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Petersburg 'ground zero' as Joe Morrissey challenges Sen. Rosalyn Dance in primary Tuesday

Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, and former Del. Joe Morrissey of Richmond don’t agree on much — the veracity of her campaign literature and his campaign expense reports, for example, much less the rules for a debate between them that never happened.

But Dance, in her fifth year in the Virginia Senate after a decade in the House of Delegates, knows she faces a fight on her home turf on Tuesday, when voters in Petersburg and five other localities choose the Democratic nominee in the heavily Democratic 16th Senate District.

“I know that I have to have my best game,” she said in an interview.

Morrissey, a former Richmond prosecutor who served eight years in the House as a Democrat before vacating the seat for an unsuccessful challenge of Dance as an independent, has mounted a “shoe-leather” campaign in her hometown in an effort to win the rematch four years later.

“I realized that Petersburg would be the ground zero of the campaign,” he said in an interview at his law office in eastern Henrico County. “That’s why I spent so much time in Petersburg.”

Dance has a hefty fundraising advantage, having raised and spent more than $190,000 in April and May on a campaign that has relied on mailed fliers, while Morrissey has banked on $50,000 in loans from himself and his firm to mount a door-to-door campaign in the Tri-Cities area (Petersburg, Hopewell and parts of Prince George and Dinwiddie counties), as well parts of Richmond and Chesterfield County.

Dance has received $11,000 from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and $10,000 from Gov. Ralph Northam’s PAC, in addition to contributions from Dominion Energy and some of its executives.

“There is no doubt that she is very concerned about the power of the challenge Morrissey is raising,” said Bob Holsworth, a veteran political analyst and public policy consultant.

Holsworth is struck by Morrissey’s strategy of focusing his campaign in Petersburg, an economically beleaguered city of about 32,000 people that Dance led as mayor from 1992 to 2004.

“He is not simply relying on Richmond as a geographic base, but has tried to take the fight to her in her hometown,” the analyst said.

Two political veterans

Just as Dance is a longtime political figure in Petersburg, Morrissey is well known in Richmond, where he lives between two houses — one in the district and one, where his family lives, outside of it.

During his 30-year political career, he has brandished, sometimes literally, the image of “Fighting Joe” — a feisty populist who prides himself on serving constituents who are overlooked and underserved.

“I like helping the little guy,” he said.

However, Morrissey’s reputation also includes a misdemeanor conviction of contributing to the delinquency of a minor involving relations with a then-17-year-old law firm employee, whom he later married. His wife, Myrna, has become a prominent figure in his campaign and introduced him at the campaign kickoff in early April at the Satellite Restaurant in South Richmond.

After the conviction, Morrissey resigned his 74th House District seat, reclaimed it in a special election, and then served a six-month jail term while serving as delegate during the day during the General Assembly session in 2015.

The Virginia State Bar disbarred him — for the second time in his legal career — a year ago on a variety of misconduct allegations, but he asked the Virginia Supreme Court in April to dismiss the allegations against him and reinstate his license to practice law.

The court has not ruled on his appeal, but he said he is confident he will prevail.

Dance said she is running on her body of work. As a legislator, she has been a fixture on the General Assembly’s powerful money committees — currently as a member of the Senate Finance Committee and previously as a member of House Appropriations. She also serves on the Senate committees for commerce and labor, where most business legislation is heard, and privileges and elections. A retired nurse, she is chairwoman of the Joint Commission on Health Care.

Her legislative record has sometimes drawn criticism from Democrats — Morrissey accuses her of voting with Republicans in Richmond — but Holsworth said that’s because Dance has learned to work with Republicans who controlled both chambers during her terms.

“She’s probably been more effective than most Democrats who have had to serve in the minority,” the analyst said.

Bitter campaign

Dance and Morrissey were once allies in the House, but their relationship has been anything but cordial during the primary campaign.

He has accused her of lying about his voting record on a controversial bill to require “transvaginal ultrasound” for women seeking an abortion. Her campaign literature says he voted for the measure, supported in 2012 by then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, which became the butt of late-night comedy routines, but Morrissey spoke against it on the House floor and voted no.

“It’s a flat-out lie,” Morrissey said, deriding Dance’s charges against him as “fake news.”

He also objects to Dance campaign fliers that show five white men in suits and ties with their faces blurred except for one in the middle with Morrissey’s face superimposed on his.

