.” On November 15, 2012 a Richmond-Times Dispatch article further explained that the city will need to raise $500,000 to pay the Redskins. Finally, on November 20, 2012, watchdog.org reported the team’s annual travel cost of $500,000 will be paid by the city. After missing all three articles, Berry would have then attended a five-hour long City Council meeting and waited until near the end of the 4th hour to speak in favor of the project without knowing any of the specifics.
Alternatively, Berry could have seen any one of the three articles and been fully aware of the financial responsibility the city held as part of this deal when he spoke in front of City Council. This means that in speaking in favor of the ordinance, Berry either did not understand the potential harms or he believed that some unknown positive outcome was more beneficial than the down-sides. Either way, four years later he criticizes the deal.
When I have evaluated Berry’s candidacy, I have often questioned at what point should he be allowed to separate a past job duty from his personal beliefs as it applies to his role in the Shockoe Bottom Stadium plans. I can see where there could be a grey area. However, I do not see a grey area when he assertively separates himself from another bad deal for Richmond that he apparently supported enough to speak in favor of it at a five hour long City Council Meeting. As Richmonders, we need to carefully consider the character of those whom we to choose give our vote. In a representative democracy, our vote is our voice. Whom do you trust to be the voice of Richmond?