"I'm in shock.
It's absolutely the worst gutter politics I've ever seen," said
Councilwoman Mindell Penn after opening her mail Friday
afternoon. "This gives the city a bad name."
The flier/pamphlet accuses Butt, who is white, of racism,
unscrupulously winning city contracts for his architectural
engineering firm and single-handedly initiating a recent FBI
probe into city corruption.
Butt has been a city councilman since 1995; one of his
trademarks is his independence from Richmond's longtime
political power brokers, namely the BMW; the Firefighters Union,
Local 188 and their consultant Darrell Reese.
Both the BMW and Local 188 have endorsed Nat Bates for mayor;
Richard Griffin, Jim Rogers and Maria Viramontes for the
four-year council seat and Lynn Wade for the two-year seat.
Butt said the flier is largely an amalgam of past hit pieces
leveled against him by BMW and Local 188.
"The most damaging thing to the city is to take an election
that should be about issues and people's ability to do a job and
turn it into a bald-faced effort to pit one racial group against
another," Butt said. "This is a racially-driven piece trying to
convince African-Americans I've done something wrong against
The pamphlet starts with accusations that Butt told the FBI
that several local African-American elected officials and Reese
were guilty of taking bribes. The FBI was unable to find
evidence of political payoffs in Richmond after an intense
investigation, which began shortly before the 1999 election.
The mailer ends with a vague, full-page account of a heroic
deed Reese accomplished as a firefighter in 1960.
"This is one of the most offensive pieces I've ever seen.
It's definitely a hit piece," said former Richmond City
Councilwoman Lesa McIntosh, one of the officials mentioned.
BMW president Lonnie Washington said he frowns on negative
campaigning and called the piece "a waste of time and money."
Washington said he has no evidence to support the many
inflammatory charges leveled in the mailer because facts were
researched and compiled by various members of an informal
committee, whose members he would not disclose.
Also, the FBI accusations are secret and impossible to
obtain, Washington said.
He said he allowed the piece to go forward because of
"oblique statements" Butt made about his involvement in the
"I heard Tom admit he made allegations," Washington said. "He
didn't say what they were or who they were against, but I saw
enough validity to justify (the piece) and allow it to happen in
The mailer lists 136 checks, the most recent in 1992, that
the city paid to Interactive Resources, Butt's firm, and claims
the jobs were awarded without a competitive bid.
Washington said he had no documentation to back this up
because Richmond officials denied his group access to records.
Rich McCoy, Richmond's Public Services Agency director, said
the city is not required to accept the lowest bidder for
professional services work. Instead, the city performs a
qualifications-based selection process and chooses whoever is
best suited for the job.
Butt also was targeted in a hit piece generated by mayoral
candidate Bates, which singles out Butt for his vote when the
City Council passed an ordinance (14-00 NS) protecting the city
from lawsuits resulting from injuries caused by damaged
In his cartoonish flier, Bates inaccurately calls the
legislation the "Sidewalk Liability Transfer Ordinance," and
infers that Butt encouraged people to sue homeowners.
Under state law, property owners are usually responsible for
maintaining sidewalks abutting their property, but cities can be
held liable if an accident occurs.
City Attorney Malcolm Hunter said he drafted the ordinance,
which shifts liability to the homeowner, to avoid costly
lawsuits directed toward the city.