No sympathy for Lucas

Published 10:58 pm Sunday, September 21, 2008

First impressions tend to linger with me, affirmed and reinforced by experiences that follow.

Occasionally, I’m wrong, and the book indeed proves more interesting than the cover. For the most part, though, first impressions have proved accurate and served me well.

My first impression of state Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, was at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, where, in response to a student’s question about high gas prices, the senator proceeded to whine about the cost of filling the tanks of her two Hummers.

Cry me a river.

Two points of clarification before I go further:

■ 1. I have no problem with successful, ambitious women. As proof, I married one. Neither do I have any hang-ups about female politicians. I like Liddy Dole and respect Hillary Clinton. I’m a big fan of Franklin Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson. Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Surry, whose election to the General Assembly caused a lot of hand-wringing with the Chicken Little crowd, is perhaps the hardest-working elected official in the area. Our country has benefited generally from the rise of women in leadership positions.

■ 2. Personal wealth shouldn’t disqualify one from public service. It matters not to me, for example, that John McCain owns eight homes.

Here’s my beef with Lucas:

I don’t like people ­— especially public servants — who flaunt their wealth. Most people in Western Tidewater, parts of which Lucas represents in Richmond, live paycheck to paycheck. They drive Honda Civics and Ford Escorts and feel the pain of $4-a-gallon gasoline. They’re a layoff away from economic devastation. They don’t want to hear about a politician’s gas-guzzling SUVs.

Neither do I like politicians who attempt to use their public positions for personal benefit.

In case you’ve missed the many regional media reports on the topic over the past year, Lucas has a grand plan to help her keep those two Hummers running and perhaps add to the fleet. She wants to build a hotel and convention center in Portsmouth — a “black hotel,” as Portsmouth Mayor James Holley III infamously called it, only to later apologize — and she wants taxpayers to help secure the financing.

The Portsmouth City Council rejected in July a request by Lucas and her co-investors that the city to issue up to $50 million in tax-exempt federal bonds for the project, but the senator has vowed to try again.

Initially, Lucas had wanted Portsmouth to go even further with $13.5 million in cash and tax breaks. That balloon didn’t float with taxpayers, who already are subsidizing another hotel and conference center.

If Lucas wants to build a hotel and get richer, more power to her in finding private-sector dollars — whether her own or someone else’s — to make it happen. Entrepreneurial spirit is a good thing.

But leave the public sector out of it.

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something unseemly about the chairwoman of the state Senate’s Local Government Committee asking a Virginia municipality to get involved in a project from which she stands to gain personally.

The greasy feeling I get when reading about it reminds me of a certain breakfast forum last winter and the flashy politician bragging about her two Hummers.