Morrissey calls the photo illustration “far more egregious” than a 1996 ad by then-U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., that substituted the face of Democratic challenger Mark Warner (later governor, now a U.S. senator) over that of then-Sen. Chuck Robb, D-Va., who was standing with President Bill Clinton and former Gov. Doug Wilder.

Holsworth calls the comparison “a bit of a reach,” but said of the Dance mailer: “It’s certainly misleading.”

Dance dismissed Morrissey’s objection to the photograph, which she said was campaign art that made its point while picturing him respectably. “I don’t see why it should be any problem to him whatsoever,” she said.

Abortion issue

The fliers also say Morrissey supported “an anti-woman bill designed to shut down women’s health care clinics,” apparently referring to a 2011 bill that required abortion clinics to be licensed by the State Board of Health.

“Guess what? You voted ‘yes’ on this Bill as well!” he wrote her a week ago. “I have never seen such unparalleled hypocrisy in my entire life.”

Dance voted for a bill that year that would have required health department licensing of abortion clinics. The bill, proposed by Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, died in a Senate committee. However, she voted against House amendments to an unrelated nursing home bill proposed by Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, that required the board of health to develop regulations to treat abortion clinics like hospitals.

Morrissey voted for the amendments to the bill, which the Senate adopted after Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, broke a 20-20 tie.

Dance acknowledged voting for Bell’s bill, which she said she had not realized was intended as a “TRAP” bill, a shorthand reference to “targeted regulation of abortion providers.”

She said she’s subsequently opposed legislation intended to take away a woman’s right to choose an abortion, which is why she’s been endorsed by a trio of abortion rights groups.

“I’ve had my learning curve,” she said. “I understand.”

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, one of the groups that endorsed her last week, said Dance has been a reliable ally of abortion rights groups, voting 100 percent with them since joining the Senate.

“We trust her,” Keene said.

In contrast, she said Morrissey was “pretty much a guaranteed anti-abortion vote” in the House, and Dance’s campaign cites more than a half-dozen bills and budget amendments that he supported that it said would restrict abortion rights.

Morrissey, raised a Catholic, has described himself publicly as “a pro-life Democrat” who opposes both abortion and the death penalty. He said he also supports “a woman’s right to choose,” but draws the line at a failed bill this year that would have eased restrictions on late third-trimester abortions.

“That is crazy,” he said.

He compares his faith-based position on abortion to that of U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a former Richmond mayor who has endorsed Dance.

Morrissey counters Dance’s endorsements by abortion-rights groups and Democratic leaders with public backing by four former mayors in Petersburg and Hopewell who denounced her accusations against him. “He’s certainly got the support of some of her old rivals,” Holsworth said.

Campaign finance report

Dance has challenged the completeness of Morrissey’s campaign finance report filed this week that showed just two $10,000 expenditures and $1,600 in in-kind contributions, without any mention of payments for billboard advertisements or the event at the Satellite that featured free hot dogs and sodas, and a DJ.

“This report is totally bogus and, frankly, absurd,” she said.

Morrissey’s campaign treasurer, Whitney Spears, acknowledged a keyboard error on her part that initially prevented the full report from filing properly on the Department of Elections website. The revised report shows about $41,000 in expenditures and $1,870 in in-kind donations, including money from a separate campaign account for staff payroll.

It does not specify expenditures or in-kind donations for the campaign launch at the Satellite.

“I don’t have any errors on it whatsoever,” Morrissey said.

Ultimately, the race pits a veteran of the state Democratic Party establishment against a self-styled maverick, who rejected a plan for party officials to moderate a proposed debate between the candidates.

“I’m not just a robot who follows the party line,” he said. “That’s what’s frightening to them.”


Museums
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'Our goal is to be in the top three in the world when it comes to African American art,' VMFA opens Art from the African American South

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has been ramping up its acquisitions of African American art over the past few years.

Now, those recent acquisitions are going on view at the new exhibit, “Cosmologies from the Tree of Life: Art from the African American South,” opening this weekend.

“We’ve spent 28% of our privately endowed funds on African American art since 2015,” Alex Nyerges, director of the museum, said at a preview of the opening. “Most art museums are spending 2% on African American art.

“Our goal is to be in the top three [museums] in the world when it comes to African American art,” he said.

