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.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Bill:

I see you also support Perry DeMay for Sheriff. Are you aware of the instance that caused his sudden "departure"? Why don't you ask him Bill, and report back what he says to us on your blog.
AlterofFreedom said…
Bill I have to admit that I am certainly not aligned with the pessimism you have for our area though I submit with regard to politics it has been a hands off affair the last few years in terms of voter turnout largely because of the perception that Chesterfield is a wonderful place to live. Areas with true discontent for government certainly have increased voter turnouts and while there is this perception of the good old boy networks many like your peice on Terry back in August of 2006 demonstrate that that to may simply be a stereotype carried over by a gneration removed. Republicans have always been a majority and yet Ed Barber, a Democrat was supported for years in Midlothian and residents have shown an ability to vote for the man and not merely for the Party line locally regardless of the their national allegiances. The best descision Dan made was to run as an Independent giving him a genuine platform over that of the Chesterfield Democratic Committee and his message of Planning is ringing home. If there is an area that we should aslo be covering its the School Board elections. Does anyone really know anything about these folks? And the Matoaca race for Supervisor is shaping up to be quite a contest.
Bill Garnett said…
TO: Anonymous and AlterofFreedom

Hey guys, I’m a bit uncomfortable with anonymity – today, in America. Perhaps I’m a bit naïve and/or old fashioned but I think the courage to stand along side one’s comments, in the light of day, is a reasonable request.

I am just a work in progress, open minded, and amenable to the facts and reasoned debate, sort of guy. If you’d prefer, just give me a call. I’ll be discreet, and we can chat about what seems to be a common interest. I’m Bill Garnett in the phone book, 897-9274.

And AlterofFreedom, I enjoy your blog, you write much better than I do and you obviously have a much better vantage point on the county. I agree that presidential voting patterns in the county – recently two thirds Republican -- do not portend the local elections. But I don’t see voter turnout as the be all and end all – but as indicative of a broader observation that citizens generally are failing their citizenship responsibility out of apathy, indifference, and cynicism – and to that extent democratic government is both not working and quality of life becomes but a hostage to capitalist opportunism. If I’m off base, let’s discuss it.
AlterofFreedom said…
Bill I tend to agrree with your last point. I think too much of a good thing is just that too much. Chesterfield is certainly a great place to live and raise a family, much better than where I was a child in Loudon County which maybe our planners should look to as to what not to do, Fairfax its neighbor another example, if its not too late that is. It is our location and quality of life that has drawn many of nations largest developers, (**disclosure here my brother worked for Centex for about sixteen years across the country) which buy up huge lots of land and then develop to sell in a market where there is high demand. My biggest arguement is it appears as if we are only "planning" for 1/3 of our population in that exactly how many Tarringtons, Roselands, Magnolias do we really need? Where are the new mid range developments for homes for those of our residents that are true middle class. As a % Chesterfield has way too many new homes in inventory priced above 400K leaving a wake of older neighboorhoods values falling faster now as this market trends lower in the near term. If we are not careful and the planners do not get it under control a significant portion of the county will not only remain a bedroom district but a "rental" one as well. We should be encouraging development in a controlled sensible approach supporting the demographics economically of all of our residents and not merely the upper middle class. Now I understand alot of that is in the developers hands but should not our government be in the business of fighting for our residents and extending the quality of life to next generations?
Whether you are Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, or Republican the fcat remains the most pressing issue of the day here in Chesterfield is Planning and Growth(roads included) and the only one talking about it is Dan Gecker. Maybe its time we give the real planners a shot and let the true politicians sit it out awhile. What I would like to see brought back is the open dialogue between government and residents and I think the current established Parties are incapable of building that bridge which is why Independents are a growing grassroots movement.
With regard to the Perry Demay comment by Anonymous...Perry has entered the dialogue on my blog countless times contributing his insights as to where the establishment is failing, ie illegal immigration impacts and the system that causes it for one, but again he is the only one engaging in the debate that is not merely running on a Party aligned campaigned. There have certainly been issues in the Sheriffs office that have largely gone unreported these last few years and it begs the question why that is. Personally I have nver felt that the Sheriff position should be a political one but thats a debate for another time.
J.S.
Perry DeMay said…
Anonymous,

Why don't you just come out and ask what you mean? Share with me your comment about a sudden “departure.” I will be glad to explain my actions to anyone if I know what they are attempting to imply. This actually sounds like it is coming from someone within my opponent’s campaign and if you do support Proffitt, stand up and say it. You have the right to support anyone that you believe in.

Sincerely,

Perry DeMay
The best candidate for Sheriff
Chesterfield County
Grammy said…
I think Dan Gecker is the greatest.

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