So Much for “Boot Elrod” and the Lexington Boycott
Not sure how I missed this, but Lexington Mayor Mimi Elrod was re-elected to another four-year term last November with a vigorous 63% of the vote. That was Elrod’s second electoral win against her opponent, Council Member Mary Harvey-Halseth, whom she defeated for mayor in 2008, with 59%. (Harvey-Halseth’s term on council is staggered with the mayor’s, so she retains her council seat.) Harvey-Halseth voted against the ordinance barring non-governmental flags on city-owned poles back in 2011, but I don’t get the impression that the dispute over the Confederate flag played much of a role in the 2012 mayoral race. There seems to be much more focus on efforts to revitalize the downtown area of Lexington.
“Boot Elrod” has been a watchword of the Flaggers practically since the flag ordinance was passed in 2011; even then, a change in the composition of the city government offered the best hope for reversing the ordinance. A court challenge has always been a long shot, as Susan Hathaway acknowledged at the time. But I’ve never been convinced that the ordinance has been a particularly important issue for more than a handful of Lexingtonians, and the results of November’s city election there seem to bear that out.
After the election, Billy Bearden complained that the “Boot Elrod Campaign so gloriously began was allowed to die an inglorious death by the people in and around Lexington that should have kept it alive.” My guess is that “the people in and around Lexington,” as a whole, aren’t nearly so torqued about Confederate flags as Bearden, Hathaway and others think they ought to be. The make-believe Confederates should know better; the News-Gazette noted at the time of the ordinance vote that opposition to it came overwhelmingly from people — like Bearden, Hathaway, and peripatetic Confederate beard H. K. Edgerton — who don’t actually live in Lexington:
Speakers at Thursday’s Council meeting were evenly divided on the issue. Almost all of the speakers who were city of Lexington residents, such as Beth Knapp, spoke in favor of the new policy. Knapp emphasized the city was not banning the display of any type of flag on private property or attempting to prevent people from carrying Confederate flags in parades. Noting that Confederate flags are offensive to many, she said, “We should focus on honoring men, not causes.” Rockbridge County residents were more evenly divided on the issue. W.B. “Doc” Wilmore of Collierstown said the ordinance was really about “political correctness and ignorance and arrogance. It is about the appeasement of a few at the expense of many.” Speakers who traveled from out of the area unanimously opposed the ordinance.
One factor in Elrod’s re-election may be that things are looking up economically in Lexington, as in most other parts of the country. Unemployment remains high compared to the state and national averages, at 9.8% in December 2012, but still lower than at the time of the ordinance in September 2011 (11.3%), and well below its Great Recession peak of 14.0% in June 2010.
By contrast, the Flaggers have been working against economic recovery in Lexington, in a way that undoubtedly caught the attention of many residents. Along with the “Boot Elrod” campaign, Hathaway, Bearden, and folks like local SCV leader Brandon Dorsey have been pushing a campaign to boycott Lexington businesses, in the hopes of pressuring them to get the city council to reverse its position. That effort, too, appears to have accomplished little or nothing. The City of Lexington recently released its financial report for FY 2012, covering the period from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012, ten months of which fell after the adoption of the flag ordinance and during the period of the boycott. In the three categories of city revenue that directly reflect business activity and tourism — sales taxes, restaurant taxes and hotel/motel taxes — revenues all increased:
From the City of Lexington’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for FY2011, p. 32:
And from the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for FY2012, p. 32:
And in summary:
Last month I contacted Lexington’s Director of Finance, who confirmed that the rates in these categories did not change from FY2011 to FY2012, meaning that these numbers reflect an actual increase in relevant business activity. These are strong numbers — substantially stronger than current national GDP, which is dragging along at an anemic 2% annual growth rate. Business in Lexington is looking up. To be sure, not every business in Lexington is doing well — some businesses will go bust, even in boom years — but overall, local business activity in Lexington is trending up, not down.
The Flaggers aren’t likely to give up their boycott or the campaign to “Boot Elrod” anytime soon, and that’s their prerogative. But it’s hard to see any substantive effect of either initiative, any more than they’ve restored the flags to the exterior of the Pelham Chapel. They’ll continue to stir the pot — “Are YOU mad enough yet? RISE UP, VIRGINIA!”, etc., etc. — and keep the faith.
After all, November 2016 is just around the corner!
UPDATE, March 20: I almost forgot — a big thank-you goes out to Billy Bearden, who was the first to point me to the city’s annual financial report as a source of economic data for Lexington. Couldn’t have done this post without you, my friend!