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Thomas A. Silvestri became The Times-Dispatch’s publisher in 2005. He started at the paper in 1982 in the newsroom.


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In Nation & World | Throw away romaine lettuce from California region, CDC says | Page A12


Government-politics
breaking
Facing NAACP lawsuit, Hanover School Board punts on Confederate school names at special meeting

Hanover County’s Confederate school names will stay the same for now.

At a specially called meeting held Friday, the county School Board opted against taking action on the names of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School.

The board is currently facing a lawsuit from the local chapter of the NAACP over the names, contending that they violate the constitutional rights of black students and their families by making them feel unwelcome and creating an unequal learning environment.

The board met in closed session for about 1½ hours before returning to open session. Chairman Roger Bourassa then announced that the board wouldn’t be resolving the lawsuit Friday.

“The board is not taking any action on this item tonight,” Bourassa said before the meeting was quickly adjourned and board members left out a back door.

Last week, the board scheduled the special meeting to discuss the potential resolution of the lawsuit, which the Hanover branch of the NAACP filed in August.

Robert Barnette, the president of the Hanover NAACP, said he was “disappointed” the board didn’t take any action, something the lawsuit calls for.

Last year, the board voted to keep the names following a monthslong process in which the majority of respondents to a district survey urged the board to leave the names undisturbed. The survey, conducted in early 2018, found that a little more than 3 in 4 respondents wanted the names and mascots kept. The nickname for Lee-Davis is the Confederates and for Stonewall Jackson it’s the Rebels.

One of the board members who wanted to change the names — Marla Coleman of the Henry District — wasn’t reappointed by the county Board of Supervisors earlier this year.

Grayson Jennings, a member of the Lee-Davis Class of 1970, traveled from his home in Lancaster County on Friday to be there for the meeting — one of the handful of nonmedia members of the public in attendance. Jennings wore a Lee-Davis T-shirt that had a circular logo on it, with images of Gen. Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the middle, “Always Was” on the top and “Always Will Be” on the bottom.

“It’s a part of our history and heritage,” he said. “It’s pride and tradition.”

He thought the issue would fade away after the board’s 2018 decision and the overwhelming support for the names in the survey.

“The people have spoken,” he said, “but apparently the government doesn’t listen to the people anymore.”

The School Board is scheduled to meet again Dec. 10.


Plus
breaking
Sen. Amanda Chase to leave GOP caucus after its decision to keep Norment as leader

HARRISONBURG — State Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, is planning to break off from the Senate Republican Caucus due to dissatisfaction with caucus leaders.

Chase first voiced her concerns in a Facebook post late Thursday after a caucus meeting in which Senate Republicans re-elected Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, as their leader. Norment has led the Senate Republicans since 2008.

In an interview, Chase said that under Norment’s leadership, the caucus has failed to live up to the “Republican Creed.” Chase said she didn’t challenge Norment for caucus leader but hoped that other senior senators to the right of Norment would.

“Under Senator Norment, we’ve expanded Medicaid, raised taxes — that’s not Republican,” Chase said. “These are outside of what the GOP stands for.”

Chase has bristled at Norment and other members of the caucus over the years, as well as at local Republican leaders.

In September, the Chesterfield County GOP notified Chase that she was being kicked out of the local party following a series of controversies that upset other Republicans, including public attacks by Chase on Republican Sheriff Karl Leonard and a run-in with a Capitol Police officer.

Earlier last year, Norment and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, wrote letters to Capitol Police to apologize for Chase’s actions in which she reportedly berated the Capitol Police officer, and to express support for all members of the department.

“We’ve been cleaning up Amanda’s messes for four years and it gets kind of exhausting,” Obenshain said in an interview. “We clearly are disappointed with November’s results, we prefer winning to losing, but we fought incredibly hard. We’re proud of the effort, and our caucus is unified and committed to regaining the majority, in four years if not sooner.”

Norment said the caucus is “disappointed” by Chase’s decision but will carry on with its pursuit of a “responsible conservative agenda.”

“While we respect her right to make this decision, the people of Amelia, Chesterfield, and Colonial Heights voted to be represented by a Republican in the Senate. Now, they will not be,” Norment said. (Chase said she will continue to identify as a Republican.)

Norment added that during caucus elections, Chase “was given every opportunity to voice any concerns she may have had and to nominate any candidates for leadership she might have preferred, herself included.” She didn’t pursue either avenue, he said.

Chase said in an interview that she wrote in Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, for minority leader on her ballot.

In explaining her decision, Chase pointed to the two seats Senate Republicans lost in the Nov. 5 election. Republicans lost the seats of Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Chesterfield, and retiring Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun.

The party will now operate as the minority when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. Democrats will have a 21-19 edge in the chamber.

Chase praised the decision by House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, to step down as the party’s top leader in that chamber, which she said would help the House GOP caucus “regroup and reorganize.” Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, was elected as the next leader of the House Republican Caucus.

“That shows to me true humility and wanting to do what’s best for the commonwealth. I feel the Senate should take the same approach the House did,” Chase said. “It’s time for fresh new leadership, new ideas, new perspective. Republicans need to win again and were not going to do that under current leadership.”

