Szakos Complains About Reaction to Confederacy Remarks

A couple of weeks ago, during the Festival of the Book, City Councilor Kristin Szakos was attending a talk by historian and University of Richmond president Edward Ayers, in which he talked about the importance of talking about the Civil War in intellectually honest terms throughout its 150th anniversary. During the Q&A period, Szakos—an attendee like any other—asked if Ayers thought he believed that statues honoring the Confederacy should be removed. In response to that question—apparently not an assertion or a suggestion, but a question—some folks freaked out.

At tonight’s City Council meeting, Szakos lamented the hateful e-mails and phone calls that she’d received after her remarks, Graham Moomaw writes for the Progress, saying that one caller informed Szakos’ daughter child that her mother was a “fucking whore who needs to get her fucking hands off our heritage.” Of course, it can’t be known which ugly responses came from local folks, and which came from pro-confederacy and white supremacy groups. Szakos asked that people tone down the rhetoric and leave her family alone, which seems like a tough request to object to.

30 thoughts on “Szakos Complains About Reaction to Confederacy Remarks”

  1. Although it was initially reported that Szakos had referred to her daughter, the Progress has since corrected that reference to indicate that she only referred to her child, without specifying which child. That correction has been reflected here.

  2. The comments on this one should be interesting.

    One thing I’d like to point out initially, there is the somewhat underlying double standard detailed above. Waldo, on the one hand you point out that Ms. Szakos was “an attendee like any other “. However, what “an attendee like any other” would have had the opportunity to bring up these concerns in a speech at a subsequent City Council meeting?

    [Also, one query: The Festival of the Book Luncheon where the original event took place required a purchased ticket. Did Ms. Szakos purchase her own ticket privately, or was her ticket provided to her (at no cost to her personally) due to her position as a City Councilperson? I honestly don’t know the answer to this, but if the latter, then one might question whether or not Ms. Szakos truly was “an attendee like any other”.]

    Waldo, I mean no disrespect to you, but I see this double standard as the crux of the issue.

    While I by no means intent to defend the actions of the freaks that engaged Ms. Szakos’ family, there is an underlying naiveté in play here; namely, the hope or desire of Ms. Szakos that she can be a City Councilperson some of the time but not all of the time. On top of late, Ms. Szakos appears to intertwine her personal life and her City Councilperson status when it suits her (as an example of this, take a look at the posted e-mail address for Ms. Szakos at the City of Charlottesville website – it is a personal, non-governmental, e-mail address – Waldo, from an “open government” perspective, this has to trouble you to a certain extent . . . but that’s another topic for another day).

    This naiveté, and existing linkage to her personal life, can be a very, very slippery slope; a slope that can have serious pitfalls. The bottom line is that Ms. Szakos is not a City Councilperson some of the time, she is a City Councilperson all of the time. If Ms. Szakos makes a query at an event, even an innocent query designed to spark conversation, that query itself is going to be a newsworthy event; especially if that event has already garnered news coverage in its own right (as this Luncheon at the Festival of the Book had done – in part due to the sponsorship of the City – a sponsorship that I imagine Ms. Szakos voted on at some point in her role as a City Councilperson).

    I am not here to defend the fact that Ms. Szakos’ actions are automatically newsworthy (and the news media itself is not without blame for helping to create this environment in the first place), but it is a fact nonetheless. If I had made the same query at the same event, nothing would have ended up in the news (and nothing subsequent would have happened). However, I would also not have had the opportunity to lament these issues publically at a City Council meeting. Ms. Szakos would be wise to heed the meaning of the old English saying “In for a penny, in for a pound”.

  3. On kicking an old hornets’ nest,
    They stung her, and who would have guessed?
    Her question, offensive
    To those who’re defensive;
    Perhaps thinking, ‘ere speaking, be best.

  4. I’m quite glad she brought it up — someone had to do it. Whoever that someone was was going to get hatemail, yes, but that’s not in itself a reason not to do it.

  5. I think the issue of city councilors using private non-governmental email addresses is LONG overdue for discussion and this is as good a place as any to start it.

    One would have to be quite naive to believe that Ric Barrick is the only member of city staff to either be ignorant of the law or to willingly violate it. One would have to be similarly naive to believe that all of our city councilors act in compliance with the law at all times whether due to their ignorance or by their intention.

