Nat Bates: The Politics of Renaming Macdonald Avenue

Radio Free Richmond

blogimage.jpgAlthough the City of Richmond election for mayor and four city council members is not until November of this year, the infamous Richmond Progressive Alliance is off and running to woo voters toward their slate of candidates.

It appears RPA will be supporting Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin for the four year term and Michael Parker, mouth piece of the RPA for Mayor. It is interesting to note Richmond Progressive Alliance seems to have abandoned their name in favor of “Team Richmond” and they have been reluctant in identifying themselves as RPA member when speaking during city council meetings.
An interesting thing occurred during the February 4, 2014 council meeting where McLaughlin, Beckles and Councilmember Jael Myrick placed on the agenda an item to rename Macdonald Avenue after the late Nelson Mandela. The mayor acknowledged she had spoken with a few African American citizen and they agreed it was a good idea. When Councilmember Butt, Booze and I pointed out the proper way was for the request to go before the Recreation Commission, the mayor became frustrated and irritated especially when I questioned if anyone knew who Mr. Macdonald was and his contributions to the City of Richmond. The mayor interrupted saying he was a “developer,” as if that was some sort of negative stigmatization to his profession. When I pointed out we all admired the work of Mr. Mandela and his world wide contributions but rather than renaming a street after someone who long ago made contributions to the city, perhaps it would be more appropriate to rename a street that has numbers like 10th, South 37th Street, etc or a building, school, park as an suitable recognition. I further stated some of us would like something later named in honor of President Obama or a more suitable site for Martin Luther King, etc.  The mayor obviously was not interested in what I had to say as she continued to interrupt me as I spoke and finally commented that she thought Mr. Mandela’s work far exceeded Mr. Macdonald's contributions and therefore justified the name change. I trust I am not being overly sensitive when I state, I respect all streets named in honor of individuals who in the past and present have made contributions and deserve their names in history regardless of who they may have been. However, I highly resent Mayor McLaughlin, Councilmembers Beckles and Myrick, and the RPA attempting to use renaming streets, etc for political purposes. If they think this plantation style politics of renaming Macdonald Avenue in honor of Mr. Mandela will generate African American votes for their RPA candidates this coming November, they do not know the African American community as I know them.
Nat Bates

Richmond City Councilmember

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  • Jael Myrick
    commented 2014-03-17 21:51:01 -0700
    This is just silly! The item we presented in February did not specify Macdonald or any other street to be renamed for Mr. Mandela. I know this, because when I was asked to co-sponsor the item I made clear that I wasn’t sure if Macdonald was the most appropriate street. I reached out to Richmond Main Street and asked their opinion. Once I shared that with the Mayor, the item was changed to a more generic call for us to rename some street (or prominent community center) for Mr. Mandela. During the course of our discussion several ideas were floated including the idea of renaming Civic Center Plaza for Mr. Mandela.

    What I highly resent is the insistence of some on the Council of turning every small thing we discuss into a political issue. Honoring the great Nelson Mandela should not be controversial and it should not be political. Yes, 2014 happens to be an election year, but Nelson Mandela died at the end of 2013. So should we not honor him all year because we happen to have an election?

    As I stated during the meeting I am all for finding a street or center to rename in honor of Martin Luther King (or President Obama), but why use that as an argument against honoring the memory of Nelson Mandela, the hero of the anti-apartheid movement. Truthfully, there is only one current Councilmember who was in office during the year following MLK’s assassination. Why that individual has waited 46 years to bring forward an item honoring MLK is beyond me, but I would be happy to support such an act.

    We can find an appropriate street or community center to rename for Nelson Mandela. Mr Bates, please stop turning everything we do into a political football, it is unhealthy for the city.

    Jael Myrick

    Richmond City Councilmember
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