Could Roanoke mayor’s anti-immigration remarks sour Deschutes on opening there?


Update Nov. 24: The New York Times ran an excellent opinion piece on the Roanoke mayor Nov. 21 on this issue. Here’s a snippet from The Refugees of Roanoke:

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.

Image link for David Bowers.


Michelle November 23, 2015 - 5:01 pm

As a Roanoke native, former Portland resident, current Asheville transplant and lover of beer I have been following the Deschutes brewery decision closely. I have been partly hoping (by only about 5% because their beer is delicious and it would be awesome to have them here in Asheville) for the brewery to pick Roanoke because I know how much it would mean to everyone who lives as works there. The people of Roanoke are working so hard to bring progress back to the town and it was so disheartening to see the mayors ignorant remarks put Roanoke in such a negative light. What I saw growing up in Roanoke was actually a wonderful community support system for refugees from all over the world. The mayors words definitely do not embody the spirit of the people of the Roanoke valley. There was an opinion piece in the NY times over the weekend that helps describe this.

Barry Summers November 22, 2015 - 2:29 pm

Oh my.

George Takei slams Roanoke Mayor.

chris November 22, 2015 - 3:35 pm

And the mayor has since issued a half-baked “I didn’t know this would go viral” apology.

Trev November 20, 2015 - 3:59 pm

Chris, dude are you serious? You are making it seem like the Waking Life guys didn’t have it coming. Does a little thing called Karma mean nothing anymore? I run a business and people come to us based on reputation and values. These dudes made some poor decisions and have to face the consequences whether it was business related or not. I’m with lower case chris as I don’t see the correlation with Syrian refugees. Maybe you had a personal relationship with those guys and you are entitled to your opinion but come on.

Tim Peck November 20, 2015 - 9:44 am

Roy Cooper (D) has an interesting take:

Joining Republican Governor McCrory, Cooper also backs ‘pause’ on refugee admission

A Democratic candidate in next year’s governor’s race, Cooper echoed lawmakers and governors in least 26 states, including Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, in opposing the settlement of refugees in the state following terrorist attacks in Paris last week that killed more than 100 people.

chris November 20, 2015 - 4:09 pm

So he’s a coward, too. What’s your point?

Harry November 20, 2015 - 10:37 pm

As usual, you’re on the wrong side of the issue Chris. There’s no effective vetting or tracking system in place for these poor widows and children (read Muslim men of military age). More than 60% of the country doesn’t want them here. Roanoke will be fine.

Chris November 20, 2015 - 10:40 pm

Toot! Hey, Harry OneNote! Never change!

Harry November 21, 2015 - 7:05 pm

They can all go home now. Obama has ISIS contained. Nothing to fear.

chris November 21, 2015 - 10:23 pm


luther blissett November 21, 2015 - 8:26 am

There’s no effective vetting or tracking system in place for these poor widows and children (read Muslim men of military age)

That’s bullshit, as we’d expect from Harry the Bigot.

There is, however, no effective vetting or tracking system for angry old bigots other than geolocating their online comments.

Itsbeenagoodrun November 23, 2015 - 2:20 pm


Chris November 20, 2015 - 7:40 am

Roanoke has the refugee stance, we run people out of town who say things we don’t like regardless of legality. Don’t know how Asheville isn’t worse in this regard.

chris November 20, 2015 - 8:18 am

Holy false equivalence, Batman!

Chris November 20, 2015 - 8:31 am

How is it false equivalence? David Bowers ran his mouth and nothing happened in Roanoke. We shut down a business and ran two guys out of town for running their mouths.

Feel free to inform me of the false equivalency, lower case chris.

chris November 20, 2015 - 8:51 am

Innocent refugees tarnished and rejected for what? Looking different? Having different customs? Religion? Fleeing a country that clearly the people of this country know next-to-nothing about?

As opposed to the public outing of misogynist, racist con-artists who preyed on women of this town (customers, employees, business associates not excluded!) and then bragged about it anonymously in podcasts and blogs, whose public attempts at atonement came across as the self-protecting half-apologies of sociopaths?

