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A divided House endorses impeachment inquiry into Trump

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Brini Sharpe, 4, and Kamari Stone, 5, both of Henrico, pose for a photo with Richmond Flying Squirrels' mascots, Nutzy and Nutasha, during the annual Squirrel-O-Ween event at The Diamond in Richmond on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019.

Little Sisters of the Poor to leave Richmond region - they'd been here since 1874

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic congregation of religious women whose mission is to serve the elderly in nursing homes around the world, announced Wednesday that they would be withdrawing from the Richmond region and leaving St. Joseph’s Home in Henrico County.

The congregation is seeking to partner with another mission-driven organization to take over running the 96-bed home and has offered all of the residents the opportunity to transfer to another home operated by the sisters in another state. Alternatively, the residents may stay in the home once another organization takes over or the staff at St. Joseph will help them find another home, said the Rev. Mark Cregan, general counsel for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The withdrawal is one of seven across the country in the last six years due to a decrease in the number of women joining the religious order, said Sister Jeanne Mary, who works at St. Joseph’s Home.

“It’s not because we don’t love them [the residents],” Sister Jeanne Mary said. “It’s very sad to see such a mission which is so needed today is diminishing because there are very few to follow us.”

Their mission is to give housing and medical care to the elderly poor of every race and religion and serve them with a sense of dignity and compassion, according to the organization’s mission statement.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, which have about 30 locations across the U.S. and others in more than 30 countries, came to the Richmond area in 1874. They first had a location in downtown Richmond, moved to the Fan District in 1877 and ultimately moved to the current location in Henrico in 1976. The home is at 1503 Michaels Road, near Three Chopt Road and Forest Avenue.

The 11 sisters leaving St. Joseph’s don’t know yet where they will go, but they can be sent to any home run by the religious order in the world.

“For more than a century, the Little Sisters of the Poor have been faithful servants and true examples of Christ’s loving care and unwavering, tender devotion for the poor, sick, elderly and dying within our diocese,” Bishop Barry Knestout, who leads the Richmond Diocese, said in a news release. “I am deeply saddened to see them leave our region as their departure will leave a profound void within our community that is irreplaceable. Yet, I am immensely grateful for the decades of humble service, selfless work, great love and devotion they have provided to the most vulnerable in our community.”

The announcement, made at a meeting with the residents, their families, staff and volunteers on Wednesday, was met with surprise and sadness, Cregan said.

“They can’t imagine the home here without the Little Sisters being present,” he said.

As the sisters withdraw from homes, the organization will work on devoting more resources to other areas.

“As part of a strategic plan aimed at strengthening our ministry and the quality of our religious and community life, we Little Sisters have recognized the need to withdraw from a certain number of Homes in the United States, while at the same time dedicating our resources to much needed upgrades and reconstruction projects in others,” Mother Loraine Marie Clare, the regional head for the religious order, said in a news release.

“We’re grateful for [the community’s] support and love,” said Sister Jeanne Mary.

This story has been clarified to reflect that the home is not slated for closure.

PHOTOS: Little Sisters of the Poor in Richmond through the years

Henrico's top prosecutor faces challenge from attorney she fired when taking office

Two women are facing off in next week’s election for the top prosecutor’s job in Henrico County.

Incumbent Shannon Taylor, 51, a Democrat, is running for her third term as Henrico’s commonwealth’s attorney. She first took the post in 2012 and within a month cleaned house, firing seven of the outgoing administration’s more senior attorneys, including her current Republican challenger, Owen Conway.

Conway, 54, who currently handles criminal defense cases, said she’s not running for revenge but says she sees “a lot that can be improved in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office looking at it from the outside.”

“I would not have changed the last eight years. I have gained such invaluable experience by working with defendants. It will make me a much better prosecutor having done defense work for eight years,” Conway said. “I feel like I can do a better job for the citizens. I have no other political ambitions. I truly want to serve. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”

Taylor, who also was a defense attorney before taking over the Henrico office, said she wants to carry on with the “criminal justice reform” platform she’s run on in the past.

“When I came in, in 2012, I had a vision for this office that was going to be, in my opinion, that was different than the way things had always been done in Henrico County,” Taylor said.

