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Elevating the important conversations

Last week, Gov. Jim Justice was trapped inside an elevator both literally and figuratively. One he needed the help of state workers to get out of. The other he could have left anytime he wanted.

First, the literal (and something that just can’t be made up). Justice’s communications staff put out a press release Thursday night around 10:30 p.m. that Justice was stuck in an elevator at the Governor’s Mansion for 30 minutes Thursday afternoon.

By stuck, I don’t mean his girth kept him for leaving the elevator. Instead, the doors of the elevator would not open. The same issue occurred at some point in the near past with First Lady Cathy Justice. All are well, but why even put out a press release about this at all? To beat someone writing about it? Now we’re all writing about it.

But metaphorically, Justice was trapped in an elevator of his own making due to an odd overreaction to a letter from Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin which led to him trashing the city and making a condescending and sexist remark about Goodwin.

“Amy baby, if you can get the Legislature to go along with a special session to discuss these bills, I’ll absolutely do it,” Justice said Thursday during his COVID-19 briefing. “But if she really wants to fix things, the first thing she ought to do is a special session of her own city council to clean up West Virginia.”

I don’t cover the City of Charleston, but I am a citizen of Charleston and I do get press releases from the Mayor’s office. I read her letter to Justice calling for a special session to address homelessness and mental health issues arising in West Virginia’s cities and communities. It’s a very respectful letter explaining what Charleston has tried to do and lays out a list of seven action items that can be done by the Legislature.

None of the items being requested are overly controversial. Quite frankly, West Virginia has had a mental health treatment problem for a long time and has done very little to do anything about it under both Democratic and Republican Party majority control. However, it was a bit of a public relations stunt by Goodwin to ask for an immediate special session as lawmakers go into a special session today to get redistricting maps done before the end of the year.

Yet, the letter from Goodwin did not take swipes at the Governor. It didn’t blame Justice or Republicans for any of the homelessness and mental health issues in the state. I’ve lived in Charleston for 11 years, and I can tell you the homelessness issue has been bad for the last five years under previous Republican mayor Danny Jones and under Goodwin, a progressive Democrat. Neither are to blame for the issue, which is frankly quite complicated.

I actually have to wonder whether Justice actually read the letter or if it was explained to him poorly. Justice Senior Advisor Roman Stauffer was a vocal supporter of former Republican Charleston city attorney J.B. Akers who challenged Goodwin in 2018 after Jones decided to retire after four terms. Stauffer was highly critical of Goodwin then, and as recently as Wednesday – the day before Justice’s Thursday briefing – was attacking Goodwin on Twitter for the letter. He’s been on the warpath ever since.

As a former government communications professional, I just don’t get it. Even if one disagrees with Goodwin’s handling of homelessness and mental health issues in the city, why even pick this fight?

The best-case scenario would have been to ignore the letter. It would have been a Charleston media story for a day, and you’d never hear about it again. The worst-case scenario would have been to say something like “we have received the letter and we’re happy to talk to the Mayor about these issues and develop a comprehensive plan for the next legislative session in January” or something like that.

It makes even less sense to dog the city when you also planned to give out one of the vaccine incentive lottery luxury vehicles at Charleston’s Run Rod and Doo Wop at Haddad Riverfront Park last Friday. That’s a good way to get booed when you hit the stage with Babydog in tow.

Charleston, as the state’s largest city even as its population shrinks, has many issues and challenges. I’ve seen the homeless encampments. I’ve had my car broken into only to find its contents under an interstate overpass encampment. I’ve encountered people wandering the streets high.

While there may be subtle differences, most of the state’s other metro areas have similar issues. Voters will get a chance to evaluate Goodwin’s performance on these issues in the next election. With that said, my wife and I are closing on our very first home this Friday. We could have moved anywhere, but we chose Charleston to buy our home and continue our lives here. We wouldn’t have done that if we didn’t see hope for the city and want to be part of making it better.

Justice and his staff may differ from Goodwin on the solutions to the homelessness and mental health problems facing the state. Since Justice is supposed to be residing in Charleston as required by the state Constitution, he should be part of finding those solutions instead of attacking the Mayor, slamming the city, and being condescending to someone who didn’t deserve it.

Even Justice’s elevator in the Governor’s Mansion wants him to be in Charleston so much so that it kept him trapped inside for 30 minutes.

(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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