Radio entrepreneur Cathy Hughes may have upended her push to build a casino in Richmond by letting her opinions fly on the radio.
Just days before Richmonders head to the polls to vote a second time on a proposed casino partly owned by Urban One, the media company Hughes founded, casino opponents published a series of audio clips revealing racially inflammatory remarks made by Hughes and other Black casino proponents on local radio programs geared toward Black audiences.
The clips include numerous examples of Hughes implying that opposition to the casino is driven by racism. At one point, she says, “Do not forget that they do not see you as a human being.”
“Even though you may have a house like theirs, a car like theirs, your children may go to the same schools — they see you as a n*****, alright?” Hughes said. “Wake up!”
In a different recording, local radio personality and occasional political candidate Preston Brown took aim at Richmond activist Paul Goldman, a Jewish lawyer and former aide to Gov. Doug Wilder who has been fighting to block the casino.
“He’s a white Jew with a background of Judas,” Brown said, referring to the biblical figure who betrayed Jesus.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who supports the casino and has received political contributions from donors tied to the project, denounced the Goldman remark in a social media post Friday.
“I unequivocally condemn the antisemitic remarks made by a guest host on The Box 99.5 FM regarding Paul Goldman,” Stoney said on X. “We must call out hate in all of its forms, and his remarks are completely unacceptable.”
I unequivocally condem the antisemitic remarks made by a guest host on The Box 99.5 FM regarding Paul Goldman.
We must call hate out in all of its forms, and his remarks are completely unacceptable.
I’m pleased to hear the station has issued an apology and fired the…
— Mayor Levar M. Stoney (@LevarStoney) November 3, 2023
Stoney did not mention any of the other controversial remarks made by Hughes and others, and his office refused to comment further.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Goldman, a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, suggested the response and limited apology overlooked “the true meaning of the damage they have done to Richmond.”
“For the love of money, for personal gain, they are willing to turn their casino project into a wedge of division, to attempt to win by a divisive strategy serving only their selfish interests,” Goldman said.
The audio clips, taken from multiple radio shows, were posted on the website of the No Means No anti-casino group. It’s unclear exactly when each comment was made, and the clips don’t show the full context of what preceded and came after each remark. Radio One, the station that aired Brown’s comments, did not immediately respond to a request for the full recordings of the shows from which the clips were taken. At least one of the clips posted by the anti-casino group was edited to condense multiple comments, according to a longer audio file of Brown’s remarks obtained by the Virginia Mercury. However, no one has come forward to dispute the accuracy of what the anti-casino group published.
Radio One, the station that aired Brown’s comment, issued a statement saying Brown was acting as a “temporary guest host” and is not employed by the station.
“These remarks were horrible and offensive,” said Marsha Landess, the station’s regional vice president. “Once we heard the comments and because he was alone in the studio with his producer, I personally drove to the station and immediately removed him from the show. He will not be appearing again. Our CEO, Alfred Liggins, has personally apologized to Mr. Goldman on behalf of the station and our company.”
Liggins is the son of Hughes. Efforts to reach Brown Friday were unsuccessful.
Landess confirmed that the “primary voices” heard on most of the clips were Hughes and radio host Gary Flowers.
Richmond Wins Vote Yes, the pro-casino PAC funded by Urban One and its business partner Churchill Downs, also distanced itself from the remarks.
“Richmond Wins Vote Yes is about bringing people together to build a better Richmond and provide meaningful economic opportunity for the city and its people,” the PAC said. “This campaign unequivocally condemns the anti-Semitic language and divisive comments that were made on the air.”
Rae Cousins, a Democrat who is running unopposed this November to represent House District 79 where the casino would be located, said in an email that “in reviewing all of the radio snippets that have been released, I absolutely condemn these statements and adamantly stand against all forms of discrimination, hatred and divisiveness.”
“No matter where people stand on this or any political issue, we must agree that these kind of attacks have no place in our community,” she wrote.
Shots at Kaine’s family life
The recordings also include sharp criticism by Hughes, Brown and Flowers of Tim Kaine, one of Virginia’s two U.S. senators and previously state governor, mayor of Richmond and a member of the city council. In one clip where Hughes and others discuss the removal of Confederate monuments from Richmond in 2020, the Urban One head said, “Tim Kaine might have wanted one on his front yard.”
Kaine voted against the casino in the 2021 referendum, a decision Hughes appears to have been referencing when she referred to the “damage that he had done.”