She has attempted to make the criminal justice system more compassionate for those suffering from drug addiction, mental health issues and poverty by offering more lenient sentences for those who seek treatment or participate in diversion programs.

“One of my first policy decisions was changing the notion or the mindset that just because someone had been charged with a felony did not mean that a conviction of a felony should be the automatic result,” Taylor said.

She said she has sought to “provide people opportunities to change the course of their decision-making with resources, so when faced with the proverbial fork in the road — good choice or bad choice — giving them the structure to make better decisions next time.”

Conway, who also wants to see more access to services to treat mental health and substance-abuse issues, called Taylor’s policy of handling cases inconsistent and arbitrary, and pointed to it as an example of a lack of leadership.

A main issue for both candidates is overcrowding at the two county-run jails, and both agree that the issue stems from higher incarceration rates of people with substance-use and mental health issues. They differ, though, on a solution.

“I have had clients, based on the fact that there is nowhere for them to go, they are being held in jail,” Conway said. “I think often everyone agrees, including the judge, that that’s not where they should be, but there is nowhere else for them. ... As commonwealth’s attorney, I’ll be in more of a position to assist with these changes than I am currently.”

Conway said she doesn’t support building a new jail but does support a lower-cost, low-security facility for people who could serve time in alternative ways, like in treatment.

Taylor is part of a panel of county officials who have met several times to address overcrowding. The panel has determined that defendants with pending charges of simple possession are being held in Henrico at higher rates than in neighboring communities. General District Court judges expressed concerns about defendants who have been let out and then overdosed, so they are more likely to be held so they could benefit from some of the jails’ substance-abuse programs or simply detox while awaiting trial, Taylor explained.

“So the importance of recognizing what is happening at the jail is understanding that we need to do a better job having resources available for individuals, whether they [are] inside the criminal justice system, or outside the criminal justice system when it comes to addiction recovery,” Taylor said. “If those populations could be addressed more expeditiously and having them released, that would significantly help the jail population.”

Altria takes $4.5 billion write-down on Juul investment amid vaping backlash

Tobacco giant Altria Group Inc. said Thursday that it had devalued its investment in the vaping company Juul Labs by $4.5 billion, a move that reflects deepening turmoil in the electronic cigarette industry.

Henrico County-based Altria, parent company of Philip Morris USA, invested $12.8 billion in Juul in December, acquiring a 35% stake in the Silicon Valley startup.

Altria pointed to recent bans on vaping, a $7 billion industry, across the United States and the “increased likelihood” that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would “remove flavored e-vapor products from the market.”

Still, Howard A. Willard III, Altria’s chairman and CEO, said on a conference call with analysts that while the e-cigarette industry was at a critical juncture, the company remained “committed to Juul’s success.”

“We must address underage use while also preserving options for the more than 20 million adult smokers who are interested in less harmful tobacco products,” Willard said.

“We continue to believe that raising the legal minimum age to purchase all tobacco products to 21 at the federal and state levels is the most effective action to reverse the rise in youth vaping.”

Juul declined to comment.

Altria swung to a loss in the third quarter as it wrote down the value of its investment in the San Francisco-based company.

Juul has argued that e-cigarettes would save lives by helping people stop smoking. Since last year, however, the company has been hit by new federal and state investigations into its marketing amid an explosion of underage vaping among teenagers. Separately, an outbreak of lung injuries tied to vaping has led to new government warnings and restrictions around e-cigarettes.

Altria executives said the cut to Juul’s value reflects recent vaping bans put in place by state and local authorities and expected restrictions by the federal government.

The U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco, the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and several state attorneys general have all opened investigations into how the company marketed its products. Three school districts have filed a suit accusing Juul of endangering students and getting them addicted to nicotine.

The FDA is expected to soon outline new restrictions on vaping flavors, a step intended to curb youth appeal.

Juul has made a number of voluntary concessions in an effort to weather the firestorm, including halting product advertising and pulling several of its flavored products.

The e-cigarette maker announced in October that it would suspend online sales of most flavored products in anticipation of a ban by the Trump administration.

