ON Friday, David Bowers, the Democratic mayor of Roanoke, apologized for comments in which he called for halting the resettlement of Syrian refugees and suggested that our situation was similar to the one Franklin D. Roosevelt faced when he imprisoned Japanese-Americans.
The mayor didn’t have much choice. After his remarks earlier this week, Hillary Clinton’s campaign promptly kicked him off her Virginia leadership team. Area progressives are now praying that his bad press hasn’t killed the city’s attempt to persuade the Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery to choose Roanoke over our regional rival Asheville, N.C., for a planned expansion.
Update Nov. 20:
Roanoke Mayor David Bowers apologizes for his anti-immigration remarks, according to the Roanoke Times.
The Roanoke Times reports that area officials do indeed believe that Roanoke Mayor David Bowers’ recent anti-immigration comments have damaged opportunities on the economic development front. Reporter Duncan Adams has the story: Bowers’ comments could sour economic development initiatives.
Original post Nov. 19:
Things have been looking pretty good for Roanoke lately.
The little Virginia city with the great big heart has been working hard to win over Deschutes Brewing Co. The Oregon-based craft brewer is planning to open an East Coast brewery, and it is looking hard at Roanoke, as well as Asheville and other Southeast locations.
The Roanoke Times has been cranking out a barrage of opinion pieces touting the city’s amenities. Local craft beer fans, meanwhile, have been successful with a bright and active social media campaign that’s sought to win over hearts and minds. But Roanoke’s mayor have may ruined all that good work in one fell swoop.
On Tuesday, Mayor David A. Bowers issued a letter in which he joined a number of other politicians in stating his position that Syrian refugees be refused any governmental and nongovernmental assistance. Bowers cites the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, as well as “murderous threats to our nation’s capital.” In his letter, Bowers continues:
I’m reminded that Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.
Bowers’ letter lacks compassion and understanding, and since its issuance, he’s been lambasted far and wide. There’s no sense in piling on here. Bowers made a point of saying he spoke only for himself, but didn’t back down from the statement Wednesday. His fellow city council members distanced themselves from Bowers.
Bowers may well have pissed away all the goodwill building in favor of the city as a welcoming home for a big craft brewery that embraces all aspects of “community” as one of its core values. Deschutes founder Gary Fish explains the thinking here:
All along the way, our business has been about our community; the community inside the brewery and the one outside as well. Traditionally communities were centered around the tavern and the tavern had a brewery. This is where the community gathered, where meetings were held and where people celebrated together. Deschutes Brewery was founded on this principle and we adhere to it today. In fact, our mission statement includes the words, “share the Deschutes Brewery experience while building a healthier society.” Additionally, one of our core values is “share our success with the community.” We do this in countless ways, year in and year out. Our main fundraiser, the Sagebrush Classic, has raised over two million dollars for local charities.
One dumb politician doesn’t define an entire community, but Bowers’ embarrassing and disgraceful comments are certainly cause for a pause, if not an entire re-evaluation of Roanoke a a welcoming place for an impactful business. Could Roanoke mayor’s anti-immigration stance sour Deschutes on opening there? Yes, I think it could and perhaps should. Any progressive business would think twice before deciding to move to a town where its mayor expresses such xenophobia.