    Access to official records has been allowed to citizens so that we can review how our elected officials and government employees act when they conduct the official business the we put them in place to do. I can see no other reason for using a private email address while conducting that business than to keep the public in the dark. That violates the spirit if not the letter of the law and is unethical at best, yet it is a common practice among most if not all of our city council and has been for years.

  6. I was in attendance at that council meeting. She purported to preface this with something asking Mr. Ayer’s akin to, (and this isn’t word for word, so vere from taking this point blank precisely) “Isn’t this a discussion we should be having?” Then she claimed of having ask should the statues be removed.

    Like Frank Fountain above, I too am NOT inclined to defend what is threatening vitriol and beyond uncalled for. I concur with the point he further on added, “The bottom line is that Ms. Szakos is not a City Councilperson some of the time, she is a City Councilperson all of the time.” Lord help us, if this starts a debate on whether the present councilors’ stipends (or salaries) are consider either full or part time.

    Call it starting dialogue or a play on the “race” card. That is what’s being ignited, can never be perpetuated enough of and attempts scratching some side’s itch of manipulation. Yes, I am so sorry for Ms. Szakos but can’t feel completely sympathetic.

    Only my own opinion here, but what she prefaced her statue removal question with appears just as much (if not equally more) inflammatory. As for “the discussion” – It is (if not has grown to be) one that is all omnipotent with us and will always be for time immortal. If it were not so, we would be damned to eternally repeat, what having forgot dooms us to be throughly to anyway. Despite whoever dares ask “are we there yet,” it seems to me we won’t go elsewhere or be going anywhere else – try or not.

  7. The city accepted Lee Park as a gift -On May 28, 1917, Paul McIntire purchased a city block that encompassed 45,435 square feet bound by Jefferson and Market Streets and by First and Second Streets, NE. During the following year, McIntire had the previous home demolished and created a formal landscaped square, now known as Lee Park. McIntire gave the site to the City of Charlottesville in order “to erect thereon a statue of General Robert E. Lee and to present said property to the City as a memorial to his parents…”

    Isn’t this a very important part of the discussion? The City accepted this gift (with the statue of Robert E. Lee) from one of this area’s most important benefactors after Jefferson himself. We award our most important community leaders with the Paul Goodloe McIntire award. Last year that award was given to Martin Burks, a prominent African American. Aren’t we committing very bad public policy by taking this memorial to one of the city’s most important benefactors of the 20th century parent’s and desecrating it by removing that statue? Robert E. Lees personal history even suggests he was the kind of man that statues should be erected to. He might of been on the “wrong” side but I still consider him noble Virginian.

    Should we take the portrait of Lord Albemarle down at the county office building because it reminds some of the stern yoke of English oppression?

    I believe that we should be civil in our public debate but Ms. Szakos was incredible naive in her question as a public official. She has every right to protect her children from vile and idiotic miscreants foaming at the mouth but it’s the history of McIntire’s gift to the city she was elected to represent that I hope she more seriously considers.

  8. It is a slippery slope of censorship in any case. Will she be wanting to tear down Monticello, because TJ had slaves? Or will it be just left at taking certain books off the shelves. Books that she does not like?

    After reading the DP story I was put in thought of a documentary….

  9. We’ve already pretty much committed to bad public policy in allowing a YMCA and a bypass or two in the park named for Mr. McIntire. Don’t be surprised if that continues and a movement to remove the statues builds momentum.

  10. Did the article mention that the “child” under discussion has a few years of college under her belt? She may be Szakos “child,” but she is far from being a “child.”

    I have “kids.” One is 38, 6′-5″, benches his weight. Please be gentle to him.

  11. The answer to unwelcome speech is more speech.

    Take a page from Richmond. The half of the city that does not much appreciate the Civil War monuments (mocking “The City of Tin Soldiers”) has never really tried to get them dismantled as far as I know. Instead they add other, sometimes appallingly crafted, monuments in response. The closest thing to a controversy was siting the Arthur Ashe monument at the far end of the row of seditious flag officers and turncoat “president” on Monument Avenue. Can’t recall that dismantling was ever in the cards.

    The Lee monument in Cville should be called out for its mediocre artistry, while the Jackson monument is one of the finest equestrian statues in the U.S., and the infantryman in front of the courthouse is like a hundred you can see in front of almost any courthouse in the former confederacy. I wonder how many have been removed.

