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Remembering 9/11 and war heroes
Hundreds participate in 9/11 Heroes Run in Richmond to honor vets and first-responders

More than 800 people participated in a run in Richmond on Sunday to honor veterans, first-responders and those who died in the attacks of 9/11 and in war since then.

Among the runners: Stephen Ross of Henrico County, for whom the race was personal.

His son, Army Capt. Andrew Ross, 29, was killed Nov. 27 in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device. Two other soldiers were killed in the attack. Ross had married about nine months before he was killed.

Stephen Ross, the director of military student services at Virginia Commonwealth University, spoke to hundreds before the race and thanked the Travis Manion Foundation, which hosts about 90 runs across the country and overseas as part of its efforts to assist families of soldiers and first-responders who are killed.

The charity is named after 1st Lt. Travis Manion, a Marine from Doylestown, Pa. He was deployed in Iraq when a sniper fatally shot him in April 2007 as he tried to save wounded soldiers.

Ross recalled the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

“Since that time, many young men and women have raised their hands and sworn solemn oaths to protect us all from those that once again would act to destroy our wonderful lifestyles and freedoms that we so much appreciate,” he said. “Travis Manion was one of these men. My son Drew was another.

“Thank you to all those men and women that went to help others in the towers, at the Pentagon, and in the fields of Pennsylvania. Thank you to all those men and women that said, ‘Me, I’ll help. I’ll put others before myself. I will defend this great country.’”

The Richmond run — a 5K and one-mile fun run — began near the UPS Freight building on Semmes Avenue in Manchester. The run has grown from just over 200 runners in 2016 to 620 last year and more than 800 on Sunday, said Karen Liu, the race director.

Also among participants was retired Marine Lt. Col. Corky Gardner of Richmond, a friend of the Manion family who served with Travis Manion’s father, Tom Manion, when Gardner was stationed in Pennsylvania.

Gardner met Travis Manion when he was in seventh grade, he said in an interview before the race.

“He was always kind of the strong silent type,” he said. “Really led by example. Didn’t say much but what he said was meaningful.”

Gardner was asked to be on the team that had to notify Manion’s parents that he had been killed. Manion was 26.

“His family really wanted to memorialize what he meant — his values — and they started this foundation in 2007,” Gardner said.

Tom Manion co-authored a book about his son, published in 2014 and titled “Brothers Forever.”

Bonnie Palomo, an Air Force veteran who lives in Charles City County, carried 22 pounds in a rucksack on her back during the 5K, during which she mostly walked. She is part of a veterans group, GORUCK, that does endurance training with rucksacks, a staple of special forces training.

“I thought it was awesome,” she said after the event. “It’s a great community. They did a really good job.”

Peter Mahoney, executive vice president and deputy general counsel at SunTrust, one of the run’s sponsors, said military families sometimes feel as if they aren’t appreciated. The 9/11 Heroes Run helps remind them that the community supports them, he said.

“The Richmond community stands with veteran and military families,” he said. “We support you, we honor you and we love you for the service that you have provided to our country.”

For more information, visit: www.travismanion.org


AP
Pompeo: Taliban 'overreached' in attack that killed American

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it’s now up to the Taliban to change their behavior. He wasn’t saying whether or when peace talks would resume.

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that the Taliban “overreached” with their car bomb attack in a diplomatic area near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing an American soldier — and that led President Donald Trump to pull back from planned Afghanistan peace talks at Camp David.

Pompeo said it was now up to the Taliban to change their behavior. America’s top diplomat wasn’t saying whether or when peace talks would resume.

He said he hopes the insurgents “will recommit to the things that we’ve been talking to them about for months.”

In the end, Pompeo said, “this will be resolved through a series of conversations. I hope the Taliban will agree to meet with the Afghan government.”

Trump tweeted on Saturday night that he had canceled a secret meeting, planned for Sunday at the presidential retreat in Maryland, with Taliban and Afghan leaders, and called off talks with the insurgent group. He cited the attack on Thursday.

Pompeo said that the United States and the Taliban were close to a deal.

“And then the Taliban failed to live up to a series of commitments that they had made, and when that happened, President Trump said, ‘I’m not going to take that deal. I’m not going to work with someone that can’t deliver on their commitments.’”

He said Trump “broke it off” because he did not want to “reward that behavior,” referring to Thursday’s attack.

Pompeo acknowledged that the attack was not the first during the period in which peace talks have been held. He also said the U.S. had been attacking the Taliban throughout this period.

Pompeo said more than 1,000 Taliban had been killed in battle over the past 10 days alone.

The Taliban on Sunday said that Trump’s abrupt decision to cancel the meet with the group’s leaders on a finalized deal to end America’s longest war would damage the credibility of the U.S., but they believe the U.S. will return to negotiations.

“Both sides were preparing for the announcement and signing of the agreement,” the insurgent group said in a statement, saying they had been invited in late August but wanted to wait until the deal’s signing. Now, “we will continue the ongoing jihad [against foreign occupation] and we firmly believe in the ultimate victory.”

