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Oct. 20, 2005: CRITICS LASH OUT AT DEL. GEAR FOR FORT MONROE REMARKS
Hampton leaders criticized state Del. Tom Gear on Wednesday for saying the state government might do a better job than the city of guiding development at Fort Monroe after the Army leaves.
Councilman Charles Sapp said Gear has placed himself at odds with nearly every elected official involved in creating the process for converting Monroe to a private community, including Virginia's Republican senators and the GOP's gubernatorial nominee, Jerry Kilgore.
"Mr. Gear is uninformed," said Sapp, a fellow Republican. "We've been working on this thing for months and he showed up for one briefing."
As long as there are no firm plans in place, Gear said, he might oppose letting city officials take the lead, given what he called the city's history of fumbling economic development projects. He cited the Power Plant shopping center and the waterfront parking deck next to the downtown Radisson as places where the city failed to capitalize on prime real estate.
Gear also accused the City Council of playing politics with Fort Monroe.
Councilman Randy Gilliland, a Democrat turned political independent, is challenging Gear in the 91st House District in the Nov. 8 election.
Gear said the council excluded Republicans from the city's efforts to save the base, then Gilliland criticized Gear for not being more involved.
"Randy said I didn't do anything. Well, I wasn't invited," Gear said Wednesday. "They never invited me. Why would I want to go stick my nose in their business? They complain now that the state gives them too much to do."
Fort Monroe, along with dozens of other military bases around the country, appears likely to be slated for closure within the next month. Congress is the only body that can prevent the bases from closing and it seems unwilling to intervene before the deadline, which has not been announced but is likely sometime early next month.
The city hopes to lead the process of converting the postto a private community. But it first must get the blessing from the Pentagon and the state, which has a widely accepted claim to most of the land once it's no longer used for defense purposes.
Kearney and Sapp -- Gilliland's allies on the council -- have worked most closely with Virginia Republicans in Congress, especially U.S. Sen. John Warner. Kearney said both major party candidates for governor -- Kilgore and Democrat Tim Kaine -- have assured city leaders during private meetings that they want the city to lead the redevelopment.
Kearney said he was surprised to hear Gear's comments. Kearney said Gear told him during that recent briefing on the city's plans for Fort Monroe that Gear would work with other Peninsula lawmakers to make sure Hampton plays the lead role in Fort Monroe's future.
Kearney said he's not sure how the state might handle the process, but he's pointed to the potential closing of the state school in Hampton for deaf and blind children as an example. State officials have held meetings hours away from Hampton throughout a years-long debate about whether the school should merge with a similar school in Western Virginia and still the future is uncertain.
Also, Kearney said, it's odd that Gear would trust the state to lead the process after saying three years ago that the General Assembly couldn't be trusted to properly spend money while campaigning against a sales tax referendum for new roads.
"He did not trust the General Assembly then and now he wants to turn around and trust them with 508 acres of our land," Kearney said.
Kearney and Sapp led the city's efforts to keep the postopen and are now heading the planning process for the fort's future. *