Rich Collins, erstwhile candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 57th HoD race, has filed suit against Shoppers World over his arrest for campaigning there in May. Collins was introducing himself to voters in the parking lot in front of Whole Foods when Shoppers World manager Charles Lebo asked him to leave. When Lebo said that he’d let others campaign there, just not Collins, the Democrat refused to leave. Though the resultant arrest for may have actually helped his support at the ballot box a few weeks later, he still lost to former mayor David Toscano.
The suit against Lebo and Shoppers World has being filed jointly by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute (strange bedfellows), who argue that shopping centers are substantially public for purposes of protected first amendment expression, such as conversation between a candidate and a voter, and that, subject to “reasonable time, place and manner” restrictions, they should not be permitted to bar candidates. One of Collins’ attorneys points out roadways in shopping centers are regulated as public; not such that VDOT maintains them, but it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol in a shopping center’s lot. The purpose of the suit is not money — Collins wants the right to return to the shopping center to campaign for David Toscano.
Central to the suit is the matter of the loss of public space. The Rutherford Institute’s John Whitehead says: “As corporations and shopping centers get bigger, where do people go? They go to the shopping centers. It’s the only place where people can congregate, where people can exchange ideas, leaflets.”