Friday, May 30, 2008

What is the Real Story at Tri-State Casino?

Today's news that Cathy Brackbill has resigned from Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center is more evidence that things are not as they seem to be at our local casino. Let's review:

In the early days of the public relations campaign to convince the voters of Kanawha County to approve Tri-State's wishes to become a full-fledged table games casino, Cathy Brackbill was trotted out as the public face of the track. Up until that time (2006) she had been serving as Director of Marketing and it was surprising to a lot of people that she was named General Manager. Some said that she was "window dressing" and had been promoted after a focus group didn't like Dan Adkins as the public face of the track during the campaign. These same people asserted that since it looked suspicious having a person who was known as the PR person leading the effort while the real boss hid in the shadows, Brackbill was given the title "General Manager" and suddenly became the face of the campaign. She remained in that role through the campaign.

The next phase of the project was the lead up to construction - or rather the explanation of why construction wasn't happening. You see, during the campaign the track had been saying it would build a $250 million "tourism and entertainment complex" and it would begin within 60 days of the election if the measure was approved. About 59 days after the election the track, through Ms. Brackbill, began crawfishing as excuse after excuse came out as to why construction hadn't started. It's good to have a PR specialist as the point person when the questions are tough and the answers aren't very good. She continued in this role until, well, we really don't know when it changed.

All we know is that in February it came to light that she was no longer the boss, that a new person had been installed over her: Rich Tesler had been appointed to the new position of Executive Director of Casino Operations. When a Gazette reporter inquired in response to some rumors that were circulating at the track, Dan Adkins said that there had been no announcement and would be no announcement, that the employees would read about it in the paper with the rest of the world. He said there might be a change in Brackbill's title, but he wasn't sure.

As of this writing, the Tri-State website lists Brackbill as Coordinator of Community Affairs. That doesn't sound like another name for General Manager, now does it? Sounds more like a PR person, doesn't it?

I hope the real story comes out, but I think reasonable people can deduce from the facts in evidence that something a little shady has been going on in Cross Lanes. Imagine that, dishonesty from a gambling institution.

As for me, I'll go on record saying I don't think there were ever plans for a $250 million anything and that Cathy Brackbill was a pawn in an elaborate scheme to swindle a gambling license out of Kanawha County voters and officials.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pfaff & Smith

As long as I can remember the east end of Spring Street has been dominated by Pfaff & Smith builders supply, but last week the familiar yellow and black painted sign that adorned the side of the building along Spring Street was painted over as the new owner, Arrow Concrete, came in and began the process of re-naming the business. I understand that many long-tenured employees were let go and several others quit in solidarity.

Here's a shot of the last remaining Pfaff & Smith sign. I'm sure it'll be painted over soon.

It's a sad when old businesses like this get bought out by larger competitors and we lose a piece of our local history in the process. Pfaff & Smith has supplied concrete for every major building project since in Charleston since the state capitol was built.

Alas, free enterprise vs. culture and history: Culture and history is no match.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dear National Media,

The movie "Deliverance" was set in Georgia. Georgia is a state in the southern U.S. While a tiny portion of Georgia is included in the region commonly called "Appalachia", the vast majority of the state is located outside this region and shares little to no cultural traits with the rest of Appalachia.

Based upon this information, which has heretofore obviously escaped your legendary powers of fact-finding, please refrain from referencing the movie "Deliverance" or its main musical theme "Dueling Banjos" in your stories about Appalachian voters. We're asking politely. For now.



Sunday, May 18, 2008

So You Wanted WV to be in The Spotlight, Did You?

During the run up to the presidential election year there was lots of talk about moving the West Virginia Primary to a spot earlier in the year so our state's voters would be more relevant. By moving the election to January or February it would tend to focus the eyes of the country on us because the contest would still be undecided, which is rarely the case in May when we vote. Except this year, obviously.

OK, we had a test run this year. We got our moment in the national spotlight. Please, never, ever bring up the subject again. If the temptation to pass some new legislation overcomes our legislators, instead of fiddling with the primary date, let's hope they tackle a new state slogan. Here's what Jon Stewart suggested on the Daily Show:

"West Virginia: No Interviews Please!"

I quite agree.

In the Daily Show report on the Clinton landslide victory (you can see the video here), Stewart took a few really good shots at our stereotypical reputation and was aided greatly by three West Virginia women who had been interviewed by some national news media outlet. Here they are in order of their appearance:

First we have Mrs. Racist Yokel explaining why she wouldn't vote for Obama: "I guess it's the race thing. I just don't trust people of another race." For a really spirited discussion of whether race played a significant role in the election, see this post and comments over at Buzzard Billy's excellent blog. I gotta tell you, Billy, this woman sure takes a hard whack at your argument that our state isn't full of racist nut jobs.

Next comes Mrs. Religious Xenophobe, who says the reason she didn't vote for Obama was because he was a Muslim. She said it so matter of factly that it was clear in her mind that it was true. I wonder what she would have said if the reporter had told her he wasn't Muslim? I would like to have seen her reaction - who knows? Maybe she would have said "Oh, he's not? Well I'm still voting for Hillary", but that wouldn't have made as fun a story. Hillbillies are one of the last groups of people that it is politically correct to ridicule, so why miss a good opportunity like this one?

Then, we have this one, for whom I can't come up with a name. She says it's because his middle name is Hussein. "I've had enough of Hussein" she says vehemently. Obviously she has a bias against Arabs. I wonder if she voted for Nick Rahall?

