Richmond Governor Scandal May Help Bid To Rename Street For Arthur Ashe

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A movement to rename a Richmond, Virginia, thoroughfare for groundbreaking black tennis player Arthur Ashe Jr. is cresting just as the state finds itself in turmoil over a blackface scandal involving the governor and attorney general.

The man behind the street renaming says the confluence of the two unrelated developments involving race and history could become an opportunity to start a conversation about race at a pivotal time.

“If we can rename the Boulevard after him, it would be a huge cultural step forward. This is where we can start with reconciliation and we can start talking about the issues,” says Ashe’s nephew, David Harris Jr.

“It would be an opportunity for the City Council to be leaders on this. We know what’s going on down the street at the state Capitol. This would be a way for the City Council to say, ‘We want to show you the way.’”

Ashe’s once-segregated hometown boasts an athletic center named after him, and a bronze sculpture of Ashe sits among Richmond’s many Confederate statues. But a proposal to rename a historic street for Ashe has been defeated twice since his death in 1993.

A third proposal comes before the City Council for a vote Monday amid the blackface scandal .

Leaders throughout Virginia’s political structure have called on Gov. Ralph Northam to resign after a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page surfaced recently.

Northam apologized, initially saying he appeared in a photo showing one man in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. Northam did not say which costume he wore. The next day he said he no longer believed he was in the photo but acknowledged wearing blackface the same year to look like Michael Jackson in a dance contest.

Days after Northam’s admission, Attorney General Mark Herring was forced to acknowledge that he, too, wore blackface in the 1980s while trying to look like a rapper at a college party.

Meanwhile, for all of Richmond’s hometown pride in Ashe, repeated attempts to rename a city street after him have failed. Harris initially resurrected the idea of renaming the street after his uncle last year.

Called simply “Boulevard,” it’s a busy 2.4-mile (3.9-kilometer) stretch dotted with restaurants, museums and stately homes. Modeled after grand European boulevards in the late 19th century, Boulevard was designated as a state and national historic landmark in 1986.

At one end sits Byrd Park, with tennis courts where Ashe was denied access during his childhood because of segregation. The athletic center named for Ashe is also on Boulevard.

City Council member Kim Gray, whose district covers a portion of Boulevard, has sponsored the Ashe renaming ordinance.

Some residents and business owners say they don’t want to change the historic name. Others cite the inconvenience and expense of officially changing their address, including getting new letterhead and signs.

Harris and Gray say they understand those concerns but also believe racism may underlie some of the opposition.

“I find it hard to believe that people get that angry over stationery,” said Gray, who said she’s received racist emails over the proposal.

Longtime residents insist they have nothing but admiration for Ashe but believe there are better ways to honor him than legally changing the name of their street. A group called the Boulevard Coalition wants the Richmond History and Culture Commission to hold citywide community discussions about how to honor Ashe and then make a recommendation to the City Council.

The controversy comes at a time when Richmond, a one-time capital of the Confederacy, has been grappling with calls to remove Confederate statues. Richmond’s Monument Avenue features statues of five Confederate figures, including Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Ashe’s statue was erected among those rebel icons in 1996, but only after rancorous debate.

Harris said renaming Boulevard after Ashe would give Richmond a chance to shed its past image and show it has become a progressive city.

“We’ve celebrated things that have been associated with slavery for years. Well, let’s celebrate equality, inclusion and diversity, as opposed to the slave picture we’ve had in Civil War history,” Harris said.

Ashe was the first black player selected to the U.S. Davis Cup team and the only black man to ever win the singles title at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open. He was also well-known for promoting education and civil rights, opposing apartheid in South Africa and raising awareness about AIDS, the disease that eventually killed him.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney urged the City Council last month to approve the change, calling Ashe “one of Richmond’s true champions.”

A 2004 city ordinance says street names indicated on city maps for 50 years or longer should only be changed under “exceptional circumstances.” Gray and Harris say they believe naming Boulevard after Ashe is one of those circumstances.

But City Council member Parker Agelesto, whose district covers part of the street, said his constituents favor an “honorary renaming” that keeps Boulevard as the street’s official name.

“Nobody wants this to be controversial, and Arthur Ashe is not a controversial figure,” Agelesto said. “The question is: How do you make it successful for all parties involved?”

PHOTO: AP


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Andrew Gillum’s Run For Governor Highlights Florida Divide

THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s loyalists here at Florida’s premier retirement community fear Andrew Gillum.

It has nothing to do with his race, they insist, when asked about the 39-year-old Democrat who could become the state’s first African-American governor. Instead, The Villages’ deeply conservative residents are convinced a Gillum victory would trigger an era of high crime, higher taxes and moral failing.

“He’ll kill everything that’s good about Florida,” says Talmadge Strickland, a 66-year-old retired firefighter wearing a “Trump 2020” baseball cap at a rally for Gillum’s opponent. “He will hurt us; he will physically hurt us with his socialist mentality.”

In an era defined by deep political partisanship, there’s perhaps no state where the divide runs deeper than Florida, which is in the grip of a fierce culture clash over guns, race, climate change and the president. Gillum sits at the center of the melee, his campaign a proxy for the larger fight between Democrats and President Donald Trump’s GOP.