***

Trump’s move puzzled observers, who pointed out that both the Taliban and U.S. and Afghan forces have increased fighting in recent months to strengthen their position in the talks. Civilians have suffered more than anyone in what was the world’s deadliest war in 2018.

Trump’s announcement Saturday evening was surprising because it would mean that the president was ready to host members of the Taliban just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. More than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to go after the Taliban, which were harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for 9/11.

Canceling the talks also goes against Trump’s pledge to withdraw the remaining 13,000 to 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan and end U.S. involvement in a conflict that is closing in on 18 years.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s peace envoy in talks with Taliban leaders for months, said less than a week ago that a deal had been reached “in principle” with the group and that it only needed Trump’s approval.

The president, however, came under increased pressure from the Afghan government and some U.S. lawmakers who mistrust the Taliban and think it’s too early to withdraw American forces.

On Thursday, a Taliban car bomb exploded and killed an American soldier, a Romanian service member and 10 civilians in a busy diplomatic area near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, was the fourth U.S. service member killed in the past two weeks in Afghanistan.

“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump tweeted. “If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. How many more decades are they willing to fight?”

It remains unclear if the U.S.-Taliban talks are over or only paused. Trump said he called off the peace negotiations after the bombing, but Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy negotiating with the Taliban, was meeting with leaders of the insurgent group in Doha, Qatar, on both Thursday and Friday.

The Afghan government, sidelined from the negotiations, seemed hesitant to directly respond to Trump’s announcement, saying simply that “we have always said that a real peace will come when the Taliban stop killing Afghans and implement a ceasefire and start direct negotiations with the Afghan government” on the country’s future — talks that were meant to quickly follow a U.S.-Taliban deal.

***

Democrats said Trump’s decision to nix a deal with the Taliban was evidence that he was moving too quickly to get one.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the talks were ill-conceived from the start because they haven’t yet involved the Afghan government.

“It’s another example of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, which is a high-wire act that ultimately is focused on Trump as a persona but not in the strategic, methodical effort of creating peace,” Menendez said.

Criticism of the Camp David plan was not limited to Democrats.

“Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” tweeted Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. “No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever.”

***

In Kabul, Afghan officials, analysts and citizens on Sunday cautiously welcomed Trump’s announcement that he was calling off the talks.

“There is definitely a silver lining to this,” said Haroun Mir, an analyst based in Kabul. “There was total confusion before. Everyone was afraid the U.S. would sign a cease-fire but the Taliban would continue their war against the Afghan people.

“Now President Trump has personally rectified this with his own tweet.”

Few Afghans had trusted the closed negotiations between the United States and the Taliban. Many expressed fears that the Trump administration would make too many concessions to the insurgents, giving them free rein to reimpose extreme Islamic rule and sacrificing gains in rights and freedoms.

Some said the insurgents should never be forgiven for their attacks on civilians.

“The Taliban were never interested in peace. … They just kept killing people indiscriminately to get a stronger bargaining position,” tweeted Raihana Azad, a legislator.

Others criticized Trump for saying he had canceled the talks because of a bombing that killed a U.S. soldier, after months of attacks that harmed hundreds of Afghan civilians.

“American life matters for the U.S., but it is not important for them if Afghans are dying like lambs,” said Ahmad Shah Aria, 23, an economics student in Kabul. “Violence has been intense during the talks, and it will intensify if the talks stop.”


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Downtown arena could benefit from not having a sports team, but big events remain on the wish list

A new downtown arena would be a magnet for sporting events but, according to Michael Hallmark, a developer involved in the project, there’s a benefit to not having a minor league team as a full-time tenant, too.

The new arena, which would contain 17,500 seats, would cost $235 million to build, part of the overall $1.5 billion NH District Corp. redevelopment proposal. That size hints at the group’s big booking ambitions. The proposal was officially unveiled in early August, allowing the Richmond City Council to begin a review of it.

“It’s not being designed for sports, but certainly we see that as a big component, for sure,” said Hallmark, whose company, Future Cities, is part of the development of the arena plan.

Throughout his career, Hallmark has been involved in a variety of projects, from the TD Garden in Boston to the Staples Center in Los Angeles, both NBA and NHL venues. Future Cities is now based in Richmond as it works on the arena project.

A new arena in Richmond wouldn’t be contingent on an anchor tenant, Hallmark said, but he imagines that such a facility could draw such tenants as a G League basketball franchise or a minor league hockey team.

Those two would push the yearly attendance estimate for the arena up to 683,000, along with other events such as concerts, ice shows, motorsports, rodeos, graduations and more. Hallmark said the facility could essentially contain any type of sport in the country that plays in an arena.

Hallmark acknowledged that events like G League basketball and minor league hockey wouldn’t fill up the building, but said he still sees benefits.