These three spokeswomen really made me cringe. An especially nice touch is that they picked people whose accents were so pronounced that they had to have subtitles.

You might say, "But the Daily Show is satire and supposed to poke fun at stereotypes." Agreed, and the piece was quite funny, but it wasn't was just the Daily Show. Watching the Sunday news talk shows today was torture as West Virginia was pounded by pundit after pundit as being a racist and backward state. Every network had its examples.

My question is this: Do national media types look for people to interview who they think will fit the stereotype they are reporting on? This is not a new, post-CNN phenomenon: I recall when I was just a lad seeing a CBS news report on the famous "Pot Plane" crash at Yeager (then called Kanawha) airport. This happened in Charleston, on Keystone Drive. I know people who live on Keystone Drive and they are normal folks who look and sound much like I and most Charlestonians do. But they found a guy to talk on camera who honestly sounded like the village idiot from some holler in Mingo County. I remember thinking then how it seemed that every time we hit the national news we have very poor spokespeople.

And so it goes. And I fear it will go this way for a long, long time. So please, let's rethink the idea of intentionally putting our voters in the national spotlight.

We ain't ready for prime time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wireless, yes, but do they have a grammar checker?

Sign at the corner of Jefferson Road and Kanawha Turnpike.

Friday, May 09, 2008

An Open Letter to Unlikely West Virginia Voters

We can make a difference this time. A HUGE difference.

Our Democratic primary election is almost always irrelevant, coming too late in the season to really matter. I recall my mother and father being proud that West Virginia made such a huge difference in the 1960 presidential election because it was thought that a Roman Catholic JFK couldn't possibly win here, and when he did - by a landslide - it put him over the top in the eyes of the country's pundits. The meager number of delegates he won didn't do it; rather it was the statement that was made by the way we overcame our stereotypes, xenophobia and prejudice and said that this candidate transcended those things because we thought he was the right person for the job.

This time it could be bigger.

According to all the pundits Hillary Clinton should dominate Tuesday's vote in West Virginia because of simple demographics and the the perception that we won't vote for an African-American. She is sitting precariously on the edge looking down into the abyss of defeat in this nomination process. She is clinging to the "certainty" of a victory in our state to keep her life support going for one more week, to keep the fund raising going for one more week, to keep the contest alive for one more week.

We can end it.

If all of the people who are unlikely to vote (which sadly is the majority of our registered voters) were to show up on Tuesday and drop Obama's name in the ballot box the race will be over by Wednesday morning. Add a few "undecided"voters to the total and the defeat would be stunning. It would be of historical proportions. We could tell our grandchildren about the time that West Virginia made a huge difference in the outcome of a national election. We could tell them about the time when people put aside their prejudice and voted with the majority of the country for a presidential candidate.

I can't change your mind if you are for Hillary, and I don't want to. Vote your conscience. And if you have strong ideological reasons to vote for either candidate I am not tryng to convince you otherwise. But if you are undecided or one of those people who won't go to the polls on Tuesday (or before!) because you aren't interested or have been disillusioned in the process, go vote for Obama because it could be the most inluential vote you will ever make. This is your opportunity to make a difference and do it on the national stage.

We can put West Virginia on the map. Just think of the real benefits we would reap if we asserted ourselves as political players. Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, people will quit asking us if we know their aunt in Richmond.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Theater Review

I think I go to more live theater performances than the average Charlestonian, probably 6 or 7 shows per year on average. That probably qualifies me as an expert (West Virginia law, so I'm told, allows anyone who knows more about a subject than the average person to be admitted in court as an expert, so if anyone out there needs a theater witness just let me know). Tonight I attended Capital High School's production of "Phantom." The show was as good as one could expect from a high school theater department and featured some phenomenal talent, including two girls who were finalists in the Symphony Idol competition held earlier this year.

The most powerful performance of the evening was put on by the air conditioning in the theater. It ran full blast from the time I sat down 30 minutes before the show started until 15 minutes before the 2 1/2 hour show ended. For nearly three hours I got to experience what it must be like to be the ice trays I keep in my freezer. I sat right under the vent and despite my best efforts at shielding myself from the constant assault from the frigid wind I felt positively hypothermic by intermission and deep into the second act I felt as if I had ice crystals in my hair. It was a miserable experience. When the air finally went off I began to warm up and soon I was drifting off to sleep.

But I was awakened by the real reason I felt moved to blog this evening: Rude people who talk during performances.

At "Phantom" I found myself sitting in front of two women and a man who seemed to be oblivious that there was anyone else in the theater. They spoke in normal voices as if they were sitting in their living room and discussed the quality of the voices of the players, the props, the music, EVERYTHING! They started talking shortly after the house lights went down and had comments on each new development on stage throughout the show. "Oh, she has a pretty voice" they said after the lead (Sarah Pauley as Christine) began to sing her first aria. Well, duh?! They usually give the lead to the best singer, don't they? Does it require a play by play commentary from you?

I've noticed that more and more people talk during live performances than they used to. I think that people are so used to watching TV and chatting through programs that they just have developed an insensitivity that makes them forget that they are disturbing others and sometimes they actors with their banter. But then there is the whole answering the cell phone during the movie thing to give weight to the argument that people are just stupid, thoughtless and insensitive.

Anyway, go see Phantom if you're a fan. It plays twice more this weekend. But take a parka, mittens and a hat. And perhaps a "Quiet Please" sign.