Quilts by the women of Gee’s Bend, Ala., sculpture by Thornton Dial and drawings by Purvis Young are just a few of the pieces highlighted in the new exhibit.

“The quilts are optically and visually stunning works of art,” Valerie Cassel Oliver, the VMFA’s contemporary art curator who arranged the exhibit, said. “The women who created these quilts were able to improvise upon known patterns to create innovative pieces of movement and color.”

Most of the quilts were created in the early 1970s, with the oldest dating to 1945. The quilts, made from fabric remnants and pieces of corduroy, were created by the women of several families, including the Bendolphs, Bennetts and Pettways, all of whom can trace their roots to slavery.

She compared the use of color in the quilts to that of abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky.

“The colors are so unexpected,” said Michael Taylor, the chief curator of the museum who also worked on the acquisitions. “This one, you sort of need to sunglasses to wear,” he said, pointing to one of the quilts.

Another, Jennie Pettway’s color-blocked “Housetop,” has a few stains on it from use.

“People slept under them, they kept warm in them during winter. And now they’re hanging in an art museum. There’s something wonderful about that,” Taylor said.

Colorful sculptures by Thornton Dial are shown at the center in the exhibit.

Dial was an Alabama metalworker at the Pullman Standard railroad car plant. When the plant closed in 1981, Dial devoted himself to making sculptures out of metal scraps and rods, as well as works on paper.

His artwork has been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others. He died in 2016.

A book containing paintings and drawings by Purvis Young is also on view at the exhibit. Young was a self-taught artist from the Overtown neighborhood of Miami who gained a cult following.

The book was digitized and visitors can scroll through the pages to explore drawings in ballpoint pen, marker and paint.

Young’s work can also be found at the American Folk Art Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at the Purvis Young Museum in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He died in 2010.

The works in the exhibit come from the Atlanta-based Souls Grown Deep Foundation, which was created by art historian and collector William S. Arnett. He and his sons collected more than 1,200 works created by self-taught African American artists from the South. Their goal is to shed light on unknown parts of African American culture and history.

Nyerges described the museum’s newly built-up collection of African American art as “leap-frogging from great to the edge of spectacular. No one will be able to mention African American art without mentioning the VMFA.”

The new exhibit opens Saturday and is free and open to the public.


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Colortree employees didn't get final paycheck Friday as expected; 'I'm outraged,' one worker said

Employees laid off Monday when Henrico County-based Colortree Group abruptly shut down expected to get their final paychecks on Friday.

That didn’t happen, several of them said.

“They didn’t care about putting us on the street and now I guess they didn’t care about giving us our last check,” said Carl Voltz, who worked as a printing press operator for the past 20 months.

Carol Blaylock, the company’s former director of imagination who worked there for the past 10 years, said she was “stunned” Friday morning when her money didn’t show up in her bank account.

“I’m outraged,” Blaylock said. “I can’t really say I’m not surprised. We were all betting back and forth if the money would go in on Friday. The week is ending pretty much as it started — really bad.”

On Monday, Colortree Group, which has operated for more than 30 years printing direct-mail envelopes, flyers, brochures and other products, abruptly closed its offices and plant at 8000 Villa Park Drive, located off East Parham Road near Brook Road.

It laid off all 240 employees.

Meanwhile, an employee at Colortree Group who lost his job has filed a federal lawsuit seeking lost wages for being let go without the required federal 60-day termination notice. The suit also seeks class action status for all of the employees who were laid off.

Terry Kennedy, a prepress operator, claims that Colortree Group failed to pay him and other employees their respective unpaid wages, salary, commissions, bonuses, health and life insurance premiums, accrued holiday pay and accrued vacation for 60 days following their terminations.

The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Richmond, alleges the company violated the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN Act. That law requires companies with a large number of employees who are being laid off as part of a mass layoff or plant closing to provide 60 days’ advance notice or to pay them their wages and benefits for the 60 days.

Rene S. Roupinian and Jack A. Raisner, lawyers with the New York-based Outten & Golden LLP law firm, filed the suit with Jennifer J. West and Edward E. Bagnell Jr. of the Richmond-based Spotts Fain PC firm.

The lawsuit against Colortree Group is similar to one filed last month by an employee of Live Well Financial Inc. after she abruptly lost her job when the Chesterfield County-based mortgage lender and servicer ceased operations on May 3. Roupinian and Raisner filed that suit on behalf of the employee.