“He knows the pain of the Black people of the Southside of Richmond. And yet … he’s saying that it is better for a Black man to get drunk off some beer that he financed, some craft beer in a local brewery, than to have a job. How do you equate that?” she asked.
That comment appears to be in reference to a criticism levied by Brown against the former governor in the longer version of his remarks obtained by the Mercury. In the extended remarks, Brown castigated Kaine for selling beer and wine at a church fundraiser this summer, saying, “He don’t want you to gamble, but he want to sell beer and wine, and it’s OK. You see why I say some people talk out of both sides of their face?”
In yet another clip, Brown noted Kaine and his wife, Anne Holton, had disagreed on the casino issue in 2021, with Holton voting in favor of the proposal.
“The Bible said, ‘When two come together and agree,’” he said. “Now how can those two live in the same household and not agree? So how can we have him representing us as a senator when he can’t even keep his own home together?”
Asked about the remarks, Katie Stuntz, a spokesperson for Kaine, said Friday that the senator “is attending a friend’s funeral and is unavailable for comment.”
Virginia is new to the casino business
Virginia’s four other cities allowed to have casinos — Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth and Norfolk — have approved them without much drama.
It’s been a different story in Richmond, where the proposed casino has occasionally inflamed longstanding racial fault lines.
Fifth Virginia casino could be in the cards, but Richmond voters still divided
When the casino legalization bill was being discussed in 2020, some Black lawmakers in the General Assembly said they wanted at least some Black ownership of casinos in the industry rather than having Black people simply work in them. Urban One, which describes itself as “the largest local urban radio network” and a “leading voice speaking to Black America,” seemed to fit the bill when the company expressed interest in building a casino in Richmond.
When the project emerged in early 2021, it was described as America’s first and only Black-owned casino and pitched as a way to uplift South Richmond, an area in need of revitalization.
The state capital is overwhelmingly liberal and has had mostly Black political leadership for decades, but stark divides have persisted between the city’s wealthier, whiter areas and working-class Black neighborhoods that often feel left out of the city’s economic development efforts.
When Richmond voters rejected the first casino referendum two years ago, the lower-income minority neighborhoods closest to where the proposed casino would be built strongly supported the project. But opposition was high enough elsewhere in the city that it went down in defeat, sparking some criticism that white Richmond had scuttled a project Black Richmond wanted. Meanwhile, progressive activists who oppose the casino see themselves as fighting predatory gambling interests that drain money from the communities they seek to enter.
The proposed Richmond Grand Resort and Casino on the ballot this year promises to create 1,300 jobs and generate $30 million in annual tax revenue. The “Black-owned” marketing has been largely dropped this year because Urban One is now pursuing the casino as a joint project with Churchill Downs, the horse racing and gambling enterprise that bought Virginia’s Colonial Downs racetrack last year.
The vote on this year’s casino referendum is expected to be close, but it wasn’t immediately clear Friday what impact the disclosure of the audio clips might have on the vote.
While Hughes in one recording released by casino opponents insisted the issue “is not about the color of a person’s skin,” other clips reveal her repeatedly casting the casino debate in racial terms.
In one clip, she characterizes Black opponents of the casino and Black supporters as, respectively, “house n****** and field n******.” In another, she says, “We have got to connect our Black middle class with our Black downtrodden and realize that we are one and the same in the eyes of white folks. White folks do not care.”
Hughes and Flowers specifically called out two casino opponents, marijuana legalization and civil rights advocate Chelsea Higgs Wise and former City Council candidate Allan-Charles Chipman, in one segment.
“These are not white folk pulling up signs and flying planes around the city,” said Flowers. “They’re paying for it, but they’ve hired Black people to do that — self-hating Black people.”
Chipman hit back on X after the recordings were circulated, writing, “I am not a self-hating Black person as they called me. I am an exploitation-hating Black man that firmly believes Dr. King is right when he said ‘Racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are all tied together. You can’t get rid of one without getting rid of the other.’”
With Nov. 7 looming, the clips make it clear that even the casino’s backers are unsure of what will happen Tuesday.
“I spent $10 million is what the final bill looks like to keep it in Richmond. Such a waste. I am so mad at this opposition,” said Hughes in one recording. “Do you know how much good I could have done with $10 million that I had to pay to lawyers and accountants and lobbyists and make contributions to everybody I thought could influence?”
This story has been updated to include comments from Rae Cousins.
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