“We shut down a business and ran two guys out of town for running their mouths.” That’s your takeaway from the events that led to those guys shutting down their business? That’s just f’ing moronic.

Offense, upper-case Chris.

Chris November 20, 2015 - 9:08 am

Again, you are making this argument about the refugees. For the record, I support letting them into this country, if you had read anything I have written you might about been able to figure out that I’ve been merely saying Asheville shouldn’t overplay its hand that we are somehow less tarnished than Roanoke.

And you want to debate waking life? Let’s do it. You haven’t said one thing they did that was ILLEGAL. In America, we have this thing called the Constitution. It basically lays out these things called rights, and so forth and so on. Essentially, in America you pay for CRIMES through the JUSTICE SYSTEM. Hopefully, your high school Civics class is coming back now. Those guys did nothing wrong under the LAWS of our nation.

How many misogynistic racist assholes you think live in WNC? Since I’ve lived here my whole life, I can tell you there’s quite a bit – some who have probably even bragged about it. Maybe even on the internet!! Should we hunt them all down? Possibly just round them all up and send them out with Donald Trump’s deportation force? By your logic, tracking them all down and running them out of here is perfectly acceptable correct?

I understand that you obviously don’t like people that think differently from you, as I have been nothing but courteous but you have just been an insufferable jerk.

Asheville has no room to cast the first stone. Obviously you don’t believe this, but you are blind to the issue at hand. America is run by laws. I bet all those Southern Whites thought they were justified in taking the law into their own hands and lynching those they thought were not being properly punished. Nice southern legacy you want to continue.

Since I’m a person that actually believes in tolerance, freedom, and diversity, I still say no offense, and peace and love.

chris November 20, 2015 - 9:13 am

Wait just a moment.

Who said that the guys had to do anything illegal to lose their business?

And who ever came up with the idea that the minimum that any businessperson has to do to stay in business is simply not do anything illegal? Was that you?

As I said below, EVEN THE WAKING LIFE GUYS UNDERSTOOD that they had poisoned the waters so thoroughly that there was no way the could continue their business. They are idiots, but that bit, they grokked. You, apparently don’t.

chris November 20, 2015 - 9:17 am

And wow, I just bothered reading your whole comment (which didn’t warrant a full reading, honestly), only to see you equate what happened to the Waking Life guys to the lynching of African-Americans.

Holy f**k.

And with that, I bid you adieu, you miserable sod.

jtroop November 19, 2015 - 3:11 pm

Politically speaking, Virginia is not known to be a very progressive state (nor is NC for that matter). I would assume Deschutes already knows this and I doubt that this guy’s statement (albeit obvious pandering to the lowest common denominator of his base) would greatly impact their decision.

chris November 20, 2015 - 8:12 am

Don’t discount so quickly the impact of the mayor’s hate speech on business. A business like Deschutes that makes community outreach and activism part of their presentation will certainly be looking for a location that will best amplify their message. Anything that detracts from or taints that presentation will definitely be accounted for in their consideration.

Not to say that Roanoke won’t come out on top in the end; they’ve apparently been pulling out all the stops to woo the brewery. But the words of a powerful (though abjectly cowardly) bigot can weigh heavily against it.

Chris November 20, 2015 - 8:29 am

No offense, but how does Asheville fit the bill more than Roanoke in terms of community outreach and activism? Do you think Deschutes in more worried about the comments of some blowhard mayor or the actions of a town who had a public shaming straight out of the 1600’s a few weeks ago?

This myth that Asheville is a loving, progressive city is false. I have lived here my whole life and have never been as disgusted by the behavior of all our “new” residents (being here a few years doesn’t make you local).
Just the other day, there was a protest organized against an artist that has been charged with a crime- seriously, they were protesting someone who had already been charged. What did they want? More charges? The judicial system to move faster? The ability to lynch someone like the South used to be so infamous for? Who do these people think they are?

We are not a tolerant, progressive city. We are a city that is tolerant as long as you believe what we believe, and you do what we do. And don’t even think about screwing up- because here in Asheville we don’t need the criminal justice system, we’ll just go right ahead and play judge, jury, and executioner ourselves.

