The Democratic hustle?
Mike Dickinson says he’s more than ready to challenge one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress. But he’s discovering that the big tent of the local Democratic Party may not be, well, as welcoming as he thought.
When Dickinson accepted an invitation to speak at the Feb. 5 meeting of the Chesterfield Democratic Committee, he looked at it as a necessary step in his quest to become the state party’s nominee to run against House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, one of the most powerful Republicans in the House of Representatives, in November.
Dickinson, a Henrico resident who has family in Chesterfield, already had delivered his message to Democrats throughout the district – Henrico, Louisa, Orange, Culpeper and Spotsylvania – but was stunned by what he called thinly veiled hostility from some of the women on the Chesterfield committee.
“The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of everybody; no matter your background, everyone gets to have a seat at the table,” he said during an interview last week. “But they attacked me with every stereotype you could imagine. It was disappointing.”
Dickinson acknowledged that friends had advised him not to attend the Democrats’ meeting in Chesterfield. They warned him that a couple of women on the committee had been sending out emails “trying to rile people up” against his fledgling candidacy.
The subject of their ire: Dickinson’s six-year stint as an aide to Billy Pyliaris, owner of several Richmond gentleman’s clubs, including Daddy Rabbits and Candy Bar.
Dickinson, who holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s in urban planning from Virginia Commonwealth University, got his start in the adult industry while he was still in college. He wrote several commentaries about freedom of speech that were published by Hustler magazine. He even got to meet the magazine’s well-known publisher, Larry Flynt.
After earning his master’s, Dickinson used his knowledge of Richmond’s zoning laws to maneuver through City Hall to help Pyliaris gain the necessary approvals for opening multiple establishments. Dickinson also helped out with advertising, sales and general clerical work.
Dickinson claimed that Candy Graham, treasurer of the Chesterfield Democratic Committee, told him “There’s no way you can be for equality if you’ve worked in a strip club.”
“I knew I’d get some questions about it, but they were judging me before they even got to know me,” Dickinson said. “They acted like because I had any association with an adult club, I was the stereotypical guy running around slapping girls on the behind.”
Elizabeth Hardin, chair of the Chesterfield Democratic Committee, disputed Dickinson’s version of events and said she was “stunned and dismayed” to hear him say the Feb. 5 meeting was “anything less than cordial.”
Hardin noted that the audience was “attentive and polite” as Dickinson outlined his beliefs and clarified his role in adult-entertainment businesses.
“After his presentation, our members asked him the questions we typically ask of candidates – platform, previous political involvement, etc.,” she said. “Several members, including myself, expressed concern that, despite his stated platform, some voters may find his affiliation with the adult entertainment business problematic, and, should he be the candidate, he would need to need to be able to address those concerns. It was a very respectful dialogue.”
Hardin also said that it’s the job of all 7th District Democrats to find the strongest possible candidate to challenge Cantor.
Like the Democrats’ last nominee in 2012, local attorney Wayne Powell, Dickinson certainly isn’t bashful about describing his problems with the way that Cantor governs and “does business in Congress.”
Despite his status as a political outsider and unusual employment history, Dickinson said he’s a serious candidate “because I’ll stand up for people and speak my mind.”
He also left open the possibility of an independent run if the Democrats either nominate another candidate or simply elect to let Cantor run unopposed.
The 7th District committee is expected to settle on a nominee by May. Dickinson believes many Democrats think that Cantor is unbeatable and it’s not worth the effort, but he said it’s not in him to “just bow down.”
“I’m a solid liberal Democrat,” Dickinson said. “If they choose to ignore me and not run anybody, that’s on them. It’s my intention to keep moving forward.”