Part of the appeal of Juul’s e-cigarettes was the array of flavors, like mango, cucumber and crème. A ban would not only hurt the company’s sales but also those of the small-business owners who are selling the products as part of a little-regulated $2.6 billion industry.

The mint and menthol flavors, among Juul’s best-sellers, are still being sold. The planned federal ban is expected to include them, despite lobbying from some trade groups to exempt them.

Vaping is a source of increasing concern for health officials.

An outbreak of illnesses and deaths linked to the practice continues to rise, while the exact cause remains unknown. Many of those affected had vaped THC, some had used both THC and nicotine, and others reported vaping only nicotine. THC is marijuana’s intoxicating chemical.

Altria bought the stake in Juul late last year, when the young company was exploding in popularity and valued at $38 billion. As part of the deal, Juul’s 1,500 employees shared in a bonus of $2 billion.

At the time, Altria, hurting from a decline in smoking, saw Juul as a way to shift its business away from traditional cigarettes.

In September, Juul replaced its chief executive with an Altria executive, K.C. Crosthwaite, who has sought to contain the damage. Crosthwaite has suspended Juul’s advertising and withdrawn its support for a San Francisco ballot measure that aimed to reverse the city’s ban on e-cigarette sales.

But the company continues to face problem after problem. A lawsuit filed in California earlier this week by a former Juul executive leveled new allegations against the company. The former finance executive alleged that the company disregarded quality and safety procedures, leading to the shipment of tainted mint-flavored pods.

The company said the lawsuit is “baseless.” And the company’s former CEO, Kevin Burns, rejected the account in a statement.

“As CEO, I had the company make huge investments in product quality, and the facts will show this claim is absolutely false and pure fiction,” Burns said through a representative.

Altria said Thursday that it posted a quarterly loss of $2.6 billion, or $1.39 per share, including the $4.5 billion pretax write-down, compared with net income of $1.94 billion, or $1.03 per share, a year earlier. Adjusted earnings of $1.19 per share beat the average Wall Street estimate of $1.14 per share, based on an analyst survey by Zacks.

Proposed Coliseum replacement hasn't passed Richmond City Council yet, but it has a new manager

The proposed arena at the center of the $1.5 billion plan to redevelop downtown hasn’t gained Richmond City Council approval yet, but it has a new operator, NH District Corp. announced Thursday.

Philadelphia-based Spectra will manage the 17,500-seat replacement of the 48-year-old Richmond Coliseum if the council ultimately approves the massive deal on which its construction hinges. Representatives from the company said in an interview Thursday that they expect the new arena to turn a profit in its first year, and they have agreed to cover any annual operating losses over its 30-year contract if it does not.

“We’re extremely confident about what Richmond can do,” said John Page, president of venue management for Spectra, which also operates the Greater Richmond Convention Center. “Having experience managing the convention center and like facilities and starting new programs from the ground up, we’re very, very excited and bullish on what Richmond can do.”

The company will invest $8 million to furnish the new arena, a commitment Page said was “atypical” for the company, which manages 184 facilities, including 57 arenas.

The announcement comes after what NH District Corp. said was a nationwide, competitive bidding process to line up management for a new publicly funded arena. It marked a shift from what the development group led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II initially pitched to the city when his group submitted its proposal in February 2018.

NH District Corp. originally recommended that SMG — which had managed the Richmond Coliseum — operate the new arena as well as the historic Blues Armory, which would be renovated to house a music venue under its plans. SMG’s management of several Richmond venues positioned it for “achieving economies-of-scale and leveraging relationships and resources to maximize arena performance,” NH District Corp. stated in its 2018 proposal.

Michael Hallmark, a developer working with NH District Corp. on the project, said SMG was “a natural starting point for us” when drafting the bid because of its local presence and time constraints associated with a 90-day window for responding to the request for proposals that Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration issued.

“Really, there was no choice for us. We had to pick a horse early,” he said.

SMG managed the Coliseum before the Stoney administration shuttered it at the end of last year. It oversees booking at the Dominion Energy Center, Altria Theater and the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center.

SMG merged with Los Angeles-based AEG Facilities on Oct. 1 to form a new venue management company, ASM Global. The merger was first announced in February, as negotiations between NH District Corp. and the Stoney administration unfolded behind closed doors. News of the merger came after NH District Corp. started its national search, officials said.