I think in regards to David Bowers Asheville should avoiding throwing stones from our glass house. We have quite a few things Deschutes would probably be offended by so let’s just keep our mouths shut and hope they don’t notice.

chris November 20, 2015 - 8:36 am

It’s astounding to me that you would even dare to equate the fate of the Waking Life con artists *as a consequence of their own actions* to the fate of innocent Syrian refugees turned away by a cowardly bigot.

I mean, talk about public shaming! You just shamed yourself quite adequately, right there.

No offense.

Chris November 20, 2015 - 8:42 am

Haha! Typical Asheville response.

David Bowers has no legal control over the fate of the Syrian refugees. All he is is someone running off at the mouth, so your first point about him “turning away refugees” is just a bit uninformed.

Secondly, you think that public shaming is ok as a “consequence of their own actions” even though those actions resulted in NO charges, and NO evidence of anything illegal, other than being idiots and assholes? I dare say that you are the one missing the point here.

I’m sorry you are so astounded by what is a perfectly logical and coherent argument. I happen to think running people out of town without any legal justification is a bit more wrong than a politician saying stupid politician things.

Or do you believe in judging people in words not actions only? That’s a little backwards from the belief system I grew up with, where people were judged by what they actually did.

chris November 20, 2015 - 8:55 am

No one ran them out of town. They weren’t tarred and feathered, hoisted on a rail and carried to the border. (They are, I believe, still in town, no?)

But even those idiots knew that they had completely poisoned the waters, and there was no way they could continue doing business. Something that apparently you don’t get. So, let that sink in: even these guys, who are probably still coming to grips with the depths of their cravenness, understood this. And you can’t.

You don’t have to be a criminal to lose a business. Just an idiot. These guys were idiots, with a nice slather of racism and misogyny on top.

chris November 20, 2015 - 9:01 am

Oh, and to say “David Bowers has no legal control over the fate of the Syrian refugees” completely diminishes the impact of his words.

Talk about poisoning the waters! How would any refugee (or anyone, for that matter, coming from another country) feel welcomed in Roanoke? Even if his words have no legal foundation, he’s effectively made the case for the ostracization of any refugees who arrive there, and even those who may already be there.

Just like with the Waking Life con artists, you have limited hisoffense to essentially “just words”, completely ignoring their repercussions.

Chris November 20, 2015 - 9:24 am

Ignored their offenses? There were no offenses, there were offensive beliefs.

The reason I am pointing out the legality is because these guys were prosecuted by a group for their beliefs, not for anything actually illegal they did. Is what they did any different from how Hobby Lobby thinks, or Chik-fil-a? Is being a misogynist sex addict worse than being a corporate homophobe or a hater of women’s reproductive rights?

So yes, legality is the centerpiece of the argument. Otherwise, it comes back to, we shut down a business because we didn’t like them. It wasn’t that we boycotted them and made them die a slow death, or we let the community at large decide – we protested loudly enough so they surrendered.

It wasn’t that they suddenly “understood the craveness” of their actions, it was that they couldn’t withstand the blitzkrieg.

You really are just a gigantic bigoted jerk. You are the reason people can’t have reasoned discussions on the internet.

And all manners of public mob justice are related. I fear your background in history might not be strong enough to have a more reasoned discussion on this matter.

PC Principal November 20, 2015 - 11:28 am

small case chris:

Maybe you should go to your “safe space” and stay there.

Tony November 22, 2015 - 8:41 am

There is nothing illegal about protesting something you feel is wrong. That is a freedom we enjoy in the United States. People protest all sorts of things all over this country, why should Asheville residents be any different?

Itsbeenagoodrun November 23, 2015 - 2:30 pm

And this is the problem with how our society now functions. People like Chris misconstrue the right to free speech as the right to be a dick without consequences. Elected city officials didn’t come in and shut down Waking Life. The owners simply realized the jig was up and pulled the plug. This is obviously different from a city leader showing a position of intolerance. Businesses close all the time due to changing interests of their clientele. That’s all that happened here.

NFB November 19, 2015 - 3:09 pm

Ironic he references FDR:

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” – FDR

“Be afraid. Be very afraid.” – David Bowers

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