In Robbins, Life Goes on After Edwards Verdict
Wallace and Bobbie Edwards drove home to Robbins from Greensboro Thursday afternoon after hearing a federal jury say “not guilty” on one of the six charges against their son and that it was deadlocked on five others.
They looked more relieved than surprised in the courtroom; both had resolutely believed John Edwards could not knowingly have broken the law.
Following the fall of Judge Catherine Eagles’ gavel after declaring a mistrial on the undecided charges, the former U.S. senator and two-time presidential candidate reached across the bar to gather his mom and dad and daughter Cate in his arms. As they all hugged each other, Edwards laid his cheek against his mother’s.
“I love you,” he said.
In Robbins, people hadn’t been following his trial the way many in the mainstream media assumed. People in Edwards’ hometown work for a living — at least those who can find jobs do. If the theme of his 2008 presidential quest was poverty in America, Edwards needed to look no further than the place where he grew up to find it.
Robbins, perched at the northern end of this otherwise prosperous golf capital county, is poor. A third of its people live below the poverty line. One out of three jobs lost in Moore County was lost in Robbins.
Thursday night the town board was meeting for its second work session struggling over a budget for the coming fiscal year and trying desperately to find some way to cut the town’s high tax rate. The rate is high because although the base for real estate taxes has dropped in value the small town’s expenses keep going up. Nobody on the board had been thinking particularly about the Edwards trial. Most hadn’t heard the outcome before the meeting.
When he came into Town Hall’s air conditioning out of the afternoon heat, Mayor Lonnie English hadn’t heard.
“They let him go?” he said, agreeing that most people in Robbins hadn’t been following the trial closely. “We aren’t going to change the outcome anyway. It’s already been done. You know, I didn’t hate the man. If he went to court, and they got him ‘not guilty’ — he’s not guilty. Leave it at that.”
English was thinking more about when construction could begin on the town’s first fire station. Robbins will soon set a date for groundbreaking.
“We are waiting on the contractor now,” English said, the Edwards trial forgotten. “I’ll tell you, it will be any day now.”
As for the former senator, many on the board felt sure he would return to politics someday.
“That means he can run again now,” English said.
“He got off?” Rocky Davis said, shaking his head. He then conjectured Edwards would one day run for governor.
Commissioner Kevin Stewart’s reaction was along the same lines.
“He’s good to go,” Stewart said. “But why would he want to?”
Outside in the late spring heat, across from bays in the old post office building where the fire department stores its fire engines, a number of yellow-shirted volunteer firemen were chatting beside the old Elise Depot. They weren’t talking about Edwards, though. When they heard the outcome, most just shrugged. The “not guilty” verdict and deadlock were both equally fine with them.
On the other side of town, next to the new feed store, Jackie Davis was still working at Robbins Small Engines well after closing time. A customer had come to collect his lawn mower, and Davis pulled the cord to roar it to life.
Satisfied, the man lifted his mower into his pickup. Neither had heard about the trial, or been wondering about it. Another customer said he’d heard it on the radio.
“I think he done it,” he said.
They talked about other presidents and politicians involved in sex scandals. Edwards was different; he’d fallen in love. Nobody controls that, Jackson Elkins said.
“It’s like a bucket of water — whoosh!” Elkins said, gesturing as if dousing somebody.
They talked about how Edwards and his lover didn’t end the pregnancy. Now he has a 4-year-old girl. None of them would give up any child of theirs to reverse some ill fortune, no matter how bad.
A young man helping out behind the counter put his opinion in religious terms.
“The way I look at it, there is no big sin or little sin in God’s eyes,” he said. “It’s just sin, and God forgives. So we don’t judge.”
Former Robbins commissioner and Foothills Outdoors organizer Mark Garner agreed.
“I don’t judge other people’s morality,” Garner said. “I don’t want them to judge mine.”
He does agree with the verdict.
“On the record, I agree,” Garner said. “I agree with the ‘not guilty’ verdict. I think the whole thing was a waste of taxpayers’ money. I hope they let it go at that. I think the family has suffered enough.”
Robbins has changed since Edwards stood in front of the closed textile mill to announce his 2004 presidential run. The place where his father worked and where, as a teen, he’d spent afternoons cutting grass is long gone, burned to the ground. Only bits of wreckage and burned brick bear silent testimony to what was once the humming economic engine of a town.
Robbins Mill is no more, and many here say the same of Edwards’ political future.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story