    I say raise up a big concrete Lincoln and Carter Woodson and Mary Carr Greer*, all up and down the Market/Jefferson corridor – our own freedom soldiers’ row. The Albemarle Historical Society & Catholic church have some representational art to contribute right in that line as well. From the Old Slave Block at 6th NE to McGuffey at 2nd NW, it’s all laid out for more MORE speech, not dismantling what is there already.

    The hateful calls to her phone just show you why this would be healthy. Those people love the gloam of fear. Open it up, more light.


  12. Finest equestrian statue is a rating somewhat akin to best duck stamp art or best Staffordshire dog (the ceramic kind). That said, nothing in this city even comes close to the horses that adorn St Mark’s in Venice (placing Jackson’s horse at 5th at best) or Bernini’s equestrian statue of St. Peter, the ancient Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, etc. etc..

    Let’s be honest, C’ville is a nice place but our public art is generally mediocre except for Art In Place installations, which tend to be pretty awful, especially the ones like the dreadful whale tales that the city pays to keep around. Only a fool, like Szakos, would argue for taking down the bronzes that McIntire had erected, mediocre or not.

  13. re:”Of course, it can’t be known which ugly responses came from local folks, and which came from pro-confederacy and white supremacy groups. ”

    This sentence appears to imply that “pro-confederacy and white supremacy groups” cannot be “local folks”. Of course that is not true now, nor has it ever been true. There are plenty white supremacists in the local area.

  14. “Isn’t this a very important part of the discussion? The City accepted this gift (with the statue of Robert E. Lee)”

    I don’t believe this has anything to do with. If we are obliged to respect this should we also segregate the parks since that is what Mr. McIntire intended for some of his donated parks

    McIntire acquired Belmont Park and transferred it from the private to the public sector in 1921. When the city accepted McIntire’s gift of Belmont Park, the deed stated “that said property shall be forever maintained as a park and playground for white people.” In an era of segregation, race not only determined school attendance, but also park visitation.

    In October, 1925, City Council moved to establish a large park and playground in northern Charlottesville and resolved that only whites would receive admission. Paul Goodloe McIntire also underwrote this project, donating 92 acres for the park that would eventually bear his name. At the same time McIntire presented the city with the land for the white only park

  15. Disagree with Ms Szakos all you want, but threats and verbal abuse to her or her family are unacceptable.

  16. Brian, you do a disservice to McIntire by only including that one phrase about “white only” in Lee Park. He also gave Washington Park to African Americans. Given segregation laws at the time if he had asked that the parks be integrated the city would have most likely turn down his gift. You are speaking to a time where living witnesses to the Civil War and its immediate aftermath still clutched the levers of power in this city. McIntire’s inclusion of Washington Park at the time must have raised a few eyebrows and I think speaks to his larger intent of serving all the citizens of Charlottesville.

    You might also spend some time researching land deeds written at the time where entire subdivisions had “white only” actually written into the deed itself. Should we destroy those original deeds just incase somone is offend while researching a property? To imply that the wording of Lee Park gift makes McIntire a racist or that the gift is not still subject to the city’s previous promise is myopic view of McIntire’s largesse and mars this man’s good name.

  17. @Gail. Who said they were acceptable? No one here. So stop the same line of distraction Szakos is using.

  18. Brian was quoting from the City website (which is taken from another source itself), and ended the copy-and-paste prematurely. The rest:

    “At the same time McIntire presented the city with the land for the white only park, he also donated the land for Washington Park, the first such space reserved for black citizens. The headlines of the day read “One for White and One for Colored,” suggesting that McIntire was attempting to strike some sort of balance.”

    “The city had owned the Preston Avenue site on which Washington Park is located since 1905 but had expressed no intention of converting it into a park and playground. The purchase of the land by McIntire for $1,000 merely changed the use of the land, not the owner. In previous years, the property apparently served as the site of a dump and was proposed as a possible shelter for people with contagious diseases. Recognizing the deficiencies of this tract of land, McIntire offered to have a “landscape gardener” adapt the land for park use on the condition that the city furnish the necessary topographical surveys.”

    So Perlogik is correct to call for the whole story (And, to use quotation marks around his/her own selection from the City page). But, I am skeptical (in the true sense of that word) of the implication that McIntire would have integrated the parks if not for the City’s implied threat of not accepting the gift. After giving Lee Park, Jackson Park, the Library, Belmont Park, and the 92 acre future McIntire Park to whites, he dedicated a less than 10 acre former dump site that was already owned by the City. Although he re-deeded Jackson Park as well, the Jackson statue alone cost 35 times (source: City website) the price McIntire paid the City for Washington Park. This all seems to be a long, long way from “separate, but equal.”