Neither the Stoney administration nor NH District Corp. acknowledged publicly that SMG was no longer involved in the project prior to a news release issued Thursday.

Marty Barrington, president of NH District Corp., downplayed the shift.

“It was during the process when we were negotiating with the city, because who the operator was going to be and what the operator was going to do was obviously an important part of those negotiations,” Barrington said in an interview.

He added later: “I would be disappointed if this turned into something about SMG, whom we respect a great deal. It’s just there are market participants who do this. Spectra is one. SMG is another. And we interviewed them, as we would expect anyone to do before the launch of a commercial project. I just don’t think it’s a lot more complex than that.”

Spectra Venue Management was founded by the same group that created SMG, which took over management of the Coliseum from the city’s Department of Community Facilities in 1984. Then called Spectacor Management Inc., the venue management company created in 1977 by Philadelphia businessman Ed Snider became SMG in 1988.

Snider sold his interest in the company in 1997. Three years later, he created a new venue management company, Global Spectrum Inc. That group applied to take over management of the Richmond Coliseum in 2000 and was rejected, although a review panel found it could have saved the city $150,000 a year, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch report from that year.

Spectra will also oversee food services and marketing partnerships for the new arena, which the company’s representatives said they viewed as a prime opportunity to establish a stronger foothold in the Richmond market.

“We look at this as nothing but upside for us,” said Todd Glickman, the company’s executive vice president of business development and client relations.

Spectra will work with NH District Corp. to secure a primary naming sponsor for the arena. Barrington said those discussions are underway but would not elaborate.

Naming rights are considered the most lucrative portion of any arena project, Spectra officials said. The company is interested in luring an anchor tenant, although Page said live concerts offer the biggest financial opportunity for the venue.

“When we looked at it, you look at what’s missing in a market like this; it’s obviously a tenant team,” Page said. “We’ve had discussions with the various commissioners of [American Hockey League] teams and we’ll continue to do so.”

The American Hockey League is the nation’s top minor league for the sport.

Interest in an anchor tenant for the arena marks another shift for NH District Corp. Its representatives have previously said a new facility would be a more profitable without one.

Stoney released plans to replace the Coliseum in August, after 18 months of negotiations. In addition to the arena, it calls for a high-rise hotel with at least 525 rooms; 2,500 apartments, with 480 reserved for people earning less than the region’s median income of about $83,000 for a family of four; 1 million square feet of commercial and office space; 260,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space; a renovation of the Blues Armory; a new transfer plaza for GRTC Transit System bus riders; and infrastructure improvements to make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to navigate the area.

The mixed-use development would rise on about 21 acres of publicly owned land that NH District Corp. would pay the city $15.8 million for under the terms Stoney proposed to the council. A package of ordinances comprising the project appear on the council’s Nov. 12 agenda, but a final vote on the project is not scheduled.

The deal relies on the establishment of a special tax zone that would dedicate future real estate taxes from 80 downtown blocks to pay back roughly $311 million in public debt that would bankroll the arena construction.

All future tax revenues NH District Corp. would owe the city for real estate, sales, meals, admissions, lodging and business licenses would also go to pay back bondholders who invest in the project. The first $2.21 million in revenue the new facility generates on an annual basis would also be dedicated to paying down the cost of the arena, which would total roughly $600 million over 30 years. Under its agreement with NH District Corp., Spectra would keep any profit the new arena makes above that sum.

For housing, office and commercial space envisioned for the project, NH District Corp. would privately finance $900 million during the first phase of construction, and $1.3 billion total.

DANIEL SANGJIB MIN/Times-dispatch  

ABOVE: Aurora Epps (left), 3, of Henrico County and Rosaleigh Parrish, 2, of Prince Edward County joined other trick-or-treaters at The Diamond on Thursday for the annual Squirrel-O-Ween event offering candy, costume contests and more.

RIGHT: Brini Sharpe, 4, and Kamari Stone, 5, both of Henrico, took a photo with Nutzy and Nutasha, the mascots for the Richmond Flying Squirrels.