WASHINGTON — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said that the state was prepared for a white suprmecist rally in downtown Charlottesvile that sparked violence earlier this month and knew that demonstrators would likely bring weapons with them.
"We took every action we could at the state level," McAuliffe said during an appearance on WTOP's "Ask the Governor" on Wednesday.
His remarks come as Charlottesville continues to review what went wrong. City officials have pointed fingers and the Council is planning to hold a closed-door session to discuss the mayor's role. Mayor Mike Signer has said that he was shut out of the city's planning process.
Both white nationalist and counter protesters have complained that police did little to pull apart agitators and to quell the violence that spread into the city's streets as state police cleared the rally site in Emancipation Park.
McAuliffe said he'd been receiving updates and recommendations from federal law enforcement and had urged Charlottesville officials to prohibit protesters from bringing items like sticks and flagpoles and to reduce the length of the rally. He also said that he urged officials to move the rally to a larger location that would have offered more buffer space between rally participants and counter-protestors, a venue change that a judge ultimately rejected.
"We knew they were told to bring weapons," McAuliffe said of demonstrators. An officials knew that it would be a volatile situation, he said, with the two sides so close together in a small park downtown.
McAuliffe mobilized the National Guard six days before the rally in additional to sending in hundreds of state troopers to help support Charlottesville police. But Virginia law requires local officials to lead such efforts, a law that McAuliffe would like to see changed.
"When we have a majority of the folks, I think we should have a majority of the say," he said.
Don't dwell on the monuments
"This isn’t just about monuments. Do not lose the broader issue. This was about hatred, about bigotry," McAuliffe said of the debate over what to do with monuments to the state's Confederate and slaveholding past.
Issues of racial injustice aren't made of stone, he said. The governor argued that elected officials should focus on addressing inequality in education — black students are suspended and expelled at rates much higher than white students — and to support reforms to the criminal justice system to reduce inequality that imprisons black man at rates far higher than white men.
As the state's chief executive, McAuliffe does not have the authority to take down such monuments, but he said that statues like the one of Robert E. Lee that served as a backdrop to the violence in Charlottesville should be relocated to cemeteries, museums or battlefields.
The governor believes that the decision whether to remove or relocate statues should be left to individual communities to decide. But he said there is a role for the state to play and he expects legislators will debate the fate of Confederate statutes and how to help Virginia communities grappling with them during the next General Assembly session.
Metrobus and a smaller Metro board
Metrobus provides more service than ridership requires and bus service could be targeted for cuts as the region's official grapple with the rising cost to run and maintain the struggling transit system, McAuliffe said.
Bus service was among the concerns that Ray LaHood, the former U.S. Transportation secretary who McAuliffe tasked with reviewing the Metro system, noted in a presentation to McAuliffe, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser earlier this week.
McAuliffe hopes to use LaHood's findings to convince skeptical Virginia lawmakers to support dedicated funding for Metro when the conservative-leaning General Assembly convenes in Richmond in January.
The governor declined to say what funding plan he would pitch to legislators, but he said any tax increase would likely come with strings attached.
"We need to come up with $500 million of dedicated funding. We are all working hard on it," he said.
LaHood is also recommending that the board of directors shrink from its current 16 members to just five. The smaller board would run the transit system for roughly three years, McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe called the current board dysfunctional and too political that deferred maintenance on the aging system and instead expanded capacity. He hopes that a smaller board would be more decisive and give General Manager Paul Wiedefeld more leeway to make changes that are needed to repair the train system, improve safety and reliability.