According to legend, Marie Antoinette, the queen of King Louis XVI of France, allegedly asked why the peasants were rioting during the French Revolution. When told that they were desperate and starving because they couldn’t afford bread, she obliviously responded “Let them eat cake.”
Whether she actually said that or not is disputed by historians, but the story came to mind with the recent revelation, as reported here, that City Councilmember and candidate for re-election Joe Cobb (D) spent $250 of City money (aka “taxpayer money”) on a fee-only exhibit at the Taubman Art Museum and $658 of City money on a lavish dinner for 17 at Bloom Restaurant and Wine Bar on March 31.
According to reports, Cobb thought he could first pay for the evening with a City-issued payment card he had and then a $500,000 Gun Violence Intervention Grant from the State (see top right of receipt) could reimburse the city. The receipt is below.
This whole $908 affair raises a number of questions.
- What does this say about Cobb’s judgment that a $658 dinner could somehow relate to gun violence, let alone reduce it?
- Even if the state had said the grant funds could be used to pay for the tour and dinner (which it could not), how could Cobb justify a surf and turf meal of steak, swordfish, NC black drum and trout, while most Roanokers are struggling to buy groceries, put gas in their tanks, and pay their rent or mortgage? I’m no political guru, but it strikes me as totally tone-deaf to the needs of his constituents, especially in these challenging times.
- Since Cobb intended the taxpayers to ultimately pay for his evening, the dinner was a public event. Who were the other 16 diners who enjoyed the tour and meal? Cobb still refuses to say.
- The dinner was on March 31 and, allegedly, when he learned the state grant would not pay for it, he paid for it out of his own pocket on June 8. However, why did the City “float” him the $908 for over two months? How many businesses would “float” a credit that large for that long?
- If it was “an honest mistake,” as Cobb allegedly claims it was–and we all make honest mistakes–why did he never come clean with Roanokers and admit it? Instead, it was kept under wraps until The Roanoke Times broke the story on October 24…207 days after the event. Conveniently or coincidentally, those 207 days of silence happened to coincide with the spring Democrat primary and most of the early voting before the Nov. 8 election day.
- If it was “an honest mistake,” why has Cobb refused to answer any questions or respond to an open-ended opportunity from The Roanoke Star to explain his side of the story to our reading (and voting) community?
- As we all make “honest mistakes,” Roanoke Star columnist and immigrant Serwan Zangana once asked Cobb if City homeowners could get some grace period when they overlook or miss a property tax deadline by a few days. Cobb never bothered to respond to Zangana. The penalty for being late by even one day is stiff: 10%.
- During Cobb’s four-year tenure on City Council and as head of the Gun Violence Prevention Commission, violence in the Star City has not gotten better; it has gotten worse. Since murders, homeless encampments, and public begging have become more serious and visible in the past for years, why does Cobb think he deserves “four more years”?
- Does Cobb’s position as head of the City’s auditing committee have any impact on the delayed public notification of this situation? The June and September quarterly audit committee meetings were silent on the issue, but it was to be discussed at the December meeting. Whether by coincidence or convenience, that would be a month after voting would be finished.
- Cobb touts himself as a leader of the leftwing political pressure group “Equality Virginia.” The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “Equality” as “the right of different groups of people to have a similar social position and receive the same treatment.” Therefore, in the interest of “Equality,” I want to know when Cobb will demonstrate his equality and treat everyone else in the Roanoke Valley to a night on the town at Bloom Restaurant and Wine Bar.
- In June of 1939, less than three months before WWII began, King George VI and the Queen Mum of England–parents of the to-be Queen Elizabeth II–made history by visiting President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his home. Seeking to be “down home” but also mindful of the hardships of the Great Depression still wracking the land for a decade, the Roosevelts fed the visiting monarch hotdogs. As reported in The Smithsonian Magazine, “According to one story, the queen supposedly asked Roosevelt how one ate a hotdog. ‘Very simple. Push it into your mouth and keep pushing it until it is all gone,’ he is said to have told her. She elected to use a knife and fork instead of taking this folksy advice.”
Thankfully, our times are not as horrific as those of the Great Depression, but many are still struggling, especially in Roanoke City, where many have a hard time paying for their groceries at Walmart or Aldi or elsewhere, and then have to pay the extra 5-cent bag tax to top it off. Even the food banks report being stretched thin. According to the 2020 Census, the median household income in the city is $45,664. The percentage of persons in poverty is 20.1%. During the eleven years I served the people of Roanoke City by teaching full-time at Patrick Henry High School, many times we heard administrators tell us that half or more of our students qualified for free or reduced breakfast and lunch programs.
Instead of taking a tip from his fellow Democrat FDR and showing some restraint in challenging times, Cobb seemed to enjoy a lavish dinner with a still-unnamed group and, when asked to explain to Roanokers about it, does not show the consideration of a response.
“Let them eat steak” is no way to curb violence or run a city.