The supporters of the proposal approved by the Council of State Tuesday to turn the Dorothea Dix property into a destination park for the city of Raleigh call the plan bold and visionary, a big idea.
And they are right. It is a bold and visionary move to protect and improve a valuable public resource, open space that can be enjoyed by all, not just private interests who might otherwise buy it and develop it for their own profit and personal gain.
It’s a statement about these political times that the proposal, bold though it is, has prompted such a strong and bitter reaction from the politicians on the right and the Tea Party groups that support them, all funded by the same ideological and well-heeled interests.
The most common description of the Council of State decision by the right is “taxpayer betrayal,” which is a tough one to understand since the land remains in public lands and will be leased to the city of Raleigh.
Taxpayers are not being betrayed at all. They are being protected. And so is the land.
The folks at Americans for Prosperity are the shock troops on the right for the opposition and their director Dallas Woodhouse has made all sorts of bizarre claims in his role as right-wing quote machine for the media.
He has suggested that the land is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, presumably to suggest that it should be sold to the highest bidder, when the actual estimates have put the value at between $30 million and $60 million. He has even questioned whether Gov. Bev Perdue is “fit for public office” because of her key role in putting the proposal together. Apparently Woodhouse can’t bring himself to acknowledge that Perdue is still the governor of the state.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger blasted the decision to approve the lease of the Dix land to the City of Raleigh as “giving a valuable asset to a chosen few.”
That doesn’t make any sense either. Keeping the land in public hands makes it available to everybody. Selling it off gives it to the chosen few, the ones with the money to buy it, the same ones often that fund the campaigns of many of the politicians now pounding their chests.
Berger also pledged to explore ways to terminate the lease and got in the now tiresome shots at Perdue personally, sounding all the more like a desperate politician who knows his time in the limelight will soon be diminished after Gov-elect McCrory is sworn in and becomes the most powerful Republican in Raleigh.
Maybe most offensive was the claim by the right-wingers that the decision lets down not only taxpayers but people with a mental illness and their families.
Advocates for people with a mental illness are right when they point out that the original purpose of the land specified by the families who donated it was to help people who were mentally ill. But selling the land to a developer wouldn’t really accomplish that.
It would simply raise one-time money that would be spent and then be gone. At least the park preserves the land.
Advocates do have a legitimate grievance with state leaders of both political parties. Services have been privatized and slashed in recent years and that came after many prior years of neglect.
But their argument is not with the folks trying to preserve the land as a park. It is with the lawmakers who refuse to adequately fund community services and with groups like Americans for Prosperity who continue to clamor for more cuts to Medicaid and other programs that help people with a mental illness.
The right-wing zealots and the politicians they support are not angry because they are worried about people with mental illness and their families. They are furious because duly elected officials made a bold and visionary move to protect a key public asset for all of us and didn’t cower in the face of the bitter Tea Party right.
Bold and visionary indeed.
Fitzsimon is director of NC Policy Watch