Barry Saunders

Let the rich wait their turn like the rest of us – Saunders

The rich are different from you and me. –F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Yeah, they have more money. –Ernest Hemingway.

They also have, Hemingway could’ve added, better sidewalks.

At least, they will have them if the Raleigh City Council greenlights a proposal by a deep-pocketed developer that would allow it to hopscotch to the front of the line for new sidewalks in the city.

Raleigh-based Highwoods Properties, which is the biggest office landlord in the Triangle, wants a sidewalk along Highwoods Boulevard between Atlantic Avenue and Capital Boulevard. One isn’t slated for that area for the foreseeable future – unless you can foresee 10 years down the road.

Highwoods officials, though, don’t want to wait that long, so they are pledging to kick in part of the cost for the right to saunter to the front of the line.

That – he says, removing his glasses and staring portentously into the camera like David Caruso does on every episode of CSI: Miami – is a real sidewalk sale.

Yep, you read that correctly. They want to use the muscle of their moolah to move ahead of everyone else. I could be wrong – which, as you know, is most unlikely on any day ending in “y”– but there seems to be something revoltingly un-American about such a proposal. Haven’t we for centuries in this country been told that wealthy companies and individuals were no better than we, that all of us are the same?

Of course, no one over 5-years-old actually believes that, but it was comforting to think that it could be true. If Highwoods Properties or any other big business is allowed to move ahead because of the number of zeroes in in its checking account, they expose the Declaration of Independence as a fairy tale, something to tell poor people to lull them to sleep at night.

What’s to stop other companies from placing their interests above the city’s, or residents in affluent communities from pooling their resources and ensuring that the city is more responsive to their need for pools, sidewalks and anything else?

Instead of flexing their muscles – which are found in their purse strings – and validating the fact that, among equals, they are more equal than you and me, Highwoods officials should be required to do what we already presume big business does to move to the front of the line: Cheat. Greasing palms is a time-honored, long-suspected, little-acknowledged way to ensure that most politicians are more responsive to your whims and desires.

They’re known in some societies as campaign contributions.

Don’t look at me like that. Unless you’re Alice in Wonderland, you know how the Golden Rule works: He who has the gold, rules, right?

Assistant City Manager Tansy Hayward assured me that even if the public-private partnership takes hold, “no money will be taken from other projects.”

Besides, she said, “all of that is just in discussions. There has been no decision by the council at this point.”

True, but the city council is mulling the proposal, and Mayor Nancy McFarlane sounds intrigued by it.

“We don’t want people with money to go to the top (of a list) just because they can afford it,” Herroner said last week in an N&O story. “On the other hand, we want free money.”

Pssst, Madam Mayor: Nothing is free, and you should encourage the council to reject this proposal immediately because of the dangerous precedent it could set. Why, just imagine – people being treated differently not because of the content of their character but because of the contents of their wallet. Heavens to Betsy!

Rich business rep: Say, councilman. My client was extremely disappointed with your vote on the new marina proposal last night. He understands that you’ve been worried about your ailing mother’s lumbago, so here’s $2 million in this shoebox to buy her a hospital in the Caymans.

I don’t know about you, but I yearn for the good old days when the rich and powerful were treated differently presumably because of economic realpolitik, not by law. Can’t we at least keep the illusion that all neighborhoods and the people therein are treated equally?

Allowing Highwoods Properties and other businesses to catapult the rest of us because of their wealth destroys the illusion upon which this country was founded – that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these being life, liberty and a sidewalk you can walk on without breaking your ankle even if you aren’t rich.

Pshawww. The council hasn’t made a decision yet, but you can forget the idealism inherent in the Declaration of Independence and remember, instead, this political truism: Money talks and (everybody else) walks – usually on horribly neglected sidewalks until the people with money get theirs fixed.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9