Civil rights group says it will monitor Norfolk casino project

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A half-billion-dollar plan for a gambling and entertainment complex along the Elizabeth River in Norfolk has a multitude of controversies.

The proposal for the project from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe was the clear winner on election night as residents, in a referendum, said yes to the largest economic development project in the city’s history.

In what could have been an October surprise, a woman who says she has Pamunkey blood, but is not a member of the tribe, held a news conference days before the election to reveal what she described as the tribe’s efforts to repackage a racist history that includes Black laws from the Civil War era.

Alarmed by the allegations, the Norfolk NAACP called for an immediate meeting with Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray.

Some details of that Oct. 23 meeting were shared in an NAACP news conference Tuesday just a few steps away from the future casino site.

Chairman of NAACP redress team Richard James described a tough but amicable meeting in which members of the civil rights organization sought assurances that the project will follow what he described as state and city mandates that require that 90 percent of the workforce is hired from the Hampton Roads region and that 50 percent of the employees are minorities.

“We believe the chief was very sincere, he and his team. We asked some very tough questions and we got some very good answers… He [the chief] further stated that ‘We as a tribe unequivocally denounce and actively [work to] combat racial discrimination and injustice,'” said James.

But it was WAVY-TV 10 that got some very good answers about the potential October surprise. The October news conference in which the woman alleged racism was hosted by Informed Norfolk, a group that worked with a public relations group hired by Cordish Companies.

Cordish is the Baltimore- based company that renovated and operates Waterside in Norfolk. Once again, Cordish is threatening to sue the City of Norfolk, saying the company has an exclusive deal to operate the first casino in the Mermaid City.

In an Oct. 26, 2020 letter to the civil rights organization, which was later shared with the media, Pamunkey chief Gray indicated he is not surprised by the Black laws backlash.

Chief gray wrote: “Too many times we have seen entrenched opponents pit people of color against one another in an attempt to protect their own self interests.”

James, a former Norfolk police officer is wearing two hats: he is the chair of the NAACP redress team and he is running for the 90th District House of Delegates seat. A special election is set for January to fill a seat that will be vacated when Del. Joseph Lindsey takes a position on the bench in Norfolk General District Court.

James told reporters his organization decided to withhold information about the Oct. 23 meeting with the chief in order to prevent any undue influence on the Nov. 3 referendum that approved the casino project.


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