  19. I was just talking to the spouse about this latest. I dunno…I am opposed to tearing down, I support balancing out (love the suggestion of a Mary Carr Greer statue), and I don’t see how one can be shocked, shocked to receive hate mail from far and wide over this issue. People shouldn’t send her hate mail and harassing phone calls — yes. But they will, of course. It’s like she whacked a hornets’ nest and, yeah, the hornets came out.

  20. Waldo, I mean no disrespect to you, but I see this double standard as the crux of the issue.

    Aw, heck—it’d be disrespect to call me an asshole. But disagreeing agreeably is what this site is all about. :)

    Great points on the terms of McIntire’s donations!

    I’ll just quickly make this additional point: I want more people who question the fundamentals, who ask why we do things the way that we do, and ask that we think about other ways that those things could be. It’s necessary to reconsider everything periodically, and that means that it has to be OK to ask questions. It’s OK for the answer to those questions to be “absolutely not” and “that’s a terrible idea,” but it’s no good for the answer to be “how dare you ask that question?” Our nation’s founding fathers questioned some of the most fundamental fundamentals that elected officials can question, and it’s an awfully good thing that they were able to do so in an intellectual environment that fostered a healthy discussion in response to those questions, ultimately yielding our country. Let’s ask more questions, not fewer.

  21. So, do we have general approval of city council business being done in private or just a reluctance to discuss it here? I think the use of personal email accounts by elected officials when they conduct the public’s business is pretty much indefensible and needs to be eliminated one way or another.

  22. Virginia Supreme Court grants review in suit alleging open meetings violations by Fairfax County School Board

    “Jill DeMello Hill’s legal complaint charges that several FCSB members were corresponding with each other through emails, which were not made public. Because more than two board members were corresponding via email, she argues that board members violated Virginia’s open meeting provisions under FOIA.”

  23. Minutes of a Suffolk City Council work session. Unlike our “World Class City,” they seem to get it right.

    Utilizing a PowerPoint presentation, Media and Community Relations Director Deborah George and City Clerk Dawley offered a report on the above referenced item.

    Referring to the presentation, Council Member Parr called for clarification about the classification of text messages as they relate to the Freedom of Information Act. Media and Community Relations Director George advised that if the text message pertains to City business, then it is considered a record under the act.

    Referring to the presentation, Council Member Duman opined about the use of a personal email address to receive emails about City business and sending a courtesy copy to the City Clerk of the original email and response. Media and Community Relations Director George explained that City email addresses should be used for all City matters, and the original recipient of the email is the official custodian of the email.

    Referring to the presentation, Mayor Johnson solicited clarification about the official custodian of an email, should a courtesy copy of the original email and any response be sent to the City Clerk. Media and Community Relations Director George stated that the original recipient is the official custodian of the record.

    Referring to the presentation, Council Member Duman asked if he should advise residents who send him an email to his personal email address to send all emails to the City Council email address. Media and Community Relations Director George replied that all emails sent regarding City matters should be sent to a City email address.

  24. “It’s necessary to reconsider everything periodically, and that means that it has to be OK to ask questions. It’s OK for the answer to those questions to be “absolutely not” and “that’s a terrible idea,” but it’s no good for the answer to be “how dare you ask that question?” Our nation’s founding fathers questioned some of the most fundamental fundamentals that elected officials can question, and it’s an awfully good thing…….”

    Waldo, have you ever had an itch that you couldn’t reach to just scratch? Perhaps some struggles are in actuality a cry to persevere with vigilance always, even though such stay perpetually short of any resolve or permanent end. I also like to believe most folks strive for the best but keep prepared for the worst. Yes – try or not -, ask questions but realize the acceptable answers fall sometimes far from being definitive or ever equitable.

    Now how does that Serenity Prayer of Assisi go?

  25. So, do we have general approval of city council business being done in private or just a reluctance to discuss it here?

    I think it’s just that there’s not much to say. I don’t think it’s something that intelligent minds are liable to disagree on. Public e-mails must be FOIAble, and that’s that.

  26. If we agree that public emails must be FOIAable, then there’s a lot to say because with at least 4 of the current city councilors using private email accounts and several of our former councilors who did the same, it is anything but certain that they are.

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