Gillum’s fate is inexorably linked to fellow Democrats whose success could determine control of Congress. That’s especially true for three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who could benefit from Gillum’s appeal among young voters and minorities.

As early voting begins in Florida this week, that link is tenuous.

“New voters and infrequent voters are everything to us winning,” Gillum told The Associated Press when asked about his impact on Nelson’s race. “I think they will vote for both of us, and that will be to his benefit.”

Young people and minorities are traditionally among the least reliable voters, particularly in midterm elections. Meanwhile, white voters in place like The Villages are lining up behind his opponent, former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis.

The electorate in Florida this year is especially unpredictable due to an unusual collision of events: a massive hurricane, the nation’s deadliest high school shooting and Gillum’s historic candidacy.

DeSantis has benefited from Trump’s occasional backing on social media, including after the debate. And Gillum is scheduled to campaign this week alongside former Vice President Joe Biden and 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. In the interview, he noted he’s been in touch with former President Barack Obama, who may campaign on his behalf.

Gillum acknowledged some Florida voters might oppose him because of his race, but insisted “that voter is not the majority of the people in our state.”

During Sunday night’s CNN debate, he accused his Republican opponent of fanning racial animus ever since DeSantis first warned Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by electing Gillum.

“The ‘monkey up’ comment said it all,” Gillum charged. “He has only continued in the course of his campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin. The truth is, you know what, I’m black. I’ve been black all my life. So far as I know, I will die black.”

Meanwhile, a small, but significant portion of the state’s Republican base remains consumed by recovery efforts almost two weeks after Hurricane Michael devastated the Panhandle. The secretary of state extended early voting hours, but both sides expect a drop in turnout across the heavily-Republican region as residents struggle without electricity and lodging in many cases.

Nelson’s challenger, Gov. Rick Scott, has yet to resume any campaign activities since the storm made landfall.

The state’s other trauma — a school shooting earlier this year that left 17 students and staff dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — looms over the races. Backed by the fortune of Democratic billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, Florida’s young people are fighting to be heard.

Those rallying behind Gillum in recent days include 16-year-old Sari Kaufman, a Parkland survivor who spent Sunday canvassing for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

In an interview, Kaufman suggested young people are more excited about Gillum than Nelson, particularly because of Gillum’s status as a younger candidate running statewide for the first time.

“If he is successful and other candidates are successful, it will mean that my fellow classmates didn’t die in vain,” Kaufman said.

African-American leaders are also working to reverse their community’s typical drop-off in midterm elections. NAACP President Derrick Johnson said his organization is “microfocused” on boosting black turnout this fall. A statewide canvassing effort is underway across Florida, where organizers hope to bump black turnout by at least 5 percent from four years ago.

It was easy to find evidence of Gillum’s influence among so-called low-propensity voters in recent days, as activists from more than a half dozen competing groups scoured the state to ensure they cast ballots.

Anne Fazio, a 19-year-old Jacksonville student, was among thousands of people contacted at home over the weekend by the Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity’s massive door-knocking push. Standing at her front door, she didn’t hesitate when a conservative volunteer asked whether she was going to vote.

“I’m voting for Andrew Gillum,” Fazio said, praising his support for gun control and expanding Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of low-income residents.

Asked by the AP whether she would support Nelson, she said: “I think I’ll probably vote for him — he’s a Democrat, right?”

The Republican DeSantis is making little effort to expand his coalition as he embraces Trump and his policies in a state the president carried by 1 point.

DeSantis vowed during Sunday’s debate to work closely with the Trump administration, while noting that Gillum has called for Trump’s impeachment. “You’ve got to be able to work with the administration,” DeSantis declared.

He also dismissed Parkland students’ calls for stronger efforts to reduce gun violence when asked about his opposition to modest gun control measures passed by Florida’s Republican-led legislature in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

DeSantis said local law enforcement and school officials “let them down” by not acting sooner to detain the shooter and address his mental health issues sooner.

Meanwhile, a flood of money is shaping the Florida elections.

Since the beginning of September alone, each side has dumped more than $ 44 million into television advertising for the governor’s race. While that may be the most in the country, it’s a fraction of the spending in Florida’s Senate contest, according to political operatives tracking media spending.

Paced by the Scott campaign’s $ 50 million, the Republican side has invested nearly $ 79 million in television spending since April compared to Democrats’ $ 49 million behind Nelson.

Back at The Villages, the attack ads against Gillum appeared to be resonating with retirees gathered for a Saturday DeSantis appearance that drew about 400.

“He scares me, I’m sorry,” 75-year-old retiree Suzanne Zimmerman, a member of Villagers for Trump, said of Gillum.

His race has nothing to do with her fear, she said.

“Although Gillum does say that there are too many white men in government,” Zimmerman added. “So that’s unfortunate that he is actually a racist.”


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Andrew Gillum Still Holds Lead in Florida Governor Race

Andrew Gillum, Florida, Governor

Democrat Andrew Gillum may be the next governor of Florida, and not in the obvious “he’s one of two options” type of way, but in the “he’s held the lead against his Republican opponent since winning the Democratic primary” kind of way. A recent poll from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy shows the Florida gubernatorial race […]

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