Dan Gecker – A Ray of Sunshine In Chesterfield County
Chesterfield County nestled in the bosom of the James River, bedroom community for Richmond City commuters, and a patchwork quilt of public soccer fields and shopping malls and . . . well, not really much else. It’s a sleepy contented sort of place, blighted to the east by the gradual crawl of lower class whites, blacks and Hispanics, that nudge their middle and upper class white neighbors to leap frog again and again further west into the once verdant county, and now leaping all the way into Amelia and Powhatan.
This slow motion generational immigration west is prompted by the encroaching deterioration of neighborhoods, increased crime, and neglect of the schools, that even to a stalwart resident would omen the depreciation of his property’s value. No one expects anything better, the county has long been lulled by the mesmerizing tunes sung by their self perpetuating Protestant deacons and their inept and embarrassingly corrupt and ineffective politicians who feed at the trough of the real county dynamic: commercial and residential developers -- both feeding, and capitalizing on, the leap frogging west of the white classes.
It’s not an inspiring place. Hating one’s job and shopping occupy most of a resident’s time. And with little more to look forward to in the county than the opening of a new further west located mall and the new slew of low paying retail jobs that seem to be the only employment future the county has to offer.
Into this rather bleakly painted suburban scene steps a displaced Yankee who has come to love and plant roots in the community. Over years he has established a reputation of fighting for his neighborhood, his county, and his region. A man of law and a man of vision. Someone who has quietly and pleasantly made innumerable unrecognized contributions, seeks no accolade, and could do much better for himself and family somewhere else in some other pursuit – but he chooses to stay in Chesterfield County because he sees the promise others lost sight of long ago.
Let me step back before I introduce Dan Gecker, Independent candidate in the upcoming November election for Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors. Some time ago I sent out an identical email to each of the 13 candidates running for the five county board of supervisor seats. The entire board is up for election and represents a potential turning point for a county that has been essentially totally dominated by a local Republican machine for decades. A machine that has put more emphasis on cost control than on the effectiveness of the dollars spent. Has put more emphasis on growth through unbridled development, rather than a sustaining growth through ensuring a mixed level of good paying jobs. Sees the concerns of the deep pocket developers over the rather ignored needs and values of the citizenry it represents.
Of the 13 emails which asked simply the candidate’s position on a matter that affects directly perhaps 15,000 of the county's 300,000 population, but indirectly scores more, only four candidates had the courtesy to reply – and this is in the run up to a hotly contested election. Imagine how responsive these guys will be should they become ensconced in office? Well, at least that’s my conclusion from this exercise. But one candidate not only promptly responded but also suggested that we meet at a local coffee shop so that he could listen to my concerns and give a fully thoughtful response. That meeting took place yesterday and Dan Gecker afforded me over more than an hour of unrushed time, a rare opportunity to feel that someone was actually listening. And took the time to respond such that I truly knew his position and his reasoning of that position.
One would never imagine that Dan Gecker came to Chesterfield from New Jersey, his Southern gentleman politeness is now truly authentic, as is his self effacing humility, his courageous candor, and a clear intellect that steered him through Princeton and William and Mary and on to advise local governments and teach at the university level on his passion, which is thoughtful urban and suburban planning aspiring to a better quality of life for residents. His service on the county planning board, if past is prologue, certainly suggests his political and management acumen, his energy and diligence, his foresight and imagination, and most of all the deferring to community interest over that of proliferate developer largess. He has almost single handedly revised and restructured the way the planning board operates, making it more transparent, more professional, and more clear-sighted. All skills that are sorely needed on the board of supervisors.
Few have a political bent in this sleepy stepsister of Richmond; few know the names of their local officials much less have an interest in issues. Off year elections are particularly poorly attended – the corollary election four years ago had a 19% turnout of the eligible voters. And with no social issues driving the religiously conservative, with disaffection for the Republican administration in Washington, and with the resurgence of independent political leanings, Dan Gecker, in this two-thirds Republican county, may just have a chance – and there could be a quiet revolution at the county courthouse. And what a pleasant change that would be.