WASHINGTON — The violence surrounding a deadly white nationalist rally and counterprotests continues to hurt the small, Virginia college town cast in the role of unwilling host.
Charlottesville’s city and business leaders are trying to change the image, almost three weeks after the Unite the Right rally brought armed protesters and led to the deaths of counterprotester Heather Heyer and two Virginia State Police troopers.
The newly formed Charlottesville Economic Recovery Team includes business leaders, Mayor Mike Signer, City Councilor Wes Bellamy, City Manager Maurice Jones and Charlottesville Democratic Del. David Toscano, with help from the Virginia Tourism Corporation.
“We’re in a healing process after the traumatic events of Aug. 12,” said Susan Payne, of Charlottesville’s Blue Ridge Group advertising agency.
Payne said the group is working on three tracks simultaneously: a period of healing for the community, reconciliation for the community and reviving the city’s image.
“We’re trying to change the image of negativity and violence and hate that people have seen,” Payne said.
Instead, the group wants the public to see pre-Aug. 12 Charlottesville — “A small university town, made up of artists and academics and thought leaders and entrepreneurs and innovators.”
Payne said the group will include the phrase “Cville Stands For Love” and the hashtag #standforlove. “It’s perhaps a bit of an extension of the ‘Virginia Is for Lovers’ campaign. We think this is a very positive message that can be well-received.”
Gov. Terry McAuliffe told WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” that he is “outraged” at the damage done by the violent protesters.
“I wish they hadn’t picked Charlottesville,” McAuliffe said. “None of this is helpful.”
McAuliffe and Payne spoke anecdotally about venues that have suffered dozens of cancellations and fewer customers in the wake of the Aug. 12 rally.
Payne said she believes visitors will return to Charlottesville this weekend.
“We have our first home UVA football game this Saturday, and that always does draw a lot,” she said.
Business and political leaders warn an advertising campaign without genuine reconciliation won’t be effective.
Payne said the group will not try to pretend the violence and tension do not exist.
“This has been so traumatic to our community that it has opened up dialogue and conversations that truly need to be had,” she said. “So, we are trying to do many things at the same time.”