- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

RICHMOND A Web site article that says Hampton Roads' public transit system is buying support for a sales-tax referendum from black voters by busing them to the polls for free Tuesday drew fire this week from the head of the General Assembly's Black Caucus.

Delegate Mary T. Christian, a low-key and soft-spoken legislator, blasted the unbylined article that appeared Wednesday on VirginiaNewsSource.com as racist rhetoric. The president of the Hampton Roads Transit Authority (HRT) also denounced the story.

The article appears beneath the headline "HRT to use thousands in tax dollars to suck blacks into voting for 22 percent tax hike." Voters in a dozen Hampton Roads localities will determine on Nov. 5 whether to increase sales taxes by a penny per dollar to fund road projects.

In the story, the author reasons that "Most of the HRT riders are black those least able to afford to pay higher taxes," and tells readers that local leaders "are using your tax dollars to lure blacks to the polls with free bus rides."

"Normally, blacks only get a $5 bill (walking money) and a pint of whiskey for selling their souls and votes to the white man. Now, they'll be offered a free $1.50 HRT limo ride as well," the third paragraph of the article says.

In her response, issued in a Democratic Party of Virginia news release, Miss Christian, Hampton Democrat, called the article "absolutely outrageous."

"This is the kind of racist rhetoric I thought we'd left behind in the last century," she said. "I find it hard to believe that some opponents of the sales-tax referendum would stoop so low in their desperate effort to gain support." In a telephone interview, Miss Christian said she resented the suggestion that black people could be lured to the polls, "but then I read the rest of it, and my blood pressure went up 10 percent."

HRT President Michael Townes was equally critical.

"The best comment I can make about that is it doesn't deserve comment," Mr. Townes said in a telephone interview. "This is patently racist and beyond that full of downright misstatements and falsehoods."

The editor of the Virginia Beach-based VirginiaNewsSource.com, Morris Rowe, said he wrote the article. He denied it was racist and defended it as being factually accurate.

"What's racist is for the proponents of this tax referendum to stoop to bribery to get votes," said Mr. Rowe, once a spokesman for former U.S. Rep. Owen Pickett, Virginia Democrat. "They call it walking money, and I've seen it discussed in elections as late as 1996. It's a fact."

Mr. Rowe said he is not affiliated with any organization supporting or opposing the referendum.

Mr. Rowe's article says that the bus rides are part of $50,000 that HRT is likely to spend to promote the referendum. Mr. Townes said the figure is fantasy and the total bill will be far less than that.

"We don't know what the cost of the rides will be, but based on previous experience, it'll be less than $5,000," Mr. Townes said.

Buses aren't making specific trips to polling places, he said. They are, however, waiving fares for people in the seven localities HRT serves who present either a valid voter ID or one of the red, white and blue stickers dispensed at polling places to people who have cast ballots, he said.

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