Colortree Group filed a WARN Act notice on Tuesday informing officials of the job cuts at its plant. The notice did not give a reason for the closure.

James “Pat” Patterson, Colortree Group’s owner and its president and CEO, could not be reached for comment.

Blaylock said her manager sent a text Friday morning to her and other workers saying the manager understood that Colortree Group officials were working on the problem. The manager told them that the funding from the bank did not meet the timing deadline and therefore was not transferred into employee bank accounts.

The text told the workers that the company expected that the funds would be transferred to employee accounts early next week.

“I don’t know what their bank situation is, but I’m looking for my money to hit this morning and it didn’t happen,” Voltz said Friday morning.


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Cannabis companies battle it out in Henrico court over rights to open dispensary in Southwest Va.

Lawyers for two companies battling over a license to produce medical cannabis in Southwest Virginia took their fight to a Henrico County courtroom Friday, where they argued over whether it was legal for the Virginia Board of Pharmacy to grant the license to the company that got a lower score.

Henrico Circuit Judge Lee A. Harris Jr. did not immediately rule on a motion to dismiss an appeal filed by New Age Care, an LLC registered in Roanoke that claims the board disregarded its own competitive scoring process in order to grant the license to Bristol-based Dharma Pharmaceuticals. It’s not yet clear if the judge will allow the appeal to proceed. If it does, it could complicate Dharma’s efforts to set up its CBD and THC-A dispensary in the former Bristol Mall building by a state-imposed deadline in late December. New Age wants the court to invalidate Dharma’s license and grant a license to New Age instead.

Gregory J. DuBoff, a McGuireWoods attorney representing New Age, told the judge the pharmacy board held an “illegal” closed-door meeting that “concealed the real reason why Dharma was chosen over New Age.” Instead of giving the potentially lucrative license to the top scorer in the Southwest Virginia health region, DuBoff argued, the board inexplicably gave it to a company that “barely cracked the top five.”

“No board is given unfettered discretion to make whatever choice they want,” DuBoff said.

Scott Sexton, a Gentry Locke attorney representing Dharma, said the numeric scores determined by the five-member panel were subjective and one of several factors the pharmacy board took into consideration when it considered thousands of pages of application paperwork last year. Sexton suggested the board wanted to locate a medical cannabis dispensary more accessible to impoverished communities in far Southwest Virginia, a region hit hard by the opioid epidemic.

“We contend that the Board of Pharmacy did exactly what it was supposed to do,” Sexton said.

One key investor in Dharma is Clyde Stacy, a coal baron who has showered Virginia political leaders with donations in the hopes of winning approval for a casino resort in the same mall building as the planned cannabis dispensary. Though New Age is registered in Roanoke, public records suggest it’s a subsidiary of out-of-state cannabis interests hoping for a foothold in Virginia.

Under legislation passed by the General Assembly, the pharmacy board was allowed to grant five dispensary licenses, one for each of Virginia’s five health service areas. The board received 51 applications and reviewed them behind closed doors before announcing the winners last October.

The appeal was filed in Henrico because the pharmacy board’s offices are in the county.

The company contends it never received a satisfactory explanation for why it didn’t get the Southwest Virginia license despite outscoring Dharma by a wide margin. Dharma has pointed to orders the pharmacy board sent to the two companies in December that listed several factors for why Dharma’s application was chosen and New Age’s was not. The board specifically highlighted Dharma’s location as a positive factor and faulted New Age’s application for insufficient security plans.

Even though the board highlighted some criteria, DuBoff said, it made no clear statement that the Dharma application was superior to the New Age application. The judge seemed skeptical.

“You don’t think that’s implied?” Harris asked.

DuBoff said nothing in the board’s responses explains the “massive disparity” in scoring, adding that New Age should be able to continue its litigation to pry out more information about the board’s decision.

“Your honor, this was not a close case,” DuBoff said.

Sexton suggested the security issues alone could have been the deal-breaker for New Age.

“This is a brave new world of trying to grow what is otherwise an illegal crop,” Sexton said.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office is defending the pharmacy board but has allowed Dharma to take the lead in fighting the appeal.

New Age has filed a separate motion to compel the pharmacy board to produce more documents for the purposes of its appeal. The judge said he would not rule on that motion until he decides whether to grant Dharma’s motion to dismiss the appeal.