“It’s nice for kids to grow up with a local team,” Hallmark said. “Those are kind of where some of those memories happen. And it would be a good program for us to engage community kids in, because there’s a lot of availability for that. And it gets people coming downtown.”

On the other hand, not having an anchor tenant would mean more flexibility. Hallmark sees the new venue as something that could accommodate any arena concert happening in the U.S.

“Immediately, you permanently block out the dates that the tenants are there, and sometimes those are prime touring events,” Hallmark said. “So it’s really up to the citizens of Richmond. If there’s a nice movement to try to bring hockey here, we can do it.”

Without tenants, the annual attendance estimate for the arena would be around 510,000, Hallmark said.

A third-party analysis of the project, ordered by Mayor Levar Stoney and submitted by Chicago-based Hunden Strategic Partners in the fall, presented its own projections for yearly attendance at a new arena. Without minor league hockey, that analysis estimated a new arena could draw an average of nearly 800,000 people per year. Most of that would come from concerts and family shows.

From a basketball standpoint, a new arena could catch the eye of major tournaments.

The currently defunct Richmond Coliseum hosted events such as the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four in 1994, first- and second-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament play in 1990 and 1996, and was the home of the Colonial Athletic Association men’s tournament from 1990 to 2013. But, as Virginia Commonwealth University and Old Dominion University left the conference, the CAA tournament was moved elsewhere.

Hosting the CAA men’s tournament was a win for the city and the conference, former commissioner Tom Yeager said.

“It gave an opportunity, I think, to be an event that creates some excitement and energy around the city,” Yeager said. “And that was all good.”

The landscape has since changed.

The CAA held its last three men’s basketball tournaments at the 13,000-seat North Charleston Coliseum in South Carolina and announced last year that the tournament would move to the new 4,200-seat Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington for 2020, 2021 and 2022.

“The tournament is different than it was for those 24 years [in Richmond] where you had a different makeup of membership in the conference,” current CAA commissioner Joe D’Antonio said. “So there’s a lot of factors that we would look at in terms of where the tournament would be held.

“And, again, I would never say never. But it’s just a situation where we’re very committed to where we are right now and excited about the possibilities that this new venue in D.C. is going to provide to us.”

Other conferences with ties to Richmond could be interested in bringing their basketball tournaments to a new downtown arena, however.

The Atlantic 10 played women’s basketball tournament games at the Coliseum for five consecutive years, from 2014 to 2018. The conference has never held its men’s tournament in Richmond.

The conference’s women’s tournament will be played on campuses for at least the next two years, including VCU’s Siegel Center in 2021. The men’s tournament will be at the Barclays Center in New York in 2020, 2021, 2023 and 2024, The event will be at Capital One Arena in Washington in 2022.

But after that?

“Given [Richmond’s] … right in the sweet spot of our footprint, it would be a venue that we would certainly give strong consideration to,” A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade said.


Local
University of Virginia falls out of top 25 in college rankings list

Virginia is no longer home to a top 25 college.

The University of Virginia fell out of the top 25 to No. 28, according to the 2020 U.S. News & World Report national university rankings, released Monday. UVA came in at No. 25 on each of the past two years’ lists.

The Charlottesville school was named the fourth-best public university in the U.S. behind the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

In the national liberal arts school rankings, Washington and Lee University climbed one spot from No. 11 to No. 10. The University of Richmond, the only other Virginia school in the top 50 of the liberal arts rankings, rose two spots to No. 23. Both were ranked in the top 25 for best-value school in the liberal arts category.

The closely followed U.S. News & World Report list is considered the definitive ranking of top colleges. The criteria for the rankings, which include student-to-faculty ratio, alumni giving and graduation rates, among others, can drive university policy as schools work to improve their spot on the list.

U.S. News weighs more than a dozen different factors for a school and creates an overall score for each school. UVA, for example, finished with an overall score of 73.

“For more than three decades, we’ve collected and analyzed data on thousands of colleges and universities across the country and helped put schools on the map,” said Kim Castro, editor and chief content officer of U.S. News.

“We’ve found the best institutions to be ones committed to academically and financially supporting their students through graduation. They draw in high-quality professors and set students up for postgraduate success.”

The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg finished at No. 40, down from No. 38 last year and tied with Brandeis University, Boston University, Case Western Reserve University, Northeastern University and the Tulane University. William & Mary was named the 12th-best public school.

“Rankings are something that can’t drive your thinking, but because many of our constituencies care about them, we have to pay attention to them to some degree,” said William & Mary President Katherine Rowe last year when asked about the issue shortly after taking office.

Virginia Tech climbed two spots to No. 74, tied with Fordham University and Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. Virginia Commonwealth University fell from No. 157 to No. 162.

In total, Virginia placed five schools in the top 200 institutions — UVA (No. 28), William & Mary (No. 40), Virginia Tech (No. 74), George Mason University (No. 153) and VCU (No. 162).

Princeton and Harvard universities retained their No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively. There was a three-way tie for third place among Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University.