There are no independents in the General Assembly. It’s unclear what impact Chase’s departure from the caucus will have on her committee assignments, which are doled out by the majority to members of the chambers’ two party caucuses.

“If they kick me off all committees, I’ll always have a floor vote. I hope I’ll be placed on committees, but I know that taking a stand sometimes comes at a cost,” Chase said.

Chase was re-elected Nov. 5, beating Democrat Amanda Pohl by about 9 percentage points.

While Chase said she remains a Republican, there is a long history of Virginia lawmakers who left their party and served as independents in the legislature.

Most prominently, Del. Lacey Putney of Bedford County, who served a record 52 years in the House of Delegates, began his service in 1962 as a conservative Democrat, but served as an independent from 1967 until his tenure ended in 2014. Putney said his views were more closely aligned with Republicans on social and fiscal issues. Beginning in the late 1990s, Putney caucused with the House GOP.


News
Longtime RTD publisher Tom Silvestri announces retirement; new publisher named

Thomas A. Silvestri, who has worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch for 37 years, including the last 15 years as the newspaper’s president and publisher, announced his retirement Friday.

Silvestri, whose newspaper career spans five decades, will stay on in Richmond until Dec. 31.

Effective immediately, Paul Farrell becomes the newspaper’s publisher.

Farrell most recently served as vice president of sales for Iowa-based Lee Enterprises, which owns 46 daily newspapers, 300 specialty publications and digital operations in 21 states. BH Media Group, which owns The Times-Dispatch and 29 other daily newspapers, turned over management of its newspaper and digital operations in 30 markets to Lee Enterprises in mid-2018.

Silvestri, 64, who became publisher on Jan. 1, 2005, said his retirement is bittersweet.

“It’s time to turn over the next era of rebuilding to a new leader. No regrets,” Silvestri said. “I’ve been fortunate to be a publisher working with outstanding colleagues, in a community whose loyal support of its daily newspapers has been rewarding and in an industry where we keep inventing ways to excel.”

When he became publisher, Silvestri became the first person in 117 years — spanning four generations — outside of the Bryan family to serve as publisher of one of Richmond’s major daily newspapers.

Media General Inc., controlled by the Bryan family, exited the publishing business in 2012 when it sold its newspapers, including The Times-Dispatch, to a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Four years later, Media General was acquired by Texas-based Nexstar Media Group Inc.

Farrell said he knows he has big shoes to fill with Silvestri’s departure.

“He is such a force in the local market and in journalism. He has made incredible contributions,” Farrell said.

Community leaders also praised Silvestri for his leadership and the impact he has had on the Richmond region as publisher.

Robert S. “Bobby” Ukrop, chairman and CEO of his family’s Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods, said Silvestri’s retirement as the newspaper’s publisher “is a huge” loss.

“He has had the ability to galvanize people around important topics,” Ukrop said. “He could get to the heart of the matter and ask the question that would disarm you and get right to the key issues. I always felt like you could trust him and he would shoot me the straight scoop.”

As publisher, Silvestri got involved in community organizations and activities, including serving on the boards of Richmond Region Tourism, Venture Richmond, Leadership Metro Richmond and ChamberRVA.

“He was always looking for solutions,” Ukrop said. “When he took on a project, you felt like he was going to be very involved and that things were not going to flounder under him. He wasn’t just going through the motions.”

Lisa Sims, the CEO of Venture Richmond, the downtown advocacy group that Silvestri has been a board member of since 2011, said Silvestri’s tenure as publisher can best be characterized as a time when The Times-Dispatch fully embraced community engagement and involvement.

Under Silvestri’s leadership, The Times-Dispatch created the Public Square initiative that has become nationally recognized for providing a forum for the Richmond community to learn about and discuss issues of importance in central Virginia. The newspaper has held 78 Public Square gatherings since September 2005.

“The Public Squares that have been held over the years have opened the doors to the newspaper in ways that most people hadn’t experienced before,” Sims said. “For the community to be asked their opinion, then given a means of expressing it in print, was a big step.”

Sims also said the newspaper’s community involvement happened in other ways under Silvestri, including art exhibits in the newspaper’s lobby during First Fridays and The Times-Dispatch’s interview tent during the Richmond Folk Festival.

“Tom left the office and embraced and participated in the community, and in many ways demystified the institution,” Sims said.

Nancy Thomas, the president and CEO of the local Retail Merchants group, said Silvestri had a unique ability to be relatable to everyone.

“His curiosity to not only learn but to understand the person behind a story makes him an incredible writer and a fine example within his industry,” Thomas said. “His impact on this community has earned him the respect and admiration of a man who has the courage to ask the hard questions but always in a respectable, kind manner. Tom deeply cares about his RTD family and always had the backs of our local RVA business community. We should all be grateful for his unprecedented professionalism, good humor, and leadership.”

Kim Scheeler, who retired in September as president and CEO of ChamberRVA after being in that role since August 2008, said Silvestri was “the brainchild” behind pushing the Richmond region to focus on the startup and entrepreneurial community. “He was the one who said Richmond could be innovative and be creative.”

Ukrop said he got to know Silvestri better 22 years ago when the two participated in Leadership Metro Richmond, a regional leadership development and service group that Silvestri later served on as a board member.

During the program’s opening retreat, Ukrop and Silvestri and others played basketball.

“He hustled and worked hard” playing basketball, Ukrop said. “When you play against someone or with them on your team, you gain respect for the way they do things. I always found him to be responsive. If you brought something to him, he would address it. He was always looking for the longer-term solutions for the region.”

***

Silvestri started as a reporter and editor in New York.

He joined The Times-Dispatch’s newsroom in 1982 and held jobs that included business editor, eventually serving as deputy managing editor. He oversaw the creation of the Metro Business section in 1986.

He later moved to jobs at Media General, then the parent company of The Times-Dispatch, and served as president of its community newspapers with oversight of 20 daily publications and more than 25 weeklies in five states in the Southeast.

In 2012, Silvestri was named to the senior leadership team at BH Media Group. In addition to serving as president and publisher of The Times-Dispatch, he was vice president of the company’s Richmond Group.

From 2013 to 2015, he served as president and chair of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. Silvestri is a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame.

“I have things I want to do in the next chapters of life,” he said. “And, I look forward to spending more time with my wife, Sue Kurzman. I could not have done this job without her support and advice.”

***

Farrell started in the newspaper industry by working as director of sales and marketing at the Miami Herald.

Since then, he has held executive positions in advertising departments at a variety of newspapers, including at The Providence Journal as senior vice president; at the Boston Globe as advertising director for retail and national advertising; at the St. Paul Pioneer Press as senior vice president of sales and marketing; and as publisher of Hearst Newspapers’ Connecticut Media Group, which has eight daily newspapers, including the Connecticut Post and the Stamford Advocate.

Farrell holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing and finance from Providence College and a master’s degree in business administration from Northeastern University in Boston. He has two sons and a daughter.

Farrell said he looks forward to his new role in Richmond.

“This is a capital city and there are certain strengths and resilience associated with capital cities that I find very appealing. Major segments of the local economy look to be quite vibrant,” Farrell said.

Being a local media company that offers the largest local audience across all platforms — from print to digital media — is a commanding position to take advantage of, he said.

“So much of the business is transitioning to social media and digital marketing; the organization that can bridge the gap between traditional and digital media in significant ways that enable the customer to get the best result possible is going to win,” Farrell said. “The newspaper industry is clearly in transition with significant opportunities and some challenges. The ability to build on Richmond’s No. 1 local news organization leaves us well positioned for future investment and growth.”


Entertainment
'Hamilton' stars visit Hamilton exhibit at Virginia Museum of History & Culture to 'meet' their counterparts

The actor playing Alexander Hamilton in the musical “Hamilton” struck a pose in front of the Hamilton statue at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture on Friday morning.

“This statue follows me everywhere,” actor Edred Utomi quipped.

It was a pretty surreal moment.

Utomi, who stars as Hamilton in the musical; Paul Oakley Stovall, who plays George Washington; and Tyler Belo, who portrays James Madison, stopped by the Richmond museum to live chat with Virginia students and explore the Hamilton-inspired exhibit “Founding Frenemies: Hamilton and The Virginians” currently on view.

The stars arrived in Richmond off a three-month run in Philadelphia, a city where the real Alexander Hamilton lived for many years.

“We thought it wasn’t going to get any better than that,” Stovall said. He strikes the commanding form of George Washington in the Richmond version of the musical. “But every time we say ‘Virginia’ [on stage], the crowd roars. It’s exhilarating. [It feels like] we’re not doing it for you, we’re doing it with you.”

Jamie Bosket, the president of the museum, led the trio on a personal tour of the “Founding Frenemies” exhibit, inspired by 10 songs from the musical. Bill Rasmussen, curator of the show, offered insider tidbits on items from the exhibit.

They pored over letters penned by Hamilton himself, a portrait of George Washington that the president particularly liked, and a rare $5,000 bill with the picture of James Madison on it. They also looked at newspaper spats between the Founding Fathers that resemble some of the modern-day tussles on Twitter.

“Hamilton would have been all over Twitter,” Utomi said of the very vocal and prolific Founding Father.

Bosket brought the three actors behind the scenes to explore just a few of the 9 million items from the museum’s collections in portrait storage. He shared his favorite, and perhaps most valuable item, from the collection: George Washington’s personal diary.

Stovall read a brief entry aloud: “Saturday the 12th. Exercised at about 11 o’clock with Martha and the children.”

“That’s a pretty good Saturday,” Stovall said.

They looked at newspaper reports of Hamilton’s shocking death from a duel. The news reached Richmond newspapers a week after his death.

Rasmussen talked about the challenge of putting the exhibit together, because there are so few personal effects from Hamilton’s life. Having died so suddenly, Hamilton wasn’t able to write his own memoir like Thomas Jefferson.

Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton, published in 2004, aimed to uncover the truth about Hamilton’s life and his critical role in shaping the nation. That biography served as the inspiration for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical “Hamilton,” now running in Richmond at the Altria